Preparing for the Remote Work Long Game

March 2020 changed the concept of "work-from-home" on a large scale. Previously, only 7% of the population worked from home full-time. Others worked from home occasionally, 1-2 days per week, with the remainder reporting to an office every day. Suddenly, as a result of the stay-at-home orders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every non-essential employee in America found themselves working from home, and the technological implications were enormous.

IT departments across the country sprang into action preparing their workforces for the many challenges working from home would pose, with security and productivity being the two driving forces behind their workloads.

Now, as a second wave of coronavirus cases is poised to sweep the nation, here are some of the key takeaways we've gleaned from March to present, and how to be more prepared a second time around.

CIOs: Get your departments ready

One of the first things IT departments faced as the work-from-home orders came rolling in was a shifting of priorities to situate their workforces productively in their homes. This included responding to lots of help desk tickets, granting user permissions to specific software and programs, and ensuring employees knew how to safely connect to the network remotely. Many of these tasks were completed manually. For everyone's sanity, prepping for the reality that work-from-home is rapidly becoming the 'next normal', as well as future-proofing for potential pandemics or disasters must become more streamlined.

For example, having an IT support center in place to answer questions or building a repository of instructional videos or documents on an intranet or shared drive will allow employees to work through some of the most common IT issues themselves. Further, considering technology like Identity Access Management (IAM), which ensures that the proper employees have access to technology resources within an organization, can alleviate the burdens and processes associated with manually granting individuals program access. Simplifying IT workflows will be paramount going forward and will allow tech staff the time to address more pressing networking issues that plague companies in times of distress.

Put communication systems in place

When working remotely, we don't have the luxury of walking down the hall and popping into a colleague's office for a project update. Instead, programs and apps that allow for remote communication, like screen sharing, video chats, conference calls, as well as project management tools, have replaced in-person communication. Evaluating the user satisfaction with your current collaboration tools or obtaining new licenses for online collaboration applications, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, should be at the top of the IT project management to-do list. This will allow for safe and secure communications among your team.

Maintain a security focus

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect environment for cybersecurity breaches. Hackers and cybercriminals have been opportunistic in wreaking havoc any way they can, whether by preying on weak security systems, or by creating a vast number of compelling phishing schemes. It's important to remind employees of the security basics, like connecting to the VPN, or not clicking on suspicious links and attachments in emails. For some industries, even stricter security might be required. Within highly regulated industries, such as banking, for example, not only is security a priority, but compliance and documentation must be accounted for as well. With an IAM solution, legacy systems and manual record-keeping processes are replaced with automated processes and a comprehensive audit trail.

Show some grace

Dogs barking, lawn mowers, children fighting in the background, coworkers who can't get their web cams working in time for the project meeting– in many cases the former tenets of "professionalism" have temporarily gone out the window. What's important to remember in this current climate is that everyone is in the same boat and likely facing disruptions unique to their individual situation. Not everyone is tech-savvy, and that's okay. In the end, it's getting the job done that matters most. And, in some cases, getting a glimpse into our coworkers' lives has made us feel more connected, thus building a stronger team.

Look ahead– risk management and business continuity planning

Every CIO knows that security breaches are costly. But when the executive team thinks about their risk management strategy, cybersecurity's access management has often slid off the short list. Traditionally, things like mandated compliance issues, reputation management, or natural disaster recovery have taken a front row seat. Revenue-driving IT projects often go to the head of the class. In light of COVID-19, this must change. Going forward, access governance and cybersecurity is going to be a challenging yet crucial part of a company's business continuity plan, especially due to the rapidly changing nature of the remote work force and their access to sensitive data.  

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