A recent PEW Research Center survey found that 20% of people already worked from home before the novel coronavirus outbreak, 73% were currently working from home and 54% would prefer to continue working from home after the pandemic. Of those working from home, 87% said having the right technology and equipment made their transition very or somewhat easy.
It’s apparent WFH and WFA business models have taken root. How deeply, is what we’ll learn in 2021.
The COVID-19 crisis forced senior leaders to adopt WFA for all or part of their workforces. Some companies announced plans to make remote work permanent even after vaccines take hold. According to Harvard Business Review, Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, Siemens and State Bank of India are a few of the companies looking into this venture. For instance, Spotify’s WFA initiative gives employees the option to work from an office or home — and even their own choice of geographic location.
Even in the early throes of the lockdown, nearly three in four finance leaders had planned to shift a small segment of on-site office employees to permanent remote positions post-pandemic, according to a Gartner report. Assembly-line seating, cube seating or even open-plan office arrangements now seem passé.
As we move to pandemic-recovery mode, the question is: Where do we go from here? Will WFA become a lasting fabric of business moving forward? If so, what needs to be considered for it to reach widespread adoption?
When remote work was expanded to some employees, IT departments planned out the resources required. Typically, this entailed a configured laptop with remote access connection software, and the availability of email and other corporate apps. More recently, modern collaboration tools, from messaging to video conferencing have created new approaches to work. For many of us in the technology sector, our early WFA included not only our home base, but also working frequently on the road at customer locations, airports, coffee shops, and just about anywhere with wired or wireless connections.
But the COVID-19 outbreak painted a different picture. Check Point CISO Jony Fischbein describes the implications of an entire workforce suddenly working remotely:
“It didn’t stop with the realisation that a piece of headquarters was now snuggled in everyone’s home office. In best cases, employees continued to work transparently, including accessing their files, collaborating with others and continuing with their jobs securely. CISOs had to ensure that all endpoint devices connecting to network resources could effectively fend off attacks. Hackers, cybercriminals and nation states accelerated their attacks with a cold harshness during this pandemic.”
Moving forward, WFA will not be for all organisations. Employers may still insist upon daily hours in the office in order to create a culture afforded by in-person interactions. Other employers may opt for more of a hub and spoke operational model where organisations will maintain high levels of inter-team collaboration, as needed, while hiring the best talent anywhere in the world. Will the once popular concept of community-based co-working spaces be revived?
We’re adapting to unprecedented changes and challenges. Building a productive and secure distributed working environment requires further thought, setting realistic expectations, adopting the right mindset and investing in the right infrastructure.
Any discussion about the inter-workings of WFA, must include a cybersecurity strategy. Cybercriminal tactics have advanced. According to Cyber Talk, in 2020 a greater number of cyberattacks occurred during the first six months of the year than across the entirety of 2019. Pandemic or not, cybercriminals saw opportunity to launch attacks, even against vaccine makers and their distribution pipelines.
In a widespread WFA environment, organisations must ensure that their application data is safe. Such data is now distributed in traditional and cloud data centers, the ever-expanding edge and elsewhere. Home is the new branch office. Security for remote access can be widely overlooked, but it doesn’t have to be. Managing a distributed workforce requires a security-driven approach.
Traditionally, organisations have established security protocols in conjunction with internet gateways. However, this approach only works when the number of access points are minimal and controlled, such as in a company’s office building. When it comes to securing a WFA environment, making remote access work for all your employees requires must-haves, including, VPNs, real-time threat intelligence, a Zero-Trust approach to access management, and mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) device security.
With a distributed cloud, you may be considering the need for different security products. This piecemeal approach may seem like the best coverage to secure every user on every network. However, it’s only after the fact that this thinking can result in fragmented visibility and regulatory compliance issues. From a management perspective, it also introduces unnecessary complexity.
So, here’s why you should unify security products: The unification of products enables organisations to maintain consistent and evenly distributed security while ensuring fast connectivity for users. Without quick connectivity options, users will circumvent security, leading to security risks.
This is where Secure Access at the Service Edge (SASE) should come into your picture.
SASE provides a comprehensive, integrated suite of security tools that enables organisations to bypass the application and management of point solutions. SASE can also be obtained as part of a larger, commercial package; a holistic, multilayered security architecture.
With SASE, organisations can lower OpEx and increase security at scale. Protect your distributed workforce with security that’s simple to implement, easily scalable and offers optimal management controls.
Distributed WFA employees can be more susceptible to cybersecurity threats than employees working from an office. So, the challenge for all organisations will lie in their understanding of distributed work, its advantages and its pitfalls.
In this monumental reorganisation of how work gets done, the rules are being rewritten. What worked in the past, may not apply in the post-pandemic world. New digital and cybersecurity technologies should be at the forefront as you move forward. Workable and effective solutions for a WFA model include security not just for endpoint devices, but also across all attack surfaces, including on-premises and cloud networks, and mobile and IoT devices.