April 07, 2020

The  World Health Organization (WHO) categorized the coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic, an infection that is escalating in multiple countries concurrently. The USA has declared travel bans on 28 European countries. Many countries have closed their schools and universities and stopped large gatherings of people. High-profile companies like Google and Microsoft encourage or mandate that staff should adopt the work-from-home policy. For modern technology companies, the policy and infrastructure needed for remote working are already in place and the vast majority of staff members are probably already laptop users.

However, the situation for smaller companies and organizations is likely to be very different. Remote working is probably limited to a few. The good case for this is the education: universities have been delivering distance learning as a feature for some time, while high schools and others are mainly dependent on staff and pupils being on-site to learn. The school’s operations and administrative teams also need to be considered, as they are unlikely to be mobile workers and maybe using desktop devices rather than laptops.

So how can an organization work during COVID-19?

There are common requirements that all remote workers need to be productive: a computer, good internet connection, chat and conferencing applications, dedicated workspace (preferred), a phone (optional), self-motivation and discipline and a strict routine.

Physical security of company devices

Employees will be exposed to company devices as they leave the safety and security of the workplace. Devices need to be protected against theft and loss with options such as:

  • Full-disk encryption- this is to ensure that if the case happens that the device falls into the wrong hands, the company’s data is not accessible.
  • Log out when not in use at home and in public places. 
  • Strong password policy– enforce passwords on boot, set inactivity timeouts, and ban sticky notes with passwords on them.
  • Never leave the device unattended or on public display. 

What’s in the home technology environment?

Before connecting work devices, ask employees to audit their own home environment for vulnerabilities. There are continual disclosures to vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which gives an excellent time for employees to take action on securing them with strong passwords and updating their firmware/software to the latest versions.

The use of a connected home monitoring app before allowing work devices to be connected to home networks, they scan and highlight devices with known vulnerabilities, outdated software or firmware, or default passwords that need to be changed.

Accessing the company network and systems

This is established if the employee needs access to the organization’s internal network or just access to cloud-based services and email. It is also taken into consideration whether the same level of access to sensitive data on-site should be granted when the employee is off-site.

Support and crisis management

In the rush of providing remote access to the employees, you should never sacrifice cybersecurity or the ability to manage devices and systems. This is essential to ensure smooth operations, especially if users become quarantined due to health concerns. For IT support and crisis management, if they’ll encounter unusual or suspected issues that could be the result of a breach, the remote workers need to have clear communication protocols.

Beyond technology and functional processes, there are other key factors to effective remote working:

  • Communication – have team calls once per day, brief the people on the work’s status, and allow them to share experiences and issues.
  • Responsiveness – establish clear guidelines of how a remote worker is quickly expected to respond to a request depending on the communication type: email, Slack, calendar invites, etc.
  • Reporting – Line managers should implement procedures that allow them to know whether the remote workers are getting the job done. Which means doing mandatory group meetings, team collaboration and daily/weekly/monthly reports.
  • Working schedule – agree on a method of starting a shift and ending shift.
  • Liability – ensuring coverage for the company assets while in the employee’s possession.
  • Tech support – distribute the contact details to the remote workers so that they will know how to get help when needed.
  • Socialization – bring remote workers together to socialize, particularly virtually. This is an important part of motivating them and increasing productivity. Consider a buddy or mentor scheme. This is essential so that every employee is paired and can problem solve, vent, share or socialize virtually.

Not all employees can switch to remote working easily, with little assistance or guidance. Home is not the office. They may need significant assistance to adapt.

Stay safe – and healthy!