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Remote Work is Not New, but it is the New Normal

Working from home has been my personal norm for several years. Because I live too far from the office and regularly attend conference calls across different time zones than mine, commuting daily would be impractical. For me, being a remote worker is ideal and ensures that I can balance work and home life successfully.

Working from home has been my personal norm for several years. Because I live too far from the office and regularly attend conference calls across different time zones than mine, commuting daily would be impractical. For me, being a remote worker is ideal and ensures that I can balance work and home life successfully.

Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, however, we have seen a huge shift with many people who typically spend 40 or more hours a week in the office now working from home and having to adjust in an accelerated timeframe. We’ve seen plenty of articles sharing advice on how you can be effective working at home and the like, but what experienced remote workers – and often the authors of these pieces – forget is that this is uncharted territory for most. Being forced to work from home without advanced notice to properly prepare can be a real challenge. To put it simply, this new norm is disruptive.

There’s one group in particular whose day-to-day has been completely altered – the IT team. Those hard-working people we rarely see who make sure that everything runs smoothly. Not only will many of them also be working remotely but dealing with increased demand for services and assistance at the same time. There are some simple areas we can consider that will help to keep the IT team’s workload under control, meanwhile, ensure that our remote working experience is the best it can be.

The challenge now is that 50 percent or more of us are spending the whole week at home – and online. This is putting additional pressure on corporate IT and the IT teams who need to scale up services fast are working harder than ever to ensure a good user experience. Here are a few simple suggestions that may help during this time of change.

Stay off the (corporate) network

When we work from home, most of us will use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). It makes our work computer behave as if we are in the office, saves on extra authentication and, in some cases, is the only way to access corporate information. However, a VPN is also a chokepoint into the network and too many users can slow down access.

It’s likely that some software like email does not require a VPN and other applications may be accessible externally with additional authentication or using a multi-factor token.

As a reminder, in most organizations, the VPN is designed to protect access to business services. General online activities, such as banking and social media, are not affected. If your corporate policy allows it, don’t automatically load the VPN when you start work – use it when needed and unload when you don’t.

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Working at home carries additional (online) risks

In the office, we are protected by a corporate security bubble – our employers invest heavily to ensure that the right solutions are in place to protect data and keep threats on the outside. As home workers, our corporate device will still carry a level of protection, but the risks are heightened by the environment. For this reason, security awareness is an important consideration.

A corporate awareness program provides much needed information for workers. Beyond being part of an employee onboarding process, this program should be continually updated and mandated with refresher training. One simple suggestion that goes beyond a program is to provide regular mini updates on what’s happening in the world of SCAMS and malware. This keeps employees up-to-date and, in return, they are more likely to share with friends, family and contacts, if the information is presented in an informative and easily digestible way.

The onus is also on us to take extra responsibility applying corporate awareness to our own environments. There are plenty of distractions when working from home; children, deliveries, a sunny patio or a walk with the dog at lunchtime. The bad guys know this and will have malware targeted toward broadband connections, looking for remote workers on their home network.

• Watch for SCAM text messages with seemingly helpful links to more information. If you were not expecting the message and do not recognize the number, never click on the link.

• Keep a watchful eye on phishing and SPAM emails. Even something that appears to come from someone you know could be a fake. If you’re unsure about an email, take a look at this recent article on spotting phishing attacks. 

Learning from Experience 

People who work remotely are less visible with colleagues and management, often leading them to overwork. This is a common mistake and can lead to burn out or reduced overall quality of work. Our working habits certainly change when we’re away from the office, but this can be for the better. Here are a few tips that have helped me in my years working from home.

1. We are often more productive at home. Think about the distractions of a day in the office: watercooler chats, coffee breaks, shuffling from room to room for meetings, etc. How much time do these activities take when added up? Your working day should reflect a day in the office, don’t be chained to the desk…exercise, make coffee and enjoy the experience.

2. When setting up conference calls for a remote audience, try not to put them to the top of the hour. That’s when everyone does it, making it more likely to cause issues with connectivity. Rather than a 10:00 a.m. call, try 10:15 and schedule it for 45 minutes rather than an hour. This accounts for what would be the walking time between meeting rooms and will give you a small break.

3. Have a non-work chat. This is so important. In the office, we regularly take time to chat with a colleague about their evening or maybe plans for the weekend – why not do the same from home, but with a 15-minute video catch up? You’d be surprised what a lift it can give to your well-being and mood.

Working remotely should be a positive experience. You may be able to get more done in a day (work-related and not) and, by avoiding the daily commute, will end the day in a much better frame of mind. We’re all in the same boat for the foreseeable future – we can make the most of it by understanding the risks and giving everyone (including ourselves) a little grace.

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