Recent weeks have seen debate intensify on remote working. Will it continue? Is it good for business? Is it good for workers? As yet, the answers remain unclear, but there are signs that the so-called ‘new normal’ won’t be very normal at all: the streets of Dublin have metaphorical tumbleweed blowing down them and Google hit the headlines for cancelling its lease on a new building in the capital. Is it a sign of things to come?
David Jeffreys, chief executive of managed services provider and software developer ActionPoint, said people will go back to the office – but not in the same way as before. The future will likely be a hybrid workplace, he said.
“We’ve all been thrust into a remote working environment and all got on with it. That was impressive to see, but now we’re at a state where we need to ask, ‘what’s the long-term plan?’ We were [all] kind of looking month to month.”
What is now likely, he said, is that people will work partly from home and partly in the office, going in for meetings or perhaps several days a week. “People enjoy working from the office and the connections they make, but they don’t like the commute and want to spend time with their families.”
In the longer term, this changed mode, along with regional co-working hubs, could give a boost to areas outside the capital.
“Certainly, for rural Ireland, looking at places like Lahinch and Killkee: [these] certainly have co-working spaces. At the moment that would be difficult in terms of social distancing, but in the future, it might be a useful compromise.”
Outfitting for hybrid work
Transforming the home into a true workplace requires some thought, however: equipment must be bought, space cordoned off and services acquired.
“People started with a laptop and kitchen table,” he said. “Ergonomically speaking, it’s not feasible to keep doing that, so people need to get things like a second monitor, a webcam, a docking station, a proper keyboard and mouse and so on. Having a dedicated workspace in your home is essential.
Many businesses already have software that can help, too, though they may not be using it.
“Getting Teams enabled, getting security enabled and giving employees the apps they need to work effectively and securely: this is very important,” said Jeffreys.
“A lot of functions and features may not have been enabled before. For example, a lot of businesses are just using things like Word and Excel, but even Microsoft Teams has a lot of features people aren’t using: you can enable Power BI, for example, and have organisational teams enabled.”
Beyond that, there are specific technology services required to make remote working a viable proposition.
A basic principle of maintaining security is to use only managed devices and then remote connect into applications and data, said Jeffreys. This ensures that business data is not compromised by the device – laptop, phone or tablet – being hacked, lost or stolen.
“Remote management can be tricky for an IT team, but we’re seeing more traction on it,” said Jeffreys. Policy is also essential, and ActionPoint can help develop the right approach.
“Secure passwords are a very simple [issue]: what is your policy? How often are your passwords updated? We’re [also] seeing a lot of companies that don’t have multi-factor authentication set up.”
The knowledge equation
The increasing professionalism and volume of hacking attacks, particularly phishing, have meant that security is as much about user knowledge as it is about firewalls and tunnelling.
Indeed, in April Barracuda Networks noted phishing emails had spiked by over 600 per cent since the end of February.
“Your weakest link is your staff, unfortunately, and phishing e-mails are getting very professional,” said Jeffreys. “ActionPoint helps mitigate these attacks using phishing protection tools from our security partner Sophos.”
Even then attackers can still fool users, though. “This is where security awareness training comes in and we also run internal tests [simulating attacks]. It’s a good way of testing your staff’s know-how. ”
“We have phishing attack simulation tools to highlight and correct any chinks in the armour.”