When the current health crisis hit, many small and medium-sized businesses were taken by surprise. Some had already been experimenting with remote work on a limited basis and are now faced with the challenge of ramping up those initiatives to cover the rest of their workforce. Others hadn’t even begun to consider the ramifications and risks of their employees working via internet connections.
Business (Not) As Usual
When it was clear that this situation could last for quite a while, most organizations started moving purposefully to bridge those gaps. By late April, Microsoft was reporting that Teams, its online collaboration platform, was seeing a 70% rise in usage, with over 75 million active users every day. Zoom, formerly a relatively unknown videoconferencing app, hosted 300 million daily meetings that month.
By this point, several months into quarantine, just about everyone has come to grips with the fact that work can still get done even when the office is shuttered. Still, this new normal is presenting its own challenges. Here is a rundown of the major problems facing SMBs with newly remote workforces:
Almost across the board, internet usage is up as literally billions of people across the globe shelter in place with only their uplinks to the net keeping them tethered to their communities. The American Communications Association, which represents more than 750 small to mid-sized broadband service providers, reported that since the start of the pandemic, daily downloads are up 27% and daily uploads rose by 36%.
Both self managed company servers and third party cloud providers of storage and computing services are seeing increased traffic. For the most part, the overall infrastructure of the internet is holding up to the increased demand, but many businesses were not prepared for such a rapid increase in the amount of bandwidth they now need.
Outdated Internal Contact Plan
Many businesses still rely on a classic reception desk or internal switchboard, but at this moment when offices are down to a skeleton staff (if any staff at all), company phone numbers should be routed directly to employee mobile phones. Furthermore, every company should be taking this moment to update their call tree, ensuring that the numbers are correct so incoming calls get routed where they need to go.
“Remember that new joiners may not yet have their details in the system and people move and change numbers, so the contact plan will need to be constantly updated; many systems can be tied to an active directory to help keep it up to date,” cautioned Tim Rawlins a senior adviser at the cyber security firm NCC Group.
No Data Security Policy
Data disasters and cyberthreats were on the rise even before the current crisis, and the consequences for a breach can be devastating. Every firm must codify their security protocols to consider questions such as:
- Which equipment must be left on?
- When should routine security checks be performed?
- Who is responsible for disaster recovery implementation?
- When (if ever) should the corporate VPN be disabled?
- Which apps and online platforms are appropriate for employee use?
- What are the minimal acceptable access protocols (e.g. multi-factor authentication)?
- Who is monitoring network configurations and connections?
“Many companies simply haven’t had the time or resources to ensure an adequate security posture for their workforce through this abrupt transition,” he said. “They are, by necessity, trading the expediency of continued business operations against inherently lower levels of protection,” said Paul Lipman, CEO of cybersecurity company BullGuard.
According to Ilia Kolochenko, the founder and CEO of ImmuniWeb, an application security tester, “Coronavirus is a formidable and fairly unprecedented opportunity to trick panicking people amid the global havoc and mayhem … even experienced cybersecurity professionals may get scammed by a well-crafted phishing email allegedly coming from a national health authority.”
Kolochenko recommends all organizations immediately “…implement and promulgate a clear, centralized and consistent internal process to communicate all the events and precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic.” She adds: “Corporate cybersecurity and security awareness should constitute an invaluable part of such communications.”
When you want to clear something up at the office, it’s often as simple as walking down the hall and asking the person involved directly. Remote workers don’t have that luxury, and might not be accustomed to all their communications being mediated by digital platforms. Managers should be scrupulous about setting expectations for daily communication via approved channels, such as Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, or plain old fashioned email.
Lack of Documentation
As an ancillary problem to miscommunication, sometimes information is passed along, but a record of that message isn’t kept, which leads to disorganization and other issues down the road. Both management and employees should be tracking everything: work hours, deliverables, security updates, standard procedures, etc.
“Many people think this is a sacrifice made to allow remote work, but documenting how things are done allows a company to scale faster even if it’s not remote,” said Gregory Galant, CEO and co-founder of Muck Rack, a PR software platform.
The Last Mile
In the office, the IT department can ensure a consistent and reliable user experience. But with entire workforces at home, each person brings their own home network consisting of consumer-grade hardware and their various issues (e.g. dropped VOIP calls, VPN connection timeouts, wifi dead spots).
Many companies that moved emergently to remote work quickly discovered this bottleneck and are now deciding how to address it. Some are upgrading their fleet of company laptops, others are shipping office desktop systems to employee’s homes. These hybrid, quickly-pieced together networks raise security concerns, demanding increased monitoring.
Rise to the Challenge
Despite the risks and challenges associated with remote work, the benefits are significant. Fundera found that companies that offer telecommuting options to their employees collectively save $44 billion annually in reduced turnover and decreased office space requirements.
Given the pandemic, that value proposition is looking less like a choice and more like a necessity for survival, so every business would be wise to take this moment to build out their remote working programs, mitigate the associated risks, and protect their employees, customers, and clients.