by Karla Clarke, Director (Cyber Security Services)
Over the past two months, organizations have rapidly transitioned from highly interactive environments to a completely virtual world. Now more than ever, firms must evaluate how they intend to build relationships internally and externally and how those relationships might require extra support. Some of us have never seen change so rapid and successful in our organizations. As bureaucratic red tape and politics were stripped, we had to shift focus from our self-inflicted priorities to organizational survival. Work from home has become the new norm, an accepted reality that may stick around much longer than we presume. COVID-19 or not, there are some opportunities identified within this crisis that organizations can continue to leverage going forward. As employees begin returning to the office, now is the time to consider if the organization will be able to adapt just as rapidly and whether the relationships that have been built will survive the new norm. While time seems to be on our side, organizations can leverage this as an opportunity to begin preparing for the invasion of employees and technology that will soon burst through the door.
For most organizations, the entire office was told to work from home at once. As we consider returning to work, we need to consider the people side of the equation and recognize that the entire office does not need to return together. The process and technology considerations below should be factored into your company “restart” plan prior to the entire work force returning in a stampede. Talking to your people now about their appetite to return to an office is vital because there will be significant social implications due to COVID-19 concerns. Social distancing may have been difficult to grasp but will become the new norm for some. With that, we will need to respect the space of our employees and allot them the time needed to adjust back to potentially shaking hands or sitting in a cubicle less than a few feet apart. Though you may declare your offices open, some may choose to stay home. Flexible polices will need to continue to be in place while employees adjust to the new norm; your ability to rely upon strong relationships internally and externally and to communicate effectively will give you the advantage when your team is required to pivot again.
If you haven’t updated your remote access policy and supporting procedures, there’s still time. Ensuring that there are clear policies in place that allow flexibility to employees while protecting the operations of the organization is critical. Additional policies to review and update include: safety and health, acceptable use policy, and access control policies. As employees return to the office, whether you have updated the policy or not, have employees review and accept these policies to ensure accountability. Some may need a reminder as changes made during this time may make some policies unclear. This will give employees an opportunity to review and express any concerns they have which the organization may need to address.
Daily, the status of an employee may change. Now more than ever organizations are making updates from full-time, to part-time, to furlough, etc. With that, access changes must be applied in accordance with the role and status of the employee. Additionally, it is pertinent that privileged employees are monitored during these times. As added pressure, both external and internal stressors may push employees to behave unethically, so automated controls are vital. Once things pick up and employees begin to come back in full force, their role-based access, emails, shared drives, and all essential aspects of their function should be maintained.
The attack surface expanded as employees began working from home. Without the professional environment, the standard cybersecurity practices that are never top of mind are now the last thing employees will think about. ‘Patch Tuesday’ as some like to call it, has hopefully continued during this slow down. To protect servers and devices, all networked devices that are currently at home with employees should have updates being pushed to them; forced updates are recommended. Once employees begin returning, devices should either be scanned or if not fully updated, forced to update prior to connecting. Once employees return, bringing them in by groups or teams vs. allowing everyone to return at once will offer the IT and Security teams time to assess and update prior to introducing unknown threats into the network.
Now is also a good time to work on items like disaster recovery, backup, and storage expansion. Increasing network infrastructure to support the onslaught of data that will enter is important for sustained network bandwidth and backup availability. These are things deemed as important but there typically isn’t any time to address. Prior to having employees return, it is important to take this time to not only build up but clean up the environment.
Prior to all this, many organizations were bursting at the seams, with office space being a major deficit. On the plus side, problems like cubicle and meeting room availability are no longer an issue. Remote employees used to seem difficult when sustaining business practices and developing a distinct corporate culture. The eerily empty halls of offices, workspace and monitors currently sit idle while costs continue to surmount. By now, many leaders and their teams are viewing remote work differently; in-person interaction may be limited by social distancing practices, but virtual interaction and communication is booming. As this becomes the new standard, now is the time to assess if it is required to have all teams work from the office in the future. The roles that seemed unfillable may now look like an opportunity to hire a remote employee.
Leverage this downturn as an opportunity. Instead of being overwhelmed with uncertainty, manage what is in your control and prepare for the future. After the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, are you prepared to make your organization a safer, more effective place to work?