Coronavirus impact. When flexible working is the new normal

‘Tis the season of coughs and sneezes… that spread diseases. If you have to spend time on a train carriage full of people blowing into handkerchiefs, chances are you are going to get the same bug. You may then prefer to work from home for a few days to spare runny noses and headaches to colleagues.

That’s a winter occurrence, without even having to consider the potential of COVID-19 that’s already testing the limits of remote working in China and parts of Europe. Then, of course, we have travel disruption. Abnormal weather conditions, such as recent storms Ciara and Dennis, have led to flight and train cancellations, with workers stranded across the country and abroad following weekend travel. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay and work from home, and businesses are becoming more open to the practice.

More than 1.54 million people work from home for their main job in the UK –  a two-fold increase from ten years ago. The BBC found there has been a smaller increase in the number of people who work in different places but with their home as a base. That number has increased by around 200,000 in the 10 years between 2008 and 2018 to 2.66 million.

People find they can work from coffee shops, libraries or co-location working spaces. Today, there are thousands of dedicated offices where co-workers can hire desks, rooms or conference centres by the hour. There has even been the rise of the so-called ‘pro-worker’ – those who run their permanent businesses from temporary and fluid accommodation spaces.

Securing a remote location

While driving efficiencies and improving employee work-life-balance, working from home, a coffee shop or a co-location (or pro-location) space is not anywhere near as cyber secure being in an office. A lot more preparation is required to coordinate the activities of employees and ensure company systems are able to support a critical mass of staff working remotely at a moment’s notice.

More than 3,000 companies in Japan are planning to introduce telecommuting for their staff during the Tokyo Olympics in the summer in a bid to ease the pressure on the already overcrowded public transport – testing the network’s ability to withstand cyberattacks at the same time. It’s based on the success of the London 2012 Olympics in London where 80 percent of companies employed some form of telecommuting to beat the additional traffic and congestion in the city.

These companies have been through a series of dry runs to see if the city systems, and the businesses themselves, can cope with the new workloads.

All this additional demand for remote working will place strains on the existing office and telecoms infrastructure. For the office environment, having hundreds, if not thousands of additional home workers will test a company’s server capability and its VPN bandwidth, and driving IT professionals’ time and attention away from looking out for potential cybersecurity threats. Do organisations have the internal capacity to match the organic – as well as issues-driven – home working demands for the next five to ten years?

For those workers in cafes and co-working spaces, the question they need to ask is ‘how secure is the Wi-Fi connection that I’m working from?’. They are now reliant on a third-party service and who knows who is sitting on the next table or the opposite booth to snoop on their emails, giving malicious actors the proverbial keys to the enterprise kingdom?

The identity factor

We can be pretty sure that the future lies with more and more flexible working to support the evolving business and individual employee needs. This is where identity will start playing a bigger and bigger role to free IT directors from the burden of routine tasks such as access approvals and data compliance and allowing them to focus on higher value security and business threats.

Imagine being part of an organisation that has thousands of employees around the world, with close to half working away from the office across the globe, and close to 90 per cent in certain regions or countries. Is your network ready? And can you satisfy all access requests coming in at once? All the while ensuring that everyone logging on remotely is actually an employee and not a cybercriminal?

This is just one example of change and increased complexity in modern businesses and IT systems that would either slow workers down or lead to significant security compromises. In this ever-changing world, it is important to maintain a robust security approach to all employees – whether they work from the office or from Antarctica.

This is why a more intelligent approach to identity would ensure that businesses can continue matching the need for speed with flexibility and agility that is a real match to any business eventuality. After all, hackers never sleep, but luckily neither does identity.

The good news is that we already have the means of detecting and mitigating suspicious behaviours, anomalous activities, or potential risk-threats almost immediately. It is time organisations started using the right tools for the job, proactively safeguarding IT and cybersecurity professionals from sleepless nights every time there is one too many employees working from home.

Contributed by Ben Bulpett, EMEA director, SailPoint

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