Navigating the New World of Business with a Remote Workforce

Suddenly, almost without warning, every small and medium size business owner is thinking about work from home security and productivity for their remote workforce. With the threat of COVID-19 suddenly driving America's workforce home, business leaders are searching for creative solutions, scrambling to figure out how to navigate this new world of business by understanding how to manage a remote workforce, the essentials of working from home, and how to maintain or grow productivity without sacrificing network security.

These concerns are particularly profound for highly-regulated industries; those in the financial sector, like banks and credit unions; those in health care delivery, pharmaceutical companies, insurance, financial advisors, and many more industries with regulated data. A security compromise for a company that is highly regulated by the government would be unthinkable--the costs are far too high; the ramifications, too far-reaching; the fallout, potentially devastating.

Yet, whether in a highly regulated industry or not, every business leader is seeking ways to maintain productivity throughout and beyond the duration of this crisis, this new normal. The situation is, for too many businesses, dire. Many are hemorrhaging cash, desperately seeking a solution to keep them afloat--and fast. For countless companies right now, incoming revenue is at a standstill. A solution must be found, yesterday. If you are a leader for such a business, know that you are not alone. We navigate this new normal together.

At Locknet® Managed IT, part of EO Johnson Business Technologies, the team of experts works to balance productivity and security every day—not just in the age of COVID-19. Simply put, it's what they do, and it's what they help businesses of all sizes do. Over the years, and as a highly-regulated business themselves, they've mastered a deep understanding of what it takes for a business to thrive while managing change like the COVID-19 crisis, including:

  • how to shore up security with a dispersed workforce
  • the technology needed to be both productive and protective of company and client data
  • the tools necessary to remain relevant for a rapidly-changing business landscape.

The best time to plan was yesterday. But the second-best time to address a crisis of this magnitude is today. Let's do a deep dive into this new normal and examine the steps you should take and the tools you will need to navigate the new world of business with a remote workforce.

 

Maintaining productivity with a remote workforce

This moment of uncertainty is sure to raise questions about productivity. For one thing, we have differing generational attitudes: baby boomers who recognize the unique value add of shaking hands and conducting business face-to-face, and younger generations, some of whom are digital natives, who have never known a world without WiFi or at least constant connectivity. For generation X, Y, Z or millennials, working from home may be a relatively easy transition—one which enables them to follow up on an email at all hours, not to mention, respond to crises swiftly and seamlessly. And while the generational divide may lead to fears that productivity will take a nosedive when your workforce goes remote, studies show that is likely not the case. In fact, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found in a study of 16,000 people, that telecommuting led to a 13% improvement of employee performance on average, over a nine-month time period.

That productivity was dependent upon one vital factor. Remote employees need the right tools to be effective and productive from their home office. We get into the specifics about the tools you need in place below. But first, let's look more closely at companies themselves, and where you might be from a preparedness perspective.

"Companies are trying to figure out how they can have their employees work from home and be as close to 100% productive as possible," explains Kris Kilgard, Director of Sales with Locknet Managed IT. Kilgard says today's companies fall into two categories.

1. Companies which have prepared pandemic policies

Companies which were most ready for this new normal that started in recent weeks were likely to be regulated entities, which are required to create pandemic policies, among many other policy requirements they face. These companies dedicated resources to creating a policy at some point, and many probably thought they would never need it. Of course, that time—in hindsight—was well-spent, and these companies were better prepared to seamlessly continue serving their customers while pivoting with these changing times. Locknet Managed IT is among the regulated industries, which is why the company is well positioned to continue operations without delay, and help other companies transition to working from home and support their remote workforces.

If your organization has a pandemic policy in place, you're off to a solid start for this new chapter in the business world. Yet, gaps are likely to surface throughout the process. When that occurs, there is great value in finding the right technology partner to circumnavigate those challenges.

2. Companies which do not have a pandemic policy

If you are in the first camp, and your organization has a pandemic policy, the coming weeks and months should be easier on you. But if you are in this second camp, don't despair. Countless companies are making their way through these uncharted waters, with a rapidly evolving timeline, and help is available.

Locknet is currently assisting many companies through this transitional phase—it is navigable, particularly with the right partners in place. Some of these companies are even transitioning their IT support and to home-based employees during their busiest, most revenue generating times of the year. Needless to say—their needs are critical and having the right IT partner with the right tools for productivity and network security is vital. 

 

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Work from home security for your employees

The scramble is real.

Overnight, entire companies are rushing to enable their staffs to work from home so that productivity is uninterrupted. And often a vital consideration is being tossed aside.

"They are throwing security out the window," explains Shannon Mayberry, Locknet Security Manager. "They are doing whatever they can to get their employees home and connected so they can be productive. The companies may be bleeding cash...they need to be productive."

Companies are doing what they need to do. But that comes at a potentially staggering cost.

"This is a prime situation for hackers," says Kilgard. In their rush to stay fully functional, in this overwhelming period of fear among businesses, many companies are forgetting the importance of protecting their data and the data of their customers. And that can make them easy prey. "Everything they know about security they are setting aside for the sake of productivity. Frankly, I might do that too, if I didn't know the risks associated with this."

Balancing security with productivity is essential to ensuring the viability of your business throughout this crisis and for the long haul. As security and productivity experts, Locknet helps clients continually improve their risk posture.

"The number one way you can lower your risk is to become aware of it," says Kilgard. "We help identify risk and put plans in place to eliminate it. Some have impact on end users, some have no impact on end users. It all takes planning. "

As your business transitions operations to a remote workforce, you will need some essentials in place, among them: policies, tools and training. Here are the top essentials our experts recommend for work from home security.

 

Essentials for working from home for business continuity and security

To keep your business running smoothly through this disruption and the unknowns ahead, there are several essentials to have in place. Some relate to policy. Others relate to the tools you and your employees need to stay productive. And still others are associated with necessary training to ensure your employees are working smart—while protecting your company data and client information.

Policies for a remote workforce

Having the right policies in place will provide your staff with the guidance they need to perform in their new workspace while still working toward company deliverables and objectives. Here are some of the policies leadership will want to consider.

  • A policy which specifies which devices are allowed to connect to the network. Employers frequently underestimate the risk of connecting personal devices to the company network. As a best practice, allow only company-owned devices to connect to your organization's network.
  • Require multi-factor authentication. Any remote connection to a web-based app or to the network must be protected by more than a username and password. Requiring strong usernames and passwords is good, but that is not enough. Phishing attacks and other cybercrimes can capture login credentials, compromising the integrity of your network.

    "The hackers have ways to get that info," explains Kilgard. "You must have a way to prove without a doubt that it is your employee that is trying to access the app or the network."

    Locknet has a Multi-Factor Authentication product which it provides to clients, which can protect your critical systems and data from unauthorized access.

  • Have a policy against visiting certain websites, even when working from home. When your employee goes home with the laptop, they are no longer behind your company firewall. From both a security and productivity perspective, you must address this issue. Make sure you have web content filtering as you would in the office. This will assure that employees can’t access websites on their company-owned device they shouldn’t be just because they are at home. 

 

Security and productivity tool essentials for working from home

In these uncertain times, maintaining productivity is key, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your security. The experts at Locknet Managed IT, part of EO Johnson Business Technologies, help protect hundreds of businesses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa from cybercriminals and shore up network vulnerabilities every day. Here is a complete list of our essential best practices for network security and productivity for businesses with a remote workforce.

  • Only use company-owned, encrypted devices. The security system at your office is no longer keeping your company-owned laptop safe. Not to mention whatever data resides on it. Encryption will protect that data.
  • Continue to expire and change passwords.
  • Use trusted Wi-Fi or hotspots and avoid open Wi-Fi networks.
  • Utilize virtual private networks (VPNs).
  • Require Multi-Factor Authentication to access VPN, Office 365 and key systems.
  • Safeguard communications. For voice communications, encourage staff to always use a headset. For email communications, use encryption technology to protect sensitive communications. For online chat, discourage employees from conveying sensitive or private information. And for video, turn off or block the camera when not in use.
  • Maintain physical security. Encourage staff to lock their computers when they step away. Make it a policy to log off each day and power off devices. And use a shredder for all printed documents.
  • Utilize a cloud security platform that provides security for devices, whether they are connected to the network or not.
  • Consider supplying your employees with a second monitor so they don’t have to stare at a small laptop screen all day. Or, allow them to bring theirs home from the office. "Many studies are out there that show with a second monitor, productivity goes up substantially," says Kilgard. A $200 investment could pay significant dividends.
  • Consider cyber insurance, as well as an overall risk management strategy which includes regular cyber risk monitoring and mitigation.
  • Put a comprehensive data back-up strategy, and the accompanying technology, in place. This is essential to your company's ability to recover in the event that malware infects your data. Locknet provides a number of products that can offer you the peace of mind you need during these trying times, including Reinforce DR, a back-up and disaster recovery product with full fail-over in the cloud.
  • Have a qualified in-house cybersecurity staff, or work with a managed IT service provider like Locknet Managed IT, to ensure that all security products are properly configured and functioning.
  • Have security monitoring tools in place and conduct security updates and patching regularly. This includes Operating Systems, anti-virus updates and other 3rd party software.  Netxuspro Monitoring and Patch Management can ensure your systems are secure and your updates and patches are done in a timely manner.
  • Perform vulnerability scans for all devices on, and components of, your network. This offers assurance that all critical patches have been installed. Locknet provides Vulnerability Management to clients--which screens and tracks network devices for vulnerabilities so they can be addressed.
  • Deploy SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) which collects and screens log data from network devices, analyzes it, and identifies threats so they can be addressed swiftly. Note: while SIEM monitors all network devices and sounds an alarm when an intrusion takes place, it is not a replacement for virus and malware protection for devices. For that, consider Locknet's Anti-virus, Anti-malware, Anti-spyware solution.
  • Strengthen your email system and make sure it is configured to detect and prevent common email attacks, such as phishing attempts and malicious attachments. Locknet's Email with Advanced Threat Detection can provide critical protection from attacks. While this offers valuable protection, keeping your staff educated and informed about threats is a key component of a network security strategy.

Training

  • Security Awareness Training is an absolute must, especially for those employees who are not used to working from home. Provide them training so they know how to work from home securely and track employee completion. Locknet's Security Education and Awareness Training can improve your organization's operational resilience by ensuring employees recognize cyber threats, avoid phishing scams, identify suspicious links and more.

 

The future of productivity and security for a remote workforce is now

Want to know more about remote workforce productivity and security solutions?  Download our printable and shareable resource, which provides an overview of best practices for network security with a remote workforce, as well as a listing of our recommended productivity and security solutions. Ready to protect your business for the duration of the pandemic and the future of work? We can provide you with the work from home security you need, as well as the productivity essentials for working from home; simply contact us to discuss your needs and how we can help.