The World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment

The lock-down has certainly been a test for many companies’ CTOs and their IT departments.  With a large portion of the world’s working population suddenly being instructed to work from home, it is no surprise that the greatest demand on IT infrastructure has been for the provision of remote working facilities.

This huge increase has led to the business media referring to the lock-down as the “World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.” What was once just a vision for the future of flexible working is no longer an abstract concept; it has abruptly turned into an everyday reality for many businesses and is now being touted as ‘The New Normal’.

The good news for boardrooms and CTOs, is that this ‘experiment’ is already producing some really useful conclusions and is showing us what the new normal looks like in terms of infrastructure requirements. It has produced results from which a lot of lessons can be learned and advances made.

Innovate’s cloud services have been a critical element in enabling businesses to keep trading during this difficult time.  During this crisis, we have seen other companies suffer from a number of remote access, security and technical issues, which would have been mitigated by migrating to the cloud.  We hope that by sharing some of these issues, it will help companies like yours plan better for the remote-working future.

There have been many articles written, which have focused on the human elements of working from home.  It is, for example, an established fact that working from home does improve productivity and that many new recruits list the ability to work from home as the most desirable additional job benefit. 

However, as Innovate is a provider of high quality IT infrastructure solutions, this article will focus mainly on the more technical issues that lock-down working from home has highlighted.

Lesson 1 – Make sure your plumbing is OK.

With the sudden surge in connectivity demand, many companies found their on-premises VPN facilities were swamped and any existing issues around the stability of their network and infrastructure became more apparent.  Any future increase in home working will mean the network workload will also increase.  If you are working from a public or private cloud platform then your cloud services provider will take care of this issue for you, but it will be wise to discuss contingency planning with them to take account of any future increase in remote working and the possibility of surges from any future emergencies.

Lesson 2 – Implement the right tools for the job.

Any remote working desktop should, of course, provide all the usual Windows, corporate ERP, email and productivity applications (E.G. MS Office or Office 365) to allow your team to carry on working.  However, four utilities have |been highlighted during this period, as being absolutely necessary for remote collaboration:

  • Video Conferencing (VC)
  • Phone Connectivity
  • File Sharing
  • Team Messaging.

The fact that the usage of video conferencing platform ‘Zoom’ skyrocketed to over 200 million daily meeting participants in March shows that many organisations had not properly put these tools in place before the pandemic.  But don’t just implement one tool, consider having a back-up video-conference provider as an alternative, as high demand on VC platforms during peak hours, has caused service outages.

Lesson 3 – Security, Security, Security!

Security is the key issue with remote working. So to cover this subject we will break it down into seven areas.

Malware and phishing attacks have proliferated amid the disruption caused by the pandemic and a large proportion have targeted home or remote workers. 

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Microsoft Security Intelligence has warned that there has been a significant increase in Covid-19 themed lures within phishing attacks. Kaspersky has also reported a sharp rise in the number of brute-force attacks targeting RDP endpoints.

Ensuring endpoint security goes without saying but it needs particular attention as remote working grows.  Below are some of the important security lessons that need to be considered for this changing work environment.

  • Think about your security footprint

What is your security boundary and what are your endpoints?  With more of your team working from home, the total footprint that your security systems need to cover has greatly increased and now includes your employees’ home networks, internet connections and to a certain degree, their personal devices.  ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, advises not to mix work and leisure on the same device and recommends the provision of separate work terminals over the user’s home PC or Laptop.  Thought needs to be given to the relative security of home routers, WiFi and other devices connected to the home networks as these can be security weak-points.

  • Think about the potential damage

Consider how the business will measure the impact of a virus or hacker incursion if you are not able to secure the endpoints fully.  Also think about what data will be exposed if the system is compromised and consider its sensitivity and value. How much system down-time will this require to put right and what would be the damage to your business reputation?  How much will all of this cost to repair?  All of these points can help in the creation of a proper disaster recovery solution.

  • Presume your endpoint devices have already been compromised

Some of your employees may be more relaxed at home and may inadvertently let their guard down, whereas others are likely to be more security conscious. To counter this, always make provision for the worst case scenario. Require the use of more complex and secure passwords and preferably implement 2 factor authentication. Also, implement a Zero Trust Network Access solutions at your data-centre, giving lower or trust-rated access privileges to home users. Finally, keep communicating the messages about phishing and scam communications and what to look out for.

  • Avoid the shadow cloud

Make sure that company data stays in your control and don’t allow end users to create their own data-silos and workarounds.  For ease of access, users might be tempted to keep copies on their local drives or copy data to portable media and online storage like DropBox or OneDrive.  Where possible this must be actively discouraged, particularly for sensitive corporate and customer account data.

  • What do your endpoints look like?

It is possible that many of your employees will have fairly low usage internet connections and unsophisticated broadband routers at home.  In order to cope with bandwidth hungry applications like video conferencing and more sophisticated security arrangements, you may need to assist your employees in upgrading their home connection devices.

  • Communication is the key

Have a clearly defined process of what to do in the event of users noticing something out of the ordinary. End users may not know who to notify or what to do if they have a security concern, particularly in larger organisations, so make sure they are aware of the correct procedures and who to contact at the slightest sign of a concern.

  • Could the Cloud help?

Cloud solutions are different as all the activity takes place within the secure platform of the provider’s cloud infrastructure. This makes the solution a lot more secue. A user will just needs the correct entry keys (logins, passwords, authentication, etc) to gain access to their workspace served from the cloud platform. A good cloud services provider will create separate firewalls around each of their customer’s platforms and encrypt all communications between the platform and user endpoints, making it almost impossible for hackers to gain access. At the same time, because all the applications are served from the cloud, any updates to operating systems or software applications can be undertaken centrally from the cloud, rather than needing each individual device to be updated by your IT personnel.

Lesson 4 – The human interface is important too

With growth in home working, IT teams should be prepared for more hardware support calls. Homes can be dangerous environments for IT equipment, particularly if the kids are at home and get their hands on their parents’ work laptop. Be prepared for this and reach out to hardware suppliers to better understand their lead times for supply and service.

Also remember that not all staff will know the basics of setting up and using their remote work tools or knowing what action to take if their Internet connection is unstable and affects their ability to get online. Make sure they are aware of where they can get information, support and training and provide easy communication points, preferably human.

Recommendations

  • Be ready for when it all happens again. 

Build resilience into your systems and don’t assume things like COVID-19 just don’t happen, because it just has, and sadly it will again.  Every MD or CTO should have an up-to-date disaster-recovery (DR) plan sitting in a drawer and in light of the recent events, this needs to be properly reviewed and updated. If you don’t currently have a DR Plan, or you want to review your existing one, Innovate can provide you with a free guide on creating a good DR Plan, giving all the elements and considerations you need to cover in this important document. To obtain our free guide, click here or call Innovate on 0330 999 1000. A well thought out DR & Security Strategy can ensure that your vital Corporate Data is never put at risk or exposed and that your business can keep trading.

  • Beef up your security

As working from home increases, businesses should be tightening up on controls and not relaxing them.  Pay particular attention to the wider security risk footprint. By treating all end points as untrusted or compromised you can be sure of not leaking or exposing sensitive data. 2 factor authentication can ensure that users are challenged when logging into business critical systems and will keep your infrastructure secure.

  • Continuously focus employee attention on security, particularly around access keys

Remember, most intrusions or infections come about as a result of employees inadvertently giving away their access details. 88 per cent of UK data breaches are caused by human error so your employees will play a massive role in cybersecurity. Taking the time to educate your staff can often be your biggest cybersecurity win.

  • Learn from what has happened. 

This has been a great learning opportunity.  Make a note of your remote working system’s weak spots under high work-load. What worked, what didn’t work and what failed?  Highlight the areas that need improvement but also develop and fully incorporate areas that performed well.

Conclusion

Although very serious, this pandemic has provided the opportunity for the “World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment”.  But in the future, we believe that it will prove to be more than just an experiment, it will become the new normal.  It has opened the door to a modern, more flexible, potentially more efficient way of working, facilitated by advancing technology; a textbook definition of long-term change.

What’s certain now is that, even with kids Zoom-bombing a C-suite meeting, or your team getting a glimpse of your pyjamas during a webinar; working from home is not likely to be a thing of the past anytime soon and it will certainly not come to an end when the COVID-19 crisis settles.

Who are Innovate and how can we help.

Innovate is a leading UK cloud services company, which provides a high quality cloud platform, cloud hosted services and IT consultation to customers in multiple vertical sectors.  We have over 17 years’ experience in helping companies like yours with IT infrastructure and solutions and can help you with all of the adaptations highlighted in this paper.

Because Innovate owns, manages and develops its own cloud infrastructure, rather than re-selling space from other providers, we have been able to focus on platform stability, security and service quality, right from the start.  We have deliberately built a high performance platform utilising the best in hardware, networking and operating software.  We have also designed and built our own management suite in order to monitor and control our systems and services.

The Innovate cloud platform has taken remote access to the next level of technology.  All through the lock-down, we have been providing secure, seamless remote access for all our customers, allowing their teams to carry on working whilst isolated at home. This has allowed our customers to concentrate on keeping their businesses running during this difficult time.

There are many benefits to migrating your IT infrastructure into the cloud, both in terms of cost saving and operational efficiency.  We have helped many of the UK’s biggest brands transform their business IT Infrastructure, reduce costs, streamline processes and introduce revolutionary new services with cloud computing.

We would very much like to help you switch on the power of the cloud and make your company more streamlined, efficient and connected.  If you are thinking of bringing the flexibility, scalability and cost efficiency of the cloud into your organisation, then you need to be talking to Innovate.

Click Here to Send us a Message