We are close to five months into the daily routine of our new work-from-home (WFH) world. We have now had the opportunity to reflect on the experience. In addition, leadership around the world is starting to assess strategic objectives and the future direction. While there may be a point in the very near future when we are told that globally it is safe to gather in large numbers, be compressed together during a flight, and once again inhabit large office towers, strategically our leadership is contemplating if any or all of these things are right for the enterprise.
As we maneuver through this strange time and try to adhere to the different regulations we are presented with each day, data is being collected regarding the impact on our mental health as a result of working from home. In addition, we have discussed the transition, the home office, the challenges, security, building a remote work strategy, and even business continuity. But we have not yet discussed the home office as a remote location. Like it or not, we have to consider the possibility that we will have to think of our employee home offices as extensions of the head office and we will have to consider the technical implications.
The following is a list of lessons learned that have been compiled from the industry as we reflect on the past, and plan for the future. Whatever that might look like.
No. 5 on the list of lessons is embracing the fact that work-from-home offices should be CAT5 wired. We live in a world of instant gratification, and that is what we have all grown to expect. Something many employees may not have noticed is that when they are sitting at their work location, their PC is actually communicating via a CAT5 line that is connected to a plug in the wall, which then has a (somewhat) direct communication line to the server room. Most employees, when working from home, are attaching to their home WiFi. While this can open up a whole can of concerns, it also results in lowered speed. Most of us are now attaching to our home WiFi, and then connecting to a VPN. This roundabout way of connecting to our office also results in an additional time requirement to access office servers or download files. In addition, we often encounter the issue of choppy video when communicating via Teams or Zoom or any of the available tools. The solution is to run a CAT5 cable directly between a PC/laptop, to a wall socket. If there is no wall socket, it is still possible to run a cable directly from your modem. This will cure the speed issues associated with WiFi and has the added benefit of lowering the security risk.
4. Disaster recovery
It is so much easier and faster to save documents to a local drive. But what happens when our cat/dog/bird/kid bumps or jumps on the desk and spills coffee all over our laptop? Since all of us, at some point in time, will spill something on our laptop or PC keyboard, it is a good idea to provide instructions to employees on what to do when this happens. Two key points, and then I will move on. If you do spill something on your laptop or PC, immediately turn it off, and do not, under any circumstances, try to shake the substance out! That was just a quick public service announcement.
The point is that if something happens and the documents from the past five months are sitting on the local drive, there is the risk that five months of work is now lost. It is surprising how many people I have talked to who assume that even though they are working from home, somehow the documents on their local drive have backup copies safely stored back at the office. If documents must be saved to a local drive, ensure that employees are educated as to how often, how to back up their files, and the fact that they are personally responsible to do so.
3. Home WiFi settings
Most home WiFi is installed out-of-the-box (OOTB). We move to a new home, sign up for the service, and a box arrives at our door. As home users, many of us don’t know or care about security settings or forced password changes and we just hope that when we plug stuff in, it works. If your employees are working from home, here are a few basic settings that they should be instructed to check, and to change if required.
Ensure that encryption is on.
Change the default OOTB WiFi password. Always name your home wireless network. If the standard OOTB name is used, there is too much information contained within the name to ensure privacy and it is possible to identify the type and do a quick search to hack the WiFi. Add that to the bullet above and there is a very high opportunity for your data to be compromised.
Make sure the firewall is turned on.
2. Data security
As noted above, it is much easier to save a file to a local drive. But what kinds of data are your employees downloading and keeping at home? There is absolutely no way to ensure the security of our employee’s homes. Think about kids coming and going, doors and windows left unlocked, and any other number of potential points of risk. The point being that data security is also about access, opportunity, and exposure. When assessing a crime, law enforcement professionals look at numerous variables such as intent, state of mind, suitable target, and motivation. But there is one key element that isn’t such a variable. For a crime to occur, there must be opportunity. While in the office, we swipe a key card to gain access, and in many cases office PC’s are cabled to a desk or solid structure. In addition, we are educated to always lock our computers when we leave our desks. Home security needs to be considered and employees need to be further educated on the security of equipment that is considered to be the property of the enterprise. Do not ignore this work-from-home lesson!
No. 1 my list of work-from-home lessons every CIO needs to know, is the service level that is required and expected from home office employees. Is the helpdesk set up to successfully support WFH employees? What level of service can your employees expect? Thankfully, remote access tools are readily available and there is really no need for help desk personnel to be expected to attend an issue personally at a home office. WFH employees need to feel secure in the fact that they have the same access to help desk support as they have grown to expect while in the office. If we refer back to the start of this article, we are all being constantly reminded of the fact that many mental health professionals are concerned about the long-term effects of this imposed WFH experience. Consider the impact of a poor WFH environment compounded with poorly functioning technology. We all just want to get the job done, and when technology becomes a roadblock, it can be a very stressful situation.
Work-from-home lessons takeaway: The home office is a remote office location
We are all starting to grasp the reality that this temporary adjustment may be not so temporary. It appears that the WFH initiative that was instigated by the reality of COVID-19 may result in longer-term strategic changes. While the people in the C-Suite contemplate and prepare for the future, many of us need to understand and implement necessary changes to ensure the security and integrity of the enterprise. We need to consider every home office as an extension of the enterprise, and this starts with educating employees on their responsibilities.
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