In this day and age, nearly every SMB has several team members working remotely – full or part-time. Although this trend was set in motion by the pandemic, it will continue long after covid is a dusty memory. Why? It just makes sense… and employees love it.
With gas prices soaring, why waste time and money driving to a brick and mortar building, when team members can accomplish as much or more at home?
Not only can working from home increase morale and productivity, it also provides more flexibility in work schedules, so employees can work when they are feeling more creative or energized. We all know people who either love to burn the midnight oil or wake up at the crack of dawn, so a 9-5 job for those types of individuals is nothing short of torture.
The benefits for employees are clear, but are there advantages for employers? Yes and no. It all depends on the type of business the owner is running, the employee’s position with the company, and the work ethic of each individual. Actually, there is one more personality trait that should be considered when weighing the benefits… Do these remote employees have the ability to self-direct?
That’s not a rhetorical question. And the answer must whole-heartedly be… yes!
But, getting back to the #WFH movement… What are the employer benefits of having a remote staff?
3 Major Benefits for SMBs
In excerpts from an article by HiveDesk, They wrote, “75% of the survey respondents said that every employee in their business is working from home. More importantly, 33% of small businesses who responded do not plan to have an office in the future. Another 33% plan to have only essential staff work from the office in the future. This means 2 out of every 3 small businesses will either not have an office or have a smaller office in the future.”
But it’s not just the brick-and-mortar that is costly. According to excerpts from an article by Lano, they wrote, “Providing office space, internet, electricity, water, office furniture, equipment and supplies, cleaning services, etc. – to have employees working on site – is a big cost factor for businesses.
It is estimated that the average office space cost per employee is around $18,000 per year. Multiply this cost by the number of employees and you get an idea of the cost savings remote work can make possible.”
Happier, More Productive Employees
As an employer you readily understand the benefit of improved productivity, but why should you be concerned with “happier” employees? Because one disgruntled employee can spoil the whole bunch. But, more practically…
In excerpts from a Timely article, they wrote, “It wasn’t too long ago that being happy at work wasn’t a big deal. Work is a four-letter word, after all; if you didn’t like your job, you just did it all the same and found your happiness outside the office. However, we live in different times now. The link between happiness and productivity isn’t new, but many employers still underestimate just how important it is in the workplace.
Let’s consider a few statistics:
- Happy employees stay in their job four times longer than unhappy employees;
- Happy employees are 12% more productive;
- Happy employees commit twice as much time to their tasks;
- Happy employees have 65% more energy than unhappy employees.
Clearly, having happy employees isn’t a bonus; it’s a necessity for every successful workplace. Productivity, motivation, dedication and retention all depend on it.”
Additionally, the Lano article said, “A Gallup study shows that companies with a highly engaged – i.e. enthusiastic, happy and committed – workforce are 21 percent more profitable than those with less engaged employees. Also, as remote employees are less likely to quit their job, remote companies can significantly reduce their costs of recruiting and training new employees, as LinkedIn’s attrition cost calculator illustrates.”
They also have a lower absentee rate, better work-life balance, and an overall increase in their quality of life.
Larger Recruitment Pool
Lano went on to write, “Running a successful business means having to build a strong team of employees who are not only committed to their work but who also have the right skill sets. Unfortunately, talent shortage has become a severe problem in many countries and regions. Organizations that rely on geographically defined talent pools lose out on huge hiring opportunities.
In contrast, remote-first companies can tap into an international talent pool to find the perfect match for open positions without having to worry about physical distance.”
Remote Employee Concerns for SMBs
Remember, every business and every employee is unique, so some of the things that we’ll talk about in this section may not apply to you, or them. But, it’s important to consider the potential for some negative side-effects of a remote or hybrid workforce, so you can be prepared to address them.
According to an article by TechTrend, they wrote, “Due to the pandemic, working from home is becoming a common theme for many employees — a trend that will likely continue into the foreseeable future. And while remote work can give some workers a better work-life balance, it still comes with a set of challenges — particularly for small business owners who haven’t been used to managing a remote workforce. Here are some of the common obstacles small businesses face in the work-from-home era and how to work around them.
1. Managing Employees’ Schedules
Having the flexibility to work when convenient for you is probably pretty appealing. Although, many people are used to having set hours that provide a sense of structure. There were specific times for work and then for play. Without that routine, many employees may find themselves procrastinating throughout the day.
Instead of waking up early, they may sleep later or take extended breaks. This causes work to be pushed back to later in the evening. And, unlike larger corporations, many small businesses don’t have the funds for the extensive time-tracking software that larger companies utilize to monitor efficiency when employees are working away from the office.
How to Manage Employees’ Time Efficiently
It’s important that teammates have good time management skills. This will help your employees be more efficient throughout their workday. Provide them with resources to learn this skill. Since they can’t do everything all at once, have them prioritize the most critical tasks first. Consider things like deadlines and the amount of time needed to complete the project.
Here are some other time management best practices for your employees to follow:
● Create a to-do list
● Add breaks to your schedule
● Delegate tasks
● Break up projects into manageable parts
● Set weekly and monthly goals
***It’s important to note that sometimes remote workers live in different time zones. This can be especially challenging to navigate if you are working with people halfway around the world.
2. Communicating Effectively
It’s hard to communicate and work with people when you’re all in different locations. Teammates may work at different times of day if they aren’t held accountable to specific work hours. Meetings are now held over video conferencing platforms like Zoom, making it harder to get everyone on the same page. Plus, technology issues can lead to miscommunication.
How to Bridge the WFH Communication Gap
As technology advances, multiple software collaboration tools have begun to pop up. This allows team members to share essential information and documents. Consider using these tools to help your business run smoother.
It’s also important to schedule ongoing virtual calls with your employees. During this time, you should confirm tasks and set new goals. Also, it’s a good idea to get updates on the progress of current assignments.
3. Setting Boundaries Between Professional and Personal Life
When you have an office space, it creates a feeling of productivity. Then when you leave work at the end of the day, employees can mentally leave behind any stress. Once at home, they start to feel more relaxed, surrounded by their cozy decor. When working from home, however, they lose that mental divide. It can also be hard to turn off their brain’s “work mode” if their computer is on. It’s tempting to check one last email or work past traditional office hours.
How to Help Employees Balance Work and Personal Life
As a cost-effective way to help prevent the blurring of lines, suggest your workers create a designated space secluded from the rest of their house. This can be a spare bedroom or their basement. However, they shouldn’t work in the bedroom they sleep in. They’ll also want a space with a door that locks, or they can put up a divider. This helps to both physically and mentally separate their work area from rooms they relax in.
Also, once your employees are done for the day, advise them to leave their computers in their office space. This way, they’re not tempted to work later in the evening. Another tip to share with them is to do something they enjoy after work. It can act as a transitional activity to get their mind off any stressful projects. Without their evening commute, they don’t have the time to wind down.
4. Overcoming Employees’ Distractions
Without a boss looking over their shoulder, it may be tempting to procrastinate throughout the day. Working remotely makes it easier to look through your social media or catch up on the news. Also, it can be hard to resist tending to daily responsibilities like laundry or dishes during work hours.
Besides devices and chores, people in your household can become a distraction. A simple conversation could eat into valuable work time.
How to Help Employees Stay on Track
One of the first things your employees should try is removing their electronic devices from their workspace. This can reduce the number of times they check their phone throughout the day. They can then allow themselves to catch up on any missed texts or calls during their lunch break.
Noise-canceling headphones are a great tool to tune out outside noises. Consider providing your remote employees with these — the benefits of giving distraction-reducing tech to your employees could far outweigh the costs. Also, suggest they set boundaries with their family. Have them ask their family not to disturb them during regular business hours.
Also, to help employees focus better, they may want to implement a self-care morning routine. Exercising is a great way to stay healthy and energize your mind for the day.
5. Social Isolation
Being at home all day can take a toll on your employee’s mental health. All of us need some form of human interaction throughout the day. While Zoom meetings can provide some communication, it’s still not face-to-face interaction.
Going into the office can create multiple chances for conversations. Without this interaction, many remote workers can feel isolated from other team members. And while many large companies have started getting together for elaborate virtual events, small business owners may struggle to find options that fit their tighter schedules and budgets.
How to Plan Social Events
Since your employees may not receive much social interaction at work, advise them to remain social outside of office hours. Have them reach out to friends and coworkers to set up lunch dates or phone calls during the week. Putting together a “buddy system” for employees to get to know one another during a virtual lunch break or adding something on their calendar for each week can boost their morale and fill that social void.
You might suggest your employees work outside their homes at least once during the week. Consider investing in a co-working space to promote engagement. Also, consider hosting company-wide events or creating clubs to help teammates connect.
Although you may not have a large party-planning budget as a small business, even small social gatherings — whether in-person or virtual — can go a long way. Whether you and your workers grab a beer together at a Zoom happy hour or meet up for a socially distanced potluck, there are plenty of options for social events that won’t break the bank.
The Challenges of Remote Work
As the workforce continues to shift, telecommuting is becoming a new trend. This comes with a set of obstacles for remote employers — particularly smaller ones — to face. Although, during the pandemic, many businesses learned to adapt to these changes. So, with the growth of remote work, people will continue to experience new challenges. Along with these problems come creative solutions.”
While that was a great article, it didn’t address a topic near and dear to Adaptive’s heart… the cyber security threats that remote employees unwittingly introduce.
Most Common Remote Work Security Risks
In a fantastic article by Heimdal Security, they wrote, “Remote work has become a highly popular and common practice around the world, especially now as companies allow a significant part of their employees to remain remote. However, while this practice increases flexibility, improves productivity, and enhances work-life balance, there’s a downside to it – remote work security risks.
In this new remote-working landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity became an even greater concern for businesses everywhere.
The necessity of more rigorous and powerful cybersecurity to protect employees working remotely means that organizations should start looking toward more advanced approaches, such as investing in a zero-trust model and identity-centric services, to provide a stronger approach to these frequent attacks.
Remote Work Security Risks for Employees
Companies may have a fully remote workforce, people who work from home from time to time, or employees who frequently go on business trips. And without a doubt, it’s more difficult to take care of their security than it is to manage your on-site endpoints.
Here are five bad habits related to an organization’s remote workers that may endanger the company:
1. Accessing Sensitive Data Through Unsafe Wi-Fi Networks
Your employees could be connecting to their home wireless network or accessing their corporate accounts using unsecured public Wi-Fi. This way, malicious actors nearby can easily spy on their connection and harvest confidential information. For instance, data sent in an unencrypted form in plain text might be intercepted and stolen by cybercriminals. For this reason, your employees should not be allowed to access any unknown Wi-Fi networks unless they are using a VPN connection.
2. Using Personal Devices for Work
46% of employees admitted to transferring files between work and personal computers when working from home, which is a worrying practice.
At the same time, a trend of allowing employees to use their personal devices at work, commonly referred to as, “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD policy, has appeared.
You need to be fully aware of the issues involved by your employees using their personal devices for work-related matters. For instance, they may suddenly leave the company and hold on to the confidential information that has been stored on their device during their employment and you will not get the chance to erase it.
What’s more, they may not be keeping their software up-to-date, which opens up security holes in your environment. We keep stressing the importance of applying software patches (doing updates) in a timely manner and for a good reason.
Consequently, we would advise against letting your employees use their personal devices at work since it would be difficult for you to control what happens on their endpoints.
3. Ignoring Basic Physical Security Practices in Public Places
Even if cybersecurity is our focus, we can’t completely leave physical security behind when it comes to your company’s sensitive information. For example, there are employees who may be talking loudly on the phone while working in public places, expose their laptop’s screen for the entire crowd inside a café to see, or even leave their devices unattended.
Companies should teach their employees even the most basic security measures, even if they may seem like common sense at first glance. A friendly reminder for them not to expose the data of your business will always be of great benefit.
4. Using Weak Passwords
Even if an organization uses VPNs, firewalls, and other cybersecurity solutions in order to keep your remote network safe, human error happens when employees attempt to protect their accounts with weak passwords.
Cybercriminals are aware that human error is easier to exploit than trying to get past an advanced security solution, which is why they will attempt to crack account passwords in order to access private company data.
Hackers use a variety of measures to crack passwords. For instance, they will put together lists of frequently used passwords that can be used to easily access poorly protected accounts.
Repeat passwords are another usual insecure operation that cybercriminals use. Once they crack the password to one account, they will attempt to access other accounts with that same password. Workers who repeat passwords, especially across personal and business accounts, are at a higher risk of becoming victims of a cyberattack.
5. The Practice of Unencrypted File Sharing
While organizations may think to encrypt information that’s stored on their network, they may not consider encrypting data when it’s in transit from one place to another.
Your employees share so much private data every day, from client account information to files and more, that your company cannot afford to not secure this information from being seized by a cybercriminal. If sensitive company information is intercepted, it can lead to identity fraud, ransomware cyberattacks, theft, and more.
Remote Work Security Risks for Companies
Your remote employees may be unknowingly putting your company’s data at risk. Working from home can potentially cause data breaches, identity theft, and a host of other negative results.
1. Email Scams
Your employees who work remotely can become the biggest threat to your network’s security. By unknowingly following cybersecurity worst practices, employees can actually be the ones giving threat actors access to your network and your company’s private information.
When company operations suddenly or temporarily change to remote work, employees can become confused as to how to continue to work securely.
The most important cyber threat to remote employees is phishing strategies. Phishing schemes involve an individual or entity masquerading as a legitimate source, usually over email, to fool a victim into providing private login credentials or privileged information, which can then be employed to break into accounts, steal more confidential information, perform identity fraud, and much more.
Phishing emails have become so sophisticated that it is increasingly becoming more challenging for employees to notice them, especially when phishing emails make it past email filters straight to an employee’s main inbox.
2. Security Controls Are Weaker
The weakening of security controls goes far beyond relaxing firewall rules and email policy. Multiple existing layers of cyber protection will not apply to remote employees. Workers suddenly taking their work devices home with them will find themselves stripped of defense as they replace the office network with their home Wi-Fi.
Client devices will remain unprotected and exposed to possible unsecured networks amongst potentially compromised devices now that NAC, IDS, and NGFW or proxy servers don’t exist anymore. Furthermore, internal network security could also be compromised. Remote workers might need access to resources formerly only accessible on a wired network in one location.
3. Cyberattacks on Remote-working Infrastructure
Apart from the weakening of existing controls, spinning up new infrastructure will generate new risks. Security teams should be on alert for brute force and server-side attacks. DDoS protection will also become essential.
For multiple organizations, this will be the first time that a DDoS attack could destroy their business by preventing remote workers from accessing services over the internet. Researchers expect to see a sharp increase in both of these forms of attack.
4. Threats Everywhere
There are remote work security risks everywhere! Unfortunately, there will be individuals inside our own organizations that want to kick us while we are already in a difficult situation. Sudden remote working is a blessing for malicious insiders. Sensitive information can now be easily stolen from a company device over USB within the privacy of their own home.
Security monitoring may be destroyed or deactivated completely. This risk is harder to tackle. It may not be eliminable, but it can be balanced against the need for productivity and access to data.
People around us may also represent a threat. Yes, you heard it right! Most of us think we live with people we can trust, but from a company point of view, their staff homes are zero-trust environments. Private discussions can now be heard, intellectual property can be seen on screens and monitors in living rooms everywhere in the world. The solution? We need to educate all our employees in order to safely work from home.
Creating a Work-from-home Security Policy
So, how do you protect your company’s private data when you can’t fully control the devices used to access your network? Where should you start to make sure your remote workforce is secure? How can you reduce the cybersecurity issues with remote work?
The first step is to create a security policy specifically designed for remote workers. 93% of the IT professionals interviewed in the OpenVPN study already have a formalized remote work policy in place and this is quite impressive and reassuring.
Below are the essential security clauses that should be included in your remote work policy:
- Clearly define which positions are eligible for remote work.
Be transparent with your employees. Everyone should be aware of which job functions are allowed to work remotely and which are not due to security reasons. Unfortunately, not every position is a good fit for remote work. If you don’t have a clear guide in place, chances are your work-from-home approvals will be judged as unfair.
- List the tools and platforms they should be using.
Both your remote and on-site employees should be on the same page at all times and use the same approved tools, such as cloud storage platforms, communication/video conferencing tools, project management tools, etc.
- Provide employees with steps to follow at the first signs of account compromise.
If they believe the company’s information has been compromised, they should have a clear guide to follow, such as where they should report the incident, be instructed to immediately change their passwords, etc. These steps should be included in their mandatory cybersecurity training, alongside other items such as how to create strong passwords.
Best Practices to Avoid Security Risks When Working from Home
Here are the fundamental tools that both your regular and remote employees should have installed on their devices:
1. Multi-factor authentication
This type of authentication will act as an additional layer of security on top of your remote employees’ accounts. The more security layers in place, the less the risk of cyber-criminals gaining access to your sensitive systems.
2. Password Manager
Besides multi-factor authentication, in regards to passwords, your employees should also be using a password manager. This way, they will not need to remember all of the different passwords that they need to set up for their work-related accounts.
VPN connections are crucial when your employees connect to unsecured networks, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, even when they work from home. It’s recommended for your employees to be using your company’s VPN. What this tool does is route the traffic through the internet from your organization’s private network, ensuring even more security. Basically, anyone who tries to intercept the encrypted data will not be able to read it. And this way, your employees will be able to connect to your company’s intranet, the private network designed to be used only by your company’s staff (in case you have one).
A firewall will prevent unauthorized access to and from the network, further strengthening the security of your employees’ devices. What firewalls do is monitor network traffic, at the same time finding and blocking unwanted traffic. So, firewalls are important tools that will protect your remote endpoints against various cyber threats.
5. A strong EDR solution
Last but not least, your system administrators should be able to see the exact details of your endpoints at all times. This is why it’s recommended you deploy a complete endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution, that will allow you to remotely prevent next-gen malware, data leakage, respond quickly to threats, and automatically manage software deployment and patching.
Cybersecurity and Remote Work Statistics
In a recent study, OpenVPN reported that 90% of IT professionals believe remote workers are not secure. At the same time, over 70% think remote staff poses a greater risk than onsite employees. So, the good news is that experts are actually acknowledging remote work security risks and this is the first step towards addressing the issue.
Last year, a survey revealed 68% of remote workers use personal devices for work — which in 2021 conditions is nowhere near surprising. What is problematic is the content these personal devices are subjected to outside of working hours. They also found 3 in 4 (73%) employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet received any specific cybersecurity awareness guidance or training from their employer. Additionally, 1 in 4 (27%) employees said they have received phishing emails related to COVID-19.
It’s crucial for you to remain innovative and competitive in the current business landscape and allowing your employees to work remotely is definitely a necessary step. Yet, remote work comes with security risks that you should address before you allow anyone to work from outside the office – no matter if we’re talking about permanent remote workers or the ones who do it just a few hours per month. However, only when you will correctly respond to this challenge, will you be capable of fully seizing this opportunity that increases talent retention, productivity, and improves your staff’s work-life balance.”
One additional thing worth mentioning is employee cyber awareness training. This is not a once-and-done event. Cyber security threats are changing all the time, so schedule cyber security awareness classes every 2 months, or at least quarterly. Security awareness training creates a more proactive and secure mindset and culture that prioritizes the protection of your company’s sensitive information and data.
At Adaptive Office Solutions, cybersecurity is our specialty. We keep cybercrimes at bay by using analysis, forensics, and reverse engineering to prevent malware attempts and patch vulnerability issues. By making an investment in multilayered cybersecurity, you can leverage our expertise to boost your defenses, mitigate risks, and protect your data with next-gen IT security solutions.
When you know your technology is being looked after, you can forget about struggling with IT issues and concentrate on running your business. By making an upfront investment in your cybersecurity, you can lower your costs through systems that are running at their prime; creating greater efficiency and preventing data loss and costly downtime.
To schedule your Cyber Security Risk Review, call the Adaptive Office Solution service hotline at 506-624-9480 or email us at email@example.com