‘Telecommuting’; ‘remote-working’; ‘work-from-home’—these buzzwords of 2020 may signal a new normal for the rest of the decade.

With the ongoing pandemic showing no signs of abating, many governments have called on their citizens to practice social distancing, and for workplaces to telecommute in a bid to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the community.

‘Work-from-home’ is an easy concept to understand, but implementation requires thorough planning and careful risk assessment to ensure firms can maintain their security posture even as staff work off their home networks.

To start, organizations would need to enable secure access, and ensure decent network bandwidth for employees to be able to connect with colleagues, customers and partners seamlessly. However, beyond this, firms need to think of the other needed capabilities to ensure no dip in competitiveness during this period: these include the need to find new customers, bid for deals/projects, support existing clients, make payments, receive payments and so on.

To achieve all of these effectively, organizations need a more comprehensive work-from-home or business continuity strategy. There are different pieces of the puzzle that companies will need to put together with trust as the linchpin of their strategy.

1. Trust in our systems

  • Ensuring the devices and tools used are safe and secure
    With the internet-of-things (IoT), many can now access enterprise applications with an array of consumer devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops among others. Many tools such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex help facilitate remote communications and enable us to keep in communication with colleagues and clients alike. However, before jumping headfirst into using such tools, there are some factors that organizations need to take into careful consideration.

    For example, a company-issued device would typically be more secure and better equipped with up-to-date anti-virus and malware protection. Unfortunately, employees tend to be less vigilant with personal devices, and risk being more vulnerable to security threats: credentials can be stolen, and overall security compromised. It is therefore important that both companies and employees take the necessary steps to ensure that passwords are strong, and the operating system and protection software in devices are up to date with the latest patches.
  • Providing remote access to systems
    For many companies, applications that take care of invoicing, payment, HR, payroll and more, have been digitalized. However, depending on where these applications are hosted, accessing them can pose a challenge.

    For in-house hosted applications, users will typically need special access such as a virtual private network (VPN). Coupling a two-factor identification token will help improve the company’s security posture. Yet, not many companies have a plan in place for VPN access, and with more employees working from home, companies need to relook how they can allow seamless, secure access to the system.

    Access to cloud-based applications, on the other hand, make better sense for the business as this allows real-time sharing of documents among staff and would be easier to configure. However, it is essential to ensure that beyond seamless access, security is not compromised.
  • Digital infrastructure to support finance
    Many banking services have now moved online. Companies and their decision makers need to ensure that they have secure access to digital banking services. This way, companies can conduct business and manage their finances effectively. The smart use of online banking services will slowly remove the reliance companies have on physical payments (cash or cheque), while enabling swift payments within and outside their organization.
  • Reviewing processes
    As services and transactions become digitalized, it is important for companies to have processes where ‘digital approvals’ can be accepted. However, can we trust an ‘email approval’? Email IDs and even mobile numbers can easily be spoofed. As such, for better security, digital signatures should be encouraged but this would need to be set up and the system-flow configured to accept digital approvals.

2. Trust in our people

  • Collaboration
    This is the easiest outcome to achieve with many good—and free—tools in the market today. Many of these, such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Workplace by Facebook— have great features for remote collaborations and sharing. That said, it is important for organizations to assess the security features of such platforms and advise their employees on which platform they should leverage on to facilitate seamless and secure collaboration.
  • Keeping in touch
    This pandemic may prove to be an opportunity for organizations to review business processes and think harder about flexible working practices. Effective teams need good healthy communications. Organizations can take this time to reconnect with employees by setting clear expectations of the deliverables and keep in touch by exploring new communication modes (e.g., videos, blogs etc.), in addition to the traditional email messages.

    Human Resources teams can also come together to devise initiatives that can help colleagues to connect socially via online means. While employees are working from home, a sound social plan to engage and maintain interaction between staff would help in maintaining culture for the firm.

Stay safe
Flexi-work is a strong feature of future-proof workplaces. We can continue adding on to the list for a comprehensive business continuity strategy. Hopefully, the few items identified would stimulate the thought process of what organizations need to do, and do differently, to fully support a work-from-home situation.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 situation will be with us for a while. In the meantime, organizations will need to change the way we work to adjust to this new normal. Smaller companies may find it more challenging. As such, this is where the business community should come together and help each other to tide through this challenging time ahead.