Last week, CQL co-hosted a Zoominar panel discussion on how to provide your team members with the right remote work environment, which included perspectives on remote work in terms of security, team culture, collaboration, and IP protection. The panel discussion included our co-hosts and partners at Rehmann, one of the largest accounting, consulting, technology, and financial services firms in the Midwest. Moderated by James Carpp, Chief Digital Officer at Rehmann, the panel consisted of Mark Spaak, Director of Security Support Services at Rehmann; Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital, Innovation at Herman Miller; Sue Hunter, VP of Strategy at CQL; and Jennifer Puplava, Attorney and Member at Mika Meyers PLC.
Each panel member provided a unique perspective on something most of us are familiar with, especially with the current COVID-19 pandemic: working remotely. Below, we will use various professional viewpoints to look at the challenges and benefits people face when working in a remote environment. We will examine the tools and technologies used to improve a remote work environment, the challenges involved when working remotely, discuss how to keep up with a positive company culture, how to handle the eventual transition back to your place of work, and the risks and preventive measures companies can take to mitigate data security issues.
Interested in watching the Zoominar recording yourself?
Useful Tools & Technologies for Setting Your Employees Up with a Successful Remote Work Environment
Whether you’re a C-suite executive, work in a leadership role, or a full-time and part-time employee, one thing this pandemic has shown us is change. Organizations, in almost every industry, are faced with the hard truth that employees will not be working from their desk at their place of work, but rather from home. “75% of the organizations across America have gone remote in some fashion or another, that’s about a 250% increase,” says James Carpp, Chief Digital Officer at Rehmann.
This has presented many challenges, but also some surprising benefits. Let’s look at some of the tools that have been proven useful during this transition to a remote environment from some of our panel members:
Sue Hunter, VP of Strategy at CQL, layed out some important tools and technologies that CQL uses to stay connected with their employees, create an interactive environment that inspires discussion, and foster a productive remote work environment.
These tools can be split into four categories:
- Video conferencing: Using virtual video software, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc., to replace the experience of a physical office. Video enables live interactions and allows multiple team members to connect and collaborate as an alternative to a face-to-face meeting.
- Messaging: Real-time messaging tools, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and more, have replaced the quick pit stop at a coworker’s desk for a chat on a project, or last-minute stand-up meetings with a department head. These messaging tools help foster discussion and provide the opportunity for people to interact quickly.
- File management and online cloud collaboration: Tools like Google Docs and Sheets provide a platform for teams to collaborate on project documents and presentations over the cloud, all with an autosave feature. Files can be stored and managed with permissions to specific members.
- Project management software: There are tons of project management software options on the market that provide visibility into how teams/projects are delivering and performing. At CQL, tools like Smartsheet and Asana are used to track and schedule project plans.
Outside of these tools, there are technologies that are used within specific departments. For example, UX and visual designers may use InVision to collaborate on designs. Although these tools are useful in developing a connected remote work environment, keep in mind that they are ever-evolving, just like teams.
“There are so many tools, but making sure you do have the right tools for your specific discipline or industry can make or break your ability to collaborate effectively. Evaluating and reevaluating tools is something that needs to be revisited as work continues to shift and evolve”Sue Hunter
VP of Strategy, CQL
Challenges a Remote Work Environment May Present
Even with all of the tools and technologies available to support a positive remote work environment, it does have its challenges. For many, the change to working remotely was abrupt, and caused chaos for some organizations. As Jennifer Puplava, Attorney and Member at Mika Myers PLC, expressed from a legal standpoint, “You need to find a space where you can have a private conversation, and I have had coworkers and clients taking meetings from their vehicle because it was the only place they could have a conversation that couldn’t be overheard.”
Some conversations fall under “intellectual property,” and it can be difficult in an at-home setting to have secure conversations on things such as patents, trademarks, confidential information, and other potentially sensitive topics. We will touch on protecting intellectual property later in this article.
As the VP of Digital at Herman Miller, Ryan Anderson is no stranger to the limitations of a remote work environment. Over the last couple years, he has conducted studies on not only office spaces, but home office spaces. He noted, “Just two years ago, everybody was in the room except for two people. Those two people that are remote cannot be heard, and then we saw this major seismic shift, and in some ways, it’s really good because when we participate in a synchronized meeting like this, everyone participates equally and there’s no metaphorical head of the table. But, different inequalities begin to show up. One of them is your space – ‘Am I comfortable? Am I trying to work from a dining room table?’ It’s not just the ergonomics; it’s acoustical distractions, visual distractions, and wifi availability.” This issue is most present for employees with kids that were no longer at daycare or school, but now being cared for in their own home during work hours. For those in rural areas, internet connection could present issues with attending virtual meetings.
For some, these challenges seem all too real. For others, they present an opportunity to train team members, and allow for companies to provide the tools employees need to work productively and securely from home. For CQL, employees were allowed to pick-up monitors, supplies, and items from the physical office to take home and create a more comfortable remote work environment. For Jennifer, it’s guiding organizations to provide their employees with educational materials on how to keep their companies intellectual property protected.
Protecting Your Business’ Intellectual Property from a Remote Location
As we touched on earlier, a pitfall of the remote work environment can be protecting secure information when communicating with clients and coworkers from home. Jennifer describes this as “intellectual property,” also known as creations of the mind. These “creations” can be anything from patents to trade secret law or valuable company information that could harm an organization if it were to be revealed. So, how do you better protect your company data? Jennifer has some tips she uses with her clients.
For most businesses, a process for remote work was not put in place before COVID-19, so Jennifer starts by asking them,“What information would hurt most if it got lost?” This is the first step in the analysis or audit of protecting your intellectual property. Here’s a synopsis of how it works:
- Identify: Discover where these documents live and how sensitive the information may be to the organization and its employees.
- Access: Find out who has access to this intellectual property, and if they are the correct owners or collaborators.
- Educate: At any level, it’s important that people in the organization are aware of their role in protecting this intellectual property. People may not realize they are privileged to private information. To combat this, businesses can update employee handbooks, communicate with subordinates on licensing software requirements, and update employee agreements. It is also beneficial for companies to amend policies and communicate this to the organization.
Identifying these three concepts can help protect valuable information and provide a more secure remote work environment.
Security Measures to Consider When Working Remotely
Much like protecting intellectual property, data security is at top of mind for many small to large organizations. Instead of protecting sensitive material and concepts in the form of documentation and conversations, there are security measures companies can take to secure sensitive data. Mark Spaak, Director of Security Support Services at Rehmann, details the weaknesses remote work environments can present with data security and the measures that can be taken to help protect vital organizational data.
Mark explained, “One of the big things with a lot of this transition to remote work, and taking these endpoints off site, is now they are no longer within the four walls of your business. So, when you think of all these firewall technologies and investments that you made from a security perspective within your environment, you are now leaving some of those protections behind. You have more and more users that are exposed directly to their own internet connections. You are heavily dependent on how you configured and secured that endpoint to make sure you are protecting your users.”
He recommends a few security measures both businesses and users can do to help protect and secure company and user data:
- Remove the administrative privilege: You can eliminate 96% to 98% of the threats that the user could potentially face by removing admin permission.
- Application whitelisting: Determine what applications are safe for users to run. By whitelisting certain applications, you can more easily eliminate a threat other users will see.
- Protect disconnected endpoints: Unlike centralized patching, this has become decentralized with employees working remotely. IT departments will have to detect and update patches to these endpoints as new updates are released.
- Windows firewall: Have this enabled to protect the endpoint to anything else that may be on the same network that you may not know about.
- Anti-virus & anti-malware protection: Attacks that are more common now are fileless structured male-ware. They are more difficult to detect because they attack from memory and are not running on a hard disk like in the past. You want to have a toolset that is there to protect the user.
- Comprehensive spam filter: The number one attack vector that is used is phishing attacks. You can prevent these with defense in depth or layers of protection so if something were to get past an endpoint, the system can capture that phishing attack, quarantine it, and make sure that user remains safe.
- Train Users: Educate your users against email threats from phishers.
- Password protection: Use a strong password that is used nowhere else. There are helpful tools like LastPass and 1Password that can protect individual passwords to multiple accounts.
- Use a VPN: Install a Virtual Private Network that provides a secure tunnel between a users endpoint and back to the office.
- Provide a multifactorial authentication: This helps protect against threats to a user’s endpoint.
- Lock your workstation: When you walk away from your remote workstation at home, lock your computer. This disables the chance for active threats.
- Physical security: Do not leave tangible work assets unattended. Should you be working off location and not at home, take these items with you.
- Ransomware: Backup your data, and replicate it offsite. Make sure to ensure the data has been replicated accurately, and create a copy that is not accessible to threats. This puts your company in a position to recover its data in the event it is lost or stolen.
- Cyber liability insurance: Be prepared in case a security risk is introduced to your business, and cover your assets with a comprehensive insurance plan.
Aside from the user, companies need to protect their intellectual property, as Jennifer has mentioned. Mike also notes, “Phishing attacks are evolving and there are now teams composed of structural engineers with the sole purpose of producing a successful phishing attack. Since so many people are working remote, phishers are using information from the CDC, meeting invitations, and offboarding as subject matter to get to a user.” Many users are now being caught off guard, and attackers are capitalizing as a result.
So, What Can We Expect for Remote Work Environments in the Future?
These challenges, precautions, and measures can all be overwhelming, but the reality is that the workplace is changing. The shift from heading into a physical office to a remote work environment is ever evolving, and we will most likely see a combination of the two become the next “new normal.” Organizations may seek out co-located environments to accommodate this shift, and make spaces available for teams to collaborate and work from a joint space. Whatever the next transition is, Ryan sums it up like this, “All of us have to do this ongoing pulse check to see if we are progressing as an organization in terms of our ability to support distributed work, or are there things we are just stuck on that are holding us back. As a leader, do what you can to prototype and keep the process moving forward. We have experienced ten years of acceleration in six months, and now we are trying to catch up.”
Do You Have Questions on How to Foster a More Positive Remote Work Environment?
At CQL, we pride ourselves on fostering a collaborative and positive remote work environment. If you want more information on how we support or team through virtual tools and technologies, or have any questions, please contact us today.