Is your organization ready to securely support a wide range of remote workers in the wake of a global pandemic? With cases of coronavirus mounting in countries around the globe and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warning citizens to be prepared for the likelihood the illness will spread across other regions of the world, now is the time for enterprises to start asking themselves that question.
According to one CDC official, a coronavirus outbreak in the North America is no longer a matter of if but when, and then how widespread will it be? Given the uncertainty, infectious disease specialists at the CDC and elsewhere advise it is time to begin preparatory planning for possibility of social distancing strategies and even quarantines in the coming future.
"We should all be dusting off our pandemic preparedness plans and rehearse them very quickly,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious specialist from Vanderbilt University, told NBC News.
For businesses and other organizations, this preparedness should include heavy involvement from IT to ensure that all of the knowledge workers who can feasibly work from home have the technical support they require to securely access company systems, data, and productivity tools with minimal disruption to workflows. Laying that groundwork now could make or break a company's ability to sustain operations should coronavirus require large populations to start holing up at home.
Maintaining a secure, seamless workflow for remote workers impacted by the coronavirus or other widespread pathogen will require IT and cybersecurity professionals to implement strategies that help them achieve continuity of business processes:
Removing the VPN Speedbump
So many of today's traditional remote work security solutions depend upon VPN or VDI technology that not only impedes productivity, but also does an inconsistent job effectively safeguarding systems from sophisticated threats. In fact, one study found that 18% of VPNs don't even encrypt their traffic at all, while 84% use improper encryption protocols to protect that traffic.
Large enterprises need a faster, safer channel of connection to allow remote workers access to their files and productivity software in order to enable meaningful work from home. This will be key in a potential coronavirus or other pathogen outbreak quarantine situation where many employees who traditionally work from the office will be forced to work from home during for extended periods.
Device-Agnostic Capabilities are a Must
Additionally, IT should be seeking out the ability to conduct work no matter where, when, or from which device the worker chooses to get things done.
Users today have high expectations about how they are able to conduct business, and a secure remote work solution has got to be able to accommodate different OS platforms and be able to support people in gaining access to whatever web-based app, intranet site, or data file they need to get their job done.
Offer Productivity Software People Actually Use
Let's face it, there are a lot of alternative document, spreadsheet, and slide creation software platforms out there in this SaaS era that never quite cut it in an enterprise environment.
Most workers are used to Word, Excel, and Power Point, and they'll need seamless access to MS Office to maintain their productivity levels when working from home. It's up to IT departments to find a way to make that happen.
Maintain Productivity Even in Spotty Coverage Areas
In the event that a wide swath of workers will need to swiftly socially distance themselves from the general public to stay safe from coronavirus or other widespread pathogens, it's likely that many of them will run into connectivity issues in certain instances. This means that the remote work platform an organization chooses needs to have a robust offline mode to provide access to a range of assets even when internet is down.
In addition, organizations should consider the benefits of communications tools designed specifically for collaboration in times of crisis. An emergency notification system can be an indispensable mitigation tool when normal business operations are interrupted due to an emergency.
These tools can enable your response teams and leadership to maintain better situational awareness during an incident, provide better visibility into the status of employees and key business assets, and allow teams to collaborate securely and efficiently with internal resources and external third-party services.
It Needs to be Safe and Easy
Even as organizations smooth the path to easy access for remote workers, they've got to be seeking out a platform that can maintain continuous authentication so that users are always authorized to access only the documents and systems they require for their job duties.
Additionally, their devices should be protected with the kind of AI-powered defense that can take on modern threats like fileless and zero-day attacks without interrupting the user's workflow or consuming an excessive amount of resources in the users’ device.
Finally, the whole process should be easy for administrators, too. With a potential flood of new remote users that may be imminent from a pandemic situation, IT will need a platform that can simply onboard and offboard users.
Most enterprise IT leaders today already recognize that offering remote work opportunities to the workforce is no longer a nice-to-have perk for a select few workers in limited situations. Enterprises are increasingly finding that remote work is a must-have job requirement for a growing number of young employees.
The non-traditional arrangements among mobile workers, contract staff, new parents, flex employees, seasonal staff, and innovation partners adds to the importance of seamlessly enabling remote work across the entire organization.
The recent coronavirus outbreak is illuminating another hidden reason to build the infrastructure to securely support remote work: namely that highly functional and secure remote work infrastructure plays a crucial role in maintaining business continuity. As experts warn of a potential pandemic situation, now is the time to take that imperative seriously.