By Rajesh Maurya
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations had already begun the shift toward telework. By offering this as an option to their employees, even as an occasional benefit, some companies were able to lay the groundwork for managing a remote workforce and ensuring business continuity outside of the traditional office environment. But even for those who had their remote work strategy in place, it was near impossible for anybody to fully prepare for what was to come.
Challenges of Working Remotely
According to Fortinet’s 2020 Remote Workforce Cybersecurity Report, approximately two-thirds of organizations surveyed needed to transition more than 50% of their workforces to telework due to the pandemic. While some adapted to this “new normal” fairly quickly, not everybody had the advantage of a smooth transition. Amid this shift, many faced new challenges in regards to secure connectivity, access to business-critical applications, and assurance of business continuity. Compound this with a lack of in-person communication, both structured and unstructured, and it is clear why many organizations have also struggled with maintaining motivation among employees during this time.
Although this could be taken with a pinch of salt, these types of concerns will likely remain as 29% of organizations surveyed expect more than half of their employees to continue teleworking full-time after the pandemic.
Considerations for Managing a Remote Workforce
As remote work continues to be the norm, organizations must implement certain strategies to keep their employees productive, secure, and engaged, especially for those who are not planning to re-enter the office environment any time soon, if at all. When it comes to effectively managing a remote workforce, organizations should consider the following.
For many employees, the shift to telework meant that they no longer had access to the tools they used daily, such as a desktop computer. While the use of personal devices has sufficed temporarily, the potential permanency of telework for some means that this is no longer good enough. Companies must equip employees with the technology they need to do their jobs effectively, specifically a laptop that houses essential applications and includes a pre-configured client to enable secure connectivity to their headquarters.
Additionally, because most employees now work in isolation, they also need technology that can act as a substitute for face-to-face communication with co-workers. This includes access to email, teleconferencing, internet, file sharing, function-specific capabilities (i.e. human resources), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications in the cloud (i.e. Microsoft Office 365).
Secure Remote Access
On top of providing employees with certain technologies, both hardware and software, it is critical that organizations protect their remote users with robust secure remote access strategies. This starts with understanding the different types of teleworkers and their roles within the organization.
- General User: The needs of these employees form the baseline of secure access that everybody within the organization should have when working remotely. To ensure these remote users can do their jobs effectively, organizations should be able to lay the groundwork for secure and private connections across the public internet. They should also prioritize identity verification when connecting to network-sensitive applications using multi-factor authentication as well as through a secure connection.
- Power User: In addition to the requirements of general users, power users also need consistent, secure connections to the corporate network from wherever they are. This level of security can be achieved through an always-on connection to the head-end firewall. Access points that can deliver flexible and secure connectivity managed remotely by a next-generation firewall (NGFW) will ensure that security policies can be applied to wireless traffic, and an encrypted tunnel from the access point will protect traffic across the internet.
- Super User: This category includes those workers with elevated credentials or access to business-critical information, meaning the security of their work activities should be a top priority for organizations. By deploying a next-generation firewall in their remote workplace, these users can achieve the highest levels of security available, encompassing application control, traffic inspection, and AI-driven security processes. FurtherNGFW’s with built-in Secure SD-WAN can provide bandwidth management, application steering, and connectivity optimization to ensure that these teleworkers get the best possible user experience, regardless of where they are working from.
With the right Secure Teleworker Solutionsorganizations can ensure continued connectivity, secure remote access, and best user experience for their remote employees at any level.
Employee Motivation Strategies
When working remotely, employees may miss out on the social interaction that they’ve become accustomed to within their traditional office environments. While this may not seem important, water cooler conversations, such as employees discussing their weekend plans, can have a significant impact on employee productivity.
One way that organizations can drive this sense of motivation is by encouraging employees to leave the room at the beginning or end of calls to interact on a personal level, not just a professional one. By prioritizing these informal discussions, teams may see not only a positive shift in attitudes but also a willingness to share new ideas that benefit the organization as a whole. This can also be achieved by reiterating the company’s mission to help employees tie their daily efforts to the overall picture.
Employee motivation can also have a significant impact on cybersecurity, as insider threats are often associated with careless or negligent users who make mistakes either because they are trying to save time or because they are not paying attention. Organizations can mitigate this risk by offering internal mentorships that are designed to keep employees engaged, helping to improve productivity and keep employees aware of their impact.
Furthermore, virtual training opportunities that centre on cybersecurity awareness and accountability can also play a critical role in helping employees understand the importance of cyber hygiene.
When managing a remote workforce, organizations need to think outside the box, not only focusing on traditional measures of security and networking but also building excitement among employees. Because remote work will most likely become a permanent fixture for most, organizations they cannot afford to embrace a “business as usual” attitude, as this could negatively impact cybersecurity and business continuity in the long run.
(The author is Regional Vice President, India & SAARC, Fortinet and the views expressed in this article are his own)