What We Learned about a Remote Workforce
Many companies were not prepared for remote worker arrangements this spring, as COVID-19 uprooted everyday life and businesses around the globe. When a huge number of workers needed to be sent home, it exposed how unprepared some businesses were for this change; however, it also showcased how, even unprepared, businesses rose to the occasion. They found ways to stay up and running, while simultaneously managing the new social distancing requirements of the pandemic.
The first thing, I noticed, was an immediate scramble to find and purchase laptops with video, quickly putting a strain on the supply chain for both business-grade laptops and higher-end consumer grade devices. Local custom computer builders, who usually took a week to build custom setups, started to offer laptops that were pre-configured for immediate purchase. I also saw an uptick in computer refurbishers selling machines they had brought back to life. For those whose businesses did not have or could not get laptops, even full desktop computers were sent home. During this time, I wondered how prepared most of these businesses were for business continuity. Business continuity planning (BCP) is something businesses are supposed to test at least annually. Given what we have learned over the past 6-weeks, many businesses may need to rethink their business continuity plan.
The next ensuing scramble was communication. With the number of workers sent home how were we going to establish a normal flow of communication, as if we were in the office? This created a rush to sign-up for various video conferencing, group chat services and applications like WebEx, Teams, Skype for Business, Zoom, and Slack. In this rush to start communicating via these video conferencing services, many businesses did not fully comprehend the security implications. They lacked the foresight to properly configure and secure these video sessions, which led to many video calls being hacked and disrupted over the first 3-4 weeks.
Securing the remote worker was happening as businesses started sending them home. Remote Desktop Gateways (RDG) and Virtual Private Network (VPN) vendors were now inundated with requests for their solutions to secure these employees so they could remote back into the office to access their work files, applications, and email. These required remote gateways and VPN’s also needed the expertise to properly configure and secure them.
As businesses have established their remote worker protocol, they have setup secure encrypted traffic in a VPN or RDG tunnel and established secure access to email, chat and video conferencing. Their next scramble was focused on extending security scans, properly configuring security/privacy and patching to the affected remote devices. This consideration might require additional licensing and setting up times that remote workers would leave their devices on after hours, etc.
Regulated businesses were starting to get calls asking for statuses on their “pandemic” plan from their auditors of record. This required many businesses to either revisit or write pandemic plans, business continuity plans, and official remote worker policies and procedures. The majority of my CISO peers surveyed had sent anywhere from ½ to all of their company employees home. For those businesses, where some employees remain in the office, it requires physically protecting them. Most security executives are aware that this is a part of our role, protecting life.
Residential Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were the next learning curve. In the early weeks of the pandemic, millions of workers were going home and residential ISPs were not ready for this surge of traffic during the day. The residential ISP had to contend with the increasing numbers of unemployed individuals streaming content throughout the day, in addition to remote workers firing up a lot of traffic for video conference calls. In the business world, commercial internet providers understand business traffic and cycles and can maintain consistent Internet speeds. Residential ISPs had to quickly adjust for this new way of life. There were a few outages around the country and Internet speeds varied throughout the day. Employees with dedicated fiber connections to their home and Gigabit connection contracts fared the best, as they were not sharing connection pipelines with their neighborhood.
A month into COVID-19 restrictions, we have all learned a lot about working remotely; however, we are still adjusting. Businesses are learning how to be agile. Stability, security, and safety are improving as businesses and workers adapt. Remote workers are learning how to balance shared work spaces, kids, spouses, roommates, and pets. Businesses are coaching and helping remote workers on setting up their remote work space to prevent embarrassing video conferencing moments.
As we progress, it is going to be interesting to observe how businesses adjust as restrictions lift. We will also see how workforce expectations change going forward. Personally, I had the benefit to work remotely at a previous position for almost 2 years. It started with a few days a week, then full time, and finally I found the best balance was going into the office 1-2 days a week and working remotely the rest. I believe businesses are going to make changes and allowances for remote employees. A lot of businesses will invest in better work from home setups for their staff or at least evaluate their situation, their response to this pandemic, and adjust or invest to be better prepared the next time.
I believe everyone has learned something new during the past few months about their business and themselves. It has not been an easy transition for many. As business returns to normal, society is going to have to reflect. What did we learn? What ongoing changes does the business foresee? What are the workers expecting? How can the business better serve their customer and employees? I am challenging business leaders to stop and take the time to truly reflect on how this pandemic impacted their business, their workers, their customers, and any of their partners. Reflect and then be sure to thank your employees and your customers. Let’s truly work to support each other, our community, and our health as we return to normal life again.
About Insite Data Services
IDS data application hosting services combines secure and cost-effective core banking applications, enterprise-class servers and storage, and proven virtualization technology. IDS hosts all of the bank’s servers in secure data centers that use state of the art security systems including identity verification and biometric scanning. Insite Data Services also offers IDS On-Time, a full-service solution dedicated to back-office bank processing. These operations experts allow partnered banks to focus on their most important asset, their customers. For more information visit www.insitedataservices.com.