operate a business remotely
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11 business leaders in the technology industry share their advice on how companies can avoid any potential security disasters while keeping employees happy and productive when operating a business remotely

When approaching 2020, no one would have been able to predict the current global working environment. Yet circumstances dictate organisations and business leaders are having to rapidly adapt to their employees working from home on an indefinite basis.

To remain as productive as possible in these times, companies must ensure effective communication with all employees and prove to all within the organisation that employee well-being is at the forefront of their concerns. In addition to this, many companies have found themselves increasingly vulnerable to security issues and cyber-attacks, proving the vast variety of challenges companies are currently navigating.

Remote management requires seamless communication

Rick Kershaw, CPO at Peakon, believes that taking care of the individuals who make up an organisation should be a priority under lockdown. “It’s imperative that organisations engage in a continuous dialogue with their employees. Managers need to combine purpose and positivity with empathy, and they can only strike this balance effectively when armed with up to date insight. Ask employees how they’re doing, how work is, how their family is. Be flexible on deadlines when possible and offer new resources that can help them to get their jobs done,” he says.

Continuous dialogue, however, can be a challenge under lockdown. Simon Johnson, General Manager UK&I at Freshworks, suggests there are several solutions that can be quickly implemented to help coordinate a remote team. “These include virtual dashboards that list live calls taking place, as well as calls in the queue and real-time agent availability status. Call ‘barging’ can enable supervisors to join calls when an agent requires support to defuse the situation, and in-depth reporting and metrics can enable managers to provide detailed feedback to agents.”

Neil Hammerton, CEO at Natterbox, agrees and says that the challenge of communication is particularly hard for those businesses that run call centres, with “many now scrambling to adopt vital solutions and processes to maintain business as usual. This is especially true for the customer-facing workforce dealing in sales or customer service.”

As a solution, Hammerton advises that businesses consider intelligent telecommunications technology, which he says “is rapidly advancing and transforming how and where people work. New cloud-supported interfaces are already available to give users the ability to work from anywhere, on whichever device they want. Agents on the move or working from remote locations can benefit from the same functionality as in the office on their mobile device.”

Continue to prioritise employee satisfaction

The challenge of managing an entirely remote workforce is new for most business leaders. They can ensure their own process of adaptation is as seamless as possible by continuing to prioritise employee well-being.

Chief People Officer at Civica, Julie Chell, is making use of a variety of channels and tools to ensure Civica’s workforce feels valued. “Over recent weeks, our IT teams have done an amazing job in providing us with the technology and resources we need to continue providing business as usual. For example, we use Yammer, a space for social chat and collaboration, and we’re also doing a range of ‘drop-in’ sessions where people can join colleagues at an agreed time for a virtual work-out, mindfulness sessions, virtual coffee, and book club discussions to keep our spirits up,” she says.

But whether between jobs, on furlough, or working from home, “now is the time to invest in skill development,” according to Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA at Pluralsight. “Online technology skills platforms offer the opportunity to take advantage of this time to better ourselves.

“When the lockdown eventually eases and companies look to recover, they need to hit the ground running – for which an engaged and appropriately skilled workforce is key.”

Looking to the future, Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director UK&I at IPsoft, believes assisting employees wherever possible will help not only improve their morale but productivity as well. He foresees “a complete overhaul in attitudes and approaches to the workplace post-pandemic. Employees will have more appetite for flexibility and will look to intelligent solutions to help automate routine, low-value tasks that keep them tied to their desks. This may even help us take the first steps towards a four-day working week!”

Mitigating increased cybersecurity risk

Inevitably, cyber-criminals are looking to utilise the heightened vulnerability, meaning organisations must remain as vigilant as ever, especially given recent research from Tanium revealed that 93% of UK IT leaders have discovered unknown computing devices within their organisation’s IT environment.

Chris Hodson, CISO of Tanium says: “Irrespective of asset location, IT leaders need to ensure visibility and control of any endpoint accessing enterprise data and systems. To mitigate the risk, the first step will be to gain real-time visibility of all digital assets by communicating with employees and ensuring that IT leaders have a clear understanding of devices that are being used for work at home.”

Furthermore, Spencer Pitts, Digital Workspace Chief Technologist at VMWare, advises: “Providing users easy and secure access to applications and services on whatever computer they own is paramount in these new, remote working environments.

“A software-based digital workspace solution can enable employees to be productive from day one on their devices of choice. It allows immediate access to an entire set of business applications with seamless single sign-on to all applications as needed based on job functions. Meanwhile, intrinsic security ensures that compliance and risk are considered prior to granting access to applications, protecting your infrastructure and data.”

Equipping employees with the right tools to combat increased vulnerabilities

Risk is amplified when companies do not have complete visibility of the networks or tools employees are choosing to use. Chris Butler, Principal Consultant for Risk and Resilience at Sungard Availability Services, commented that “Even if a company has provided the employee with a laptop that has full endpoint protection, the office IT environment is still at risk if that laptop is used on a home network with reduced security. A recent survey found that 82% of British broadband users never change their router administrative password, and 48% don’t know why they should.

“The security issue gets even riskier amongst companies with a BYOD policy, which increases the footprint of potential access points for malicious actors to exploit. The solution to this issue lies not only in making VPNs mandatory for any device connected to the network, but a level of direct engagement between IT departments and workers themselves. Crucially, organisations need to lay down clear standards, establish the security controls and directly assist employees to make their home networks as secure as the office environment.”

Other digital solution that has seen greater attention in recent weeks is video conferencing platforms. According to Asaf Hecht, Security Research Team Leader at CyberArk, “Skype, Zoom, Slack, Teams, and the like have become the new gateway to the organisation, much like emails have been in the past. So instead of being limited to, for instance, a phishing attack vs. email, attackers have had their potential attack surface expanded. They now have the potential to enter chats they are not invited to – e.g. by Zoom Bombing – have sensitive data exposed to them, and also be able to post malicious links and files to infect other users.

“The overarching issue is that remote collaboration software is often integrated into an organisation’s overall identity access management defences, so identity theft in this area can – potentially – get attackers access to critical data and assets,” adds Hecht.

But David Warburton, Senior Threat Research Evangelist at F5 Networks,  acknowledges that securing these SaaS apps can also be tricky. “We’ve seen a number of data breaches occur simply because weak passwords are used.

“Most enterprise-level SaaS tools will allow federation of user accounts, which will reduce the problem of password re-use and also allow integration with multi-factor authentication solutions. It’s crucial to enforce consistent security policies for all apps regardless of where they are hosted.”

The silver lining

“This remote working experience has taught us a lot about the importance of having systems and processes that are resilient, flexible, and scalable across every area of the business,” says Martin Blackburn, EMEA Managing Director at Rackspace.

Blackburn believes that preparations were, for the most part, not enough and adds that, “scalability needs to be top of the agenda across every area of a business, with infrastructure in place that affords flexibility for unexpected events, to support the subsequent changes in both customer and employee behaviours.”

UK business will eventually return to their normal working environment, however, companies shouldn’t view these challenges as isolated to these uncertain times. As we all look to the new normal, we must learn from this experience by remaining vigilant to increased security threats and continuing to prioritise employee satisfaction and communication.


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