Working from home can seem an attractive prospect for many people. For others, it can give flexibility and choice that could mean the difference between being able or unable to continue to work at all.
A 2019 poll on attitudes towards remote working found that 99% of respondents would welcome the opportunity to work remotely, at least part-time. Note that this response came even before the current crisis.
When Covid-19 – a serious infectious disease that swept the world in early 2020 – forced businesses to facilitate remote working on a massive scale, working out the practicalities of such a move had to happen fast. Even before essential distancing measures came into play, however, working from home was increasingly available and uptake was high. For example, the UK had 4.5 million home workers in 2018, a 25% increase on the previous year.
With or without a global health crisis galvanizing the world into a remote working movement, experts were predicting a shift to allow more people to work from home, with an expected 33 million home workers in the EU and USA by 2025. But what does this translate to in terms of impact on the IT industry?
Three Remote Worker and Tech Challenges
Remote working has both good and bad points. Productivity can be an issue, with less supervision, the distractions of home life, and the emotional toll of living through a pandemic with unprecedented social isolation and threat to health. Another serious concern is cybersecurity, at a time when transfer of sensitive data over uncontrolled networks is at a high and employer jurisdiction is at a low. Three areas have risen above the parapet as remote working continues:
A Shadow over IT
‘Shadow IT’ is a movement in line with ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD), hot desking, and remote working. Shadow IT describes the loss of control a business has over its tech assets. With a less centralized workforce, more and more workers are using conferencing and team working apps on home networks. This often goes hand-in-hand with a worrying lack of consistency in the security measures in place.
Cloud infrastructures are seeing a rapid uptake of all types of shadow IT services, and IT departments have little control over the transfer of data and software across the cloud. Cybercriminals follow trends closely to mount attacks through the most commonly used vectors, and cloud services are no exception. Their very popularity and ease-of-use make them an ideal target.
The end and beginning of meetings
Remote working creates problems with team interactions, project planning, and progress monitoring. Online apps offering virtual face-to-face meetings have become incredibly popular – Zoom’s number of daily active users (DAU) increased to 200 million in the first quarter of 2020 – a 20-fold increase.
Virtual meetings are not without their issues, however. The phenomenon of ‘Zoombombing’ has proliferated – unsecured group meetings can allow access to malicious agents. With access to meetings, hackers can – at best – disrupt, and – at worst – cause actual harm. Zoombombers have used the platform to display graphic and offensive material – at a time when schools are closed, and even young children are participating in online classroom activities.
Sometimes threats to virtual meetings aren’t deliberately malicious – at the start of lockdown in the UK, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proudly tweeted a picture of the cabinet’s first Zoom meeting. In doing so, he inadvertently revealed the ID needed to join the meeting to the whole world.
A decentralized workforce is much harder to supervise, and this can have serious implications for both productivity and cybersecurity. If cybersecurity measures aren’t scaled to cover remote workers, shadow services, and unsecured networks, security breaches are likely to happen. With reduced opportunities for employee monitoring and behavior analytics, malicious insiders who may have high levels of access could find it much easier to steal data, destroy evidence, and unleash malware.
In addition to planned attacks, there is also the simple issue that human nature is not at its best when people are kept in isolation. The camaraderie of being part of a team, having real human interactions, and working toward a common goal can be a very important factor in keeping people engaged and positive. Remote working can mean fantastic opportunities for some people, but extended periods of forced isolation may result in a workforce that is detached, disgruntled, even depressed.
A Remote Future
Remote and flexible working looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future. Businesses need to adjust to this and create strategies around this new normal.
Online training should be mandatory for all employees, and frequently updated to cover the evolving threat landscape and the realities of working remotely. A robust and practical approach to cybersecurity in remote work should be a priority. Scalable – appropriate – surveillance and analytics can help to keep a company’s assets, clients, and employees, safe from cybercrime. Security policies and protocols will have to be adapted to fit in with the changing landscape of use – a realistic approach to management in an age of remote working.
IT has always been at the cutting-edge of technological development, but so far, it’s been the onus of the people to adapt to the rollout of novel technology often designed by developers unaware of a given situation. Now it’s going to be up to the pioneers of engineering and tech design to adapt their systems to a change in the way the people of the world work and interact.
Remote working looks like it’s here to stay – for better or for worse. The last six months have caused a paradigm shift in the way people socially interact. As protective measures around the world gradually lift, this ‘new normal’ will persist, in the form of heightened awareness of the risks of close contact meaning a need for increased flexibility in working conditions.
Remote working does throw up a raft of security and productivity concerns, and it’s up to organizations and IT professionals to combat these. Remote working is an evolving reality and will require a practical and pragmatic response.
As always, the solution is to create technology that is human-centric by design – made for people, in whatever environment they find themselves in.
Next month during our September’s blog, we will discuss the implications Cybersecurity has on the modern Remote Workforce in more details. Please stay tuned!