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Supporting a Remote Workforce During the Covid-19 Pandemic

With the Covid-19 pandemic still moving and a majority of businesses shifted to a “work from home” model, what does that mean for technology and security professionals?

● What challenges have we faced and what future challenges are coming up?

● How do we secure the work environment and company data for our remote employees?

● What do "work from home" extensions mean for IT?

In many cases businesses were not prepared to move all employees to a work from home model. Most companies I have spoken with had the infrastructure in place to support a large number of employees working remotely as part of their DR plan until normal operations were restored. I have reviewed no DR plans with fellow IT professionals who factored in a long term global pandemic to support all employees working remotely for 6 months plus.

Companies that had the infrastructure in place to support something close to this scale have had their technology, infrastructure, security and policies stress tested the past two months. Companies that did not have this in place moved quickly to piece something together with a visible shortage of laptops, certain hardware and longer than usual delivery times on all markets due to supply/demand challenges. Nobody should expect this stress testing to let up anytime soon and we have all been adapting and updating our environments as needed.

Many companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are extending their work from home policies through 2020. Some are looking to permanently extend due to employees showing the ability to maintain solid productivity while working remote.

What does this mean for IT?

Make sure your infrastructure can sustain a long-term work from home policy. If it can’t and you haven’t started planning yet, start now. Ensure your plans include an environment capable of supporting your entire workforce remotely for an extended period. 6 months is no longer unreasonable for most states. If you’re not in the cloud does moving parts of your infrastructure to the cloud make sense? Draw up a plan and review it with your team and stakeholders.

What video teleconference and communication solutions do you have in place for employees to meet with vendors and each other? I have been on more Zoom meetings in the past 2 months that the previous 12 months combined and it has proven to be a critical tool for keeping in touch with people.

When planning, also think about security, BYOD and update policies accordingly. Think about employees working from personal computers and printing company data at home. What is your policy for someone printing at home? Do they shred documents or just throw them away with dinner? Are burn and shred bags an option that they can drop off or ship to the office?

When on a personal computer, is connecting to the company VPN or Citrix style environment permitted and what are both the technical and employee controls for disconnecting? Can they connect to the company VPN then hand it off to their kids to play games?

Many employees don’t have the convenience of a home office. They are working in their kitchens, bedrooms or in a shared environment with their family. Think about privacy as many employees working from home have none. Remember all kids are home too, along with spouses and significant others. In those cases, are privacy screens a good option?

What about USB drives? If data needs to be saved to USB how do you get employees a company owned device? What are your delivery options for getting hardware to employees? Take into account delivery delays being experienced around the world.

When thinking about security, think about the most secure ways to exchange company data with your servers, resources and employees. Once it’s sitting with the employee think through all the scenarios that can happen on the employee’s end. Don’t think about the employees end in 2019, think about right now in 2020 and play through the different scenarios of what can happen with company data and people sitting at home for months. It is a lot to digest.

What else does this mean for IT?

Technology and security are more important than ever. Our ability to continue supporting a remote workforce while making plans to possibly make this support model permanent in certain areas of business means we are essential to helping companies generate revenue and employees keeping their jobs.

With unemployment at an all-time high, being able to provide employees with the ability to work remotely and allowing them to be productive while maintaining a secure environment will, in many cases, provide job security as businesses continuously look to save money.

The responsibilities of IT support and leadership will also fall outside of technology. We are one of the few departments that touch multiple areas of the business daily. We speak with employees in different departments at various levels within our companies every day. With that we hear the stress that comes with our current situation. We need to go beyond technical support and provide moral support and understanding.

Anyone who has ever worked with me knows I’m not much of a feelings person. You put a plan in place and you execute it. You put policies and procedures in place and you follow them. This is something that was ingrained in me while in the military. However, in the times we are in now I feel it’s important to be patient, tolerant and willing to help. Not only with technology and security but also in understanding the stress people are experiencing with jobs being lost, reductions in income and their kids adjusting to a new world.

When we get to the other side of this, there will be a period of reflection. A period where we look back at how situations were handled both at work and home. How companies supported employees. How employees supported each other. How vendors worked with customers. How we supported family and friends. How we all treated one another from start to finish. Let’s make that period of reflection something we can be proud of.

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