How Avast and other companies get the basics right when making the shift to secure remote work
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Women in Business event, which was held virtually this year. I spoke about the experience of quickly and securely moving Avast -- a global company with nearly 2,000 employees based in countries around the world -- to a fully remote working environment.
I’ve been a Chief Information Security Officer for over a decade, but this transition presented a challenge like no other I’d faced before. I wanted to share what I learned with others doing the same thing at their organizations. The women attending my talk had a wide variety of technical and non-technical backgrounds but they all agreed that Covid is transforming us all. And that the pandemic will have a long term effect on the online world.
During my presentation, I outlined the approach we took and shared which of our moves were most successful. When the pandemic started, we immediately closed our offices and moved to quickly supply all of our workers who needed it with equipment for working from home. We rolled out internal training courses on remote management and provided one-to-one mentoring and mental health support sessions with a business coach.
Each week, a team of volunteer coronavirus “coordinators” at our offices worldwide held a meeting to check in on local restrictions and supply an update on how our employees were feeling. We provided dedicated parental support options for families struggling to balance the sudden new load of extra responsibilities of working full time from home, juggling childcare, and supervising home schooling. We regularly polled our employees to get a temperature check on how they were managing in such a time of change and uncertainty, so that we could provide additional support as needed.
We also joined our employees in giving back, as many of them were proactive at volunteering in their communities. Avast donated computing and technology resources to support important initiatives like Folding@home, provided an employee matching scheme to maximize donations in all countries in which we have offices, and contributed $25 million to CEPI and the Therapeutics Accelerator, which is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In times where infosec concerns also dominate headlines, Avast also donated to the Shadowserver Foundation, a nonprofit security organization whose mission is to make the internet a safer place for everyone.
Almost overnight, working from home became obligatory for those who could. And if the home is the new workplace, then IT security has just become mission-critical for every business. But many companies were not equipped to support working from home, much less sustained remote work for an indefinite period.
There are few key actions that any business should take when making the shift:
We are living through a live experiment, finding out what happens when you take a world and you rewrite the rules, and everyone has to figure out how to apply them independently. At Avast, our 24x7 global operation team continues all these months later to doing daily standups and weekly meetings, which is no small feat. Nothing about this is easy and we know now that it isn’t going to get any simpler.
Following my talk, I got to chat online with the attendees. I loved that many were focused on the future; on the practical actions that need to be taken to keep us all moving. There was a lot of positive energy in the room and there was a clear understanding that we have to stop thinking that things will go back to how they were before the pandemic. We must start embracing our new reality and exploring the possibilities of our new future.
Many of the questions I fielded were about making sure employees got not only the support to work effectively from home, but that they had a good work/life balance. There is no easy answer here. The best advice I can give is try to provide management support and HR guidance to employees and ensure a constant feed of communications.
The biggest challenges still revolve around creating the same level of engagement and collaboration that we are all used to in the office. It’s easy to take for granted that people will just look after themselves now they are working from home. But, actually, managers almost need to check in more in order to ensure employees are supported, because anyone can smile on a Zoom call and act the part for an hour. Collaboration tools are brilliant, but they will only be effective if you work on your people skills in order to keep your team engaged and honest about any difficulties they are experiencing.
As we look ahead, we need to keep calm and lean in, staying consistent when it comes to defining the priorities. I used to think that it would be easy in security because we deal with risk scores, but it’s really tempting to do the urgent things and leave what’s really important for later, until they become urgent, too. That’s been a key lesson for me and my team so far. And I have no doubt it won’t be the last.
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