Three ways to ensure safe and successful remote working

This piece was contributed by Alex Dalglish, Head of Future Workplace at SoftwareONE.

While businesses are beginning to reopen following months of lockdown, it's unlikely there will ever be a ‘return to normal' when it comes to office work as we know it. The crisis has given companies much food for thought around remote working in particular, with many employees embracing it and keen to continue post-pandemic. Indeed, close to half of the workforce is likely to work remotely at least some of the time post-COVID-19.

However, having staff operate outside of the traditional office indefinitely does throw up a whole host of new issues for IT teams and CIOs to consider – from cybersecurity, to data loss, to ensuring productivity is high. Organisations must assess how to keep their business as safe and efficient as possible, as well as deciding what employees' responsibilities are, what's down to the company, and what is shared. There may be certain areas where training needs to be ramped up to help workers meet their obligations or where the business may need to invest in new technologies. Here are three key areas to look at:

1. Bolstering your back-up
If this crisis has taught us anything, it's that we truly don't know what is around the corner. Back-up and recovery has always been an important area for companies to master, given 60 percent of those that lose their data may end up shutting down within six months of a disaster taking place. However, as large swathes of the workforce switch to more flexible working between the office and their homes, data will only become less centralised – especially as employees buy their own, preferred SaaS applications and other services in an attempt to stay productive. The onus is on businesses to recognise back-up as one of their key responsibilities. 

Many organisations that use Microsoft 365, for example, assume that data across all environments, such as Outlook and Office 365, is backed up by the company, which is only half true. Say a colleague leaves and you need to access an important email they received a few weeks ago – without a back-up solution in place, the time lapse will mean this cannot be accessed. As the workforce is set to be more dispersed than ever, it's crucial that companies look at their back-up plans and put in place a mechanism to ensure that important data doesn't fall through the cracks. 

2. Securing the workforce
Another area that will need reassessing as companies embrace remote working is cybersecurity. The perimeter has completely transformed; businesses must look at their existing infrastructure and software, and assess how it can be made secure. Often, enterprise applications and platforms come with in-built security features that go unused or overlooked; for example, more than a third (37 percent) of organisations using Azure, don't use Azure Advanced Threat Protection. It is the organisation's responsibility to decide if the security measures they have at present will be enough to support this shift in working, or if additional layers of security are needed.

However, cybersecurity is also a shared responsibility. Research shows 36 percent of organisations have faced a security incident as a result of the actions of a remote worker, and recent data also shows phishing emails have risen by more than 600 percent since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. Remote workers are particularly vulnerable to these types of scams; training must be provided on how to spot malicious activity, knowing what phishing ‘looks like', and how to report security incidents, as this will help minimise risk.

3. Collaboration is key 
It's important to maintain a collaborative environment that facilitates productivity, even when employees work remotely; tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have become indispensable of late. Workers are now accustomed to instant messaging, video meetings, and collaborative file sharing, which have made the transition to remote working far easier. However, the shift to working from home was so rapid that many organisations bypassed training users on the full range of features on offer and how they can be used to their full potential.

As remote working becomes more of a long-term option, businesses must educate and empower employees on the tools at their disposal that can help increase productivity and strengthen collaboration. Online adoption and change management are a great way for businesses to ensure workers use these technologies confidently and effectively, with the IT and HR departments coming together to deliver online courses, webinars or workshops.

Offering a helping hand
Despite the undeniably awful circumstances that led to employees becoming remote workers almost overnight, many are now enjoying working from home. The question businesses should now be asking is how they can put the workforce's wishes first and facilitate this flexible way of working for staff long-term. Issues such as back-up, security and staff collaboration must be reassessed, identifying knowledge gaps, and rectifying these through training programmes. This ensures best practice is followed and the organisation is protected, even as the workforce becomes more dispersed and staff move outside of the company network.