The front pages of every mainstream media outlet are rightly dedicated to coverage of the ongoing outbreak, It’s the biggest discussion point on social media right now, and the business world is reeling from the effects of major industry events being cancelled, office closures and disrupted supply chains.
In Britain the mood is currently one of caution. The government faces a tricky balancing act of dealing with the outbreak as efficiently as possible, without causing panic or unnecessary fear, which could potentially damage businesses and be bad news for the economy.
As it stands the overwhelming majority of people who have been tested are thankfully not infected, but individual companies are still taking no risks whatsoever. In the city, workers are being sent home so offices can be deep cleaned, in some cases even when a single employee reports quite minor symptoms.
The government’s official prediction is that the number of infections will rise over months, not weeks, so it seems likely we’re all going to face considerable disruption for some time. Travel and work activities are certain to be curtailed, and while many of us will be considering the prospect of working from home, those of us who can’t avoid travel can expect longer delays at terminals and plans that could change abruptly.
Careful consideration will be needed for an organisation to maintain productivity. And holding a remote workforce together to enable business as usual will depend on making the most of technology.
But is your organisation prepared for an increased reliance on technical solutions?
Security, data privacy, and connectivity become major concerns for a remote workforce, so it’s worth paying extra attention to both risks and potential solutions to reduce the chance they could create any further problems for your firm.
For example, if your colleagues are handling business-critical documents outside of the office, are you confident that all necessary precautions are being made to encrypt the files? Likewise, correct handling of customer information has become considerably more important since GDPR regulation came into force.
It’s all too easy to misplace a USB stick or laptop, and there are ramifications if that valuable data falls into the wrong hands. Full disk encryption of work laptops is a good starting point, but for transporting data between home and the office on USB sticks, it might be worth equipping staff with a product such as Kingston IronKey, that encrypts all data automatically. Without a password, that data will be unreadable by a third party.
Many organisations are scrambling to limit face-to-face contact, relying on remote video conferencing to replace in-person appointments and meetings. Microsoft recently announced its Seattle-based MVP Summit would be replaced by a virtual meeting, while in Wuhan, China, remote video consultation is being used to limit risk to patients and medical staff.
It’s a good idea, but it depends on connectivity, something not everyone in Britain can take for granted. Nothing spoils a video conference more than a buffering error message and problems with your home WiFi signal might create spots with patchy signal. If you’re having issues, investing in a new modern router with better range might be the answer, particularly if you’re still using the basic hardware that was supplied by your service provider.
The best kind of product for all-round home WiFi coverage is achieved with a mesh-based system of a router and satellites such as Netgear’s Orbi. The satellites act as boosters, bringing a stronger signal into areas of poor WiFi coverage in your home.
Business Mobile devices
If you’re not at home but still need to join video conferences or rely on any kind of shared work environment on a mobile data connection, there are further problems to consider. Relying on your phone all day long is going to kill the battery quicker. Heavy use could mean that midway through the day, you’re cut off from your colleagues and clients.
There are a few ways to mitigate this. Many public spaces have charging points, or you can carry a relatively inexpensive portable USB battery that can supply you with another charge or two for your devices.
You should also consider mobile connectivity. Although 5G is slowly cropping up around big cities and 4G connections are good in many places, nothing beats a fixed WiFi connection for bandwidth, which might be critical when working from a makeshift office that’s away from the real office.
Coffee shops, hotels, train stations and airport departure areas are keen to offer their customers free WiFi, reducing the burden on mobile data plans, but you might want to think twice about connecting to the first WiFi network that’s available.
In many cases, the connection provided to you is offered in exchange for your personal data, but behind the scenes there is further data being collected about your device. In many cases, you won’t know what’s happening with that information, whether it’s being sold, or how well it’s being handled. Only recently, rail station WiFI providers exposed traveller data, including email addresses and customer contact details.
This probably won’t bother you if you’re only reading Facebook posts, but for work purposes you should perhaps reconsider using that free WiFi when you’re working with sensitive information.
At the least, you should be connected to a company VPN. But a novel class of product can solve both phone battery and data security issues together. Mobile routers with their own dedicated data connection and wireless network give you a similar level of control over your connection that you can get at home, removing the need to rely on another organisation’s untrusted network and ensuring no other user will be there to pry on other devices.
With the most sensitive information you may wish to consider an additional level of protection. If you’re using a personal laptop in place of a company-issued device that you’re used to in the office, it may not have the same high-grade managed security that makes it harder for malware, trojans and malicious software to break in to your PC. In this case, you may want to consider equipping your devices with standalone endpoint security like one from SentryBay.
The unfortunate context of these technology tips is hopefully only temporary, as we’re all hoping any outbreak will disappear sooner rather than later. But being forced to work away from the office is at least an opportunity to reconsider how well placed our organisations are for remote working. And perhaps a more permanent tightening of IT policy and support could end up as an unintended consequence of the situation.