Employers should migrate to a hybrid environment only after building a solid foundation to support remote workers.
As Covid-19 pandemic restrictions have eased, employers are adjusting their work-from-home policies. Some companies, including Airbnb, have doubled down and made substantial commitments to remote working. Others, like Google, have begun to shift to more in-person and hybrid office policies. This range just among the two tech giants is an example of the different possibilities being considered by other employers. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 43% of U.S. employees worked remotely all or some of the time.
Part of the reason for this difference has to do with how all of us have adjusted to working in the face of the pandemic. Some people have thrived on the flexibility and productivity gains of being able to schedule their time and being freed from commuting. For example, in a survey conducted by Boston.com in March, readers who preferred to work from home at least part of the time said they are more productive and have a better work-life balance. A Pew Research study from February corroborates these reasons and found that more remote workers are doing so by choice rather than by necessity. And another poll carried out by ADP found that 64% of workers would consider quitting if asked to return to their offices full-time. But before you consider moving towards a more hybrid work schedule, consider these issues.
First, employers should put together a policy that is fair and flexible. Airbnb’s program, announced by founder and CEO Brian Chesky, seems well thought-out: employees can choose where to work, literally anywhere in the world. They have the ability to move inside the country of their choice without affecting their compensation and can travel for up to 90 days outside their country at a time.
“I’ve always believed that you design the culture you want, or it will be designed for you,” Chesky wrote in his memo. He also described the various tax implications of moving about the world while employed and how Airbnb has to be careful to place some reasonable limits on these movements.
Second, employers should migrate to a hybrid environment only after building a solid foundation to support remote workers. Some of the remote programs were temporary and should have elements including the following:
Next, businesses need to handle everyone’s individual circumstances and acknowledge their particular sources of stress. Some remote workers want to return to their offices, while others don’t. (This could be a split between introverts and extroverts, or other factors.)
In some cases, working from home can be less stressful (no commute, fewer office distractions), but in others, it can have the opposite effect. There could be family members that make remote working more or less desirable, and a company should have counseling and mental health resources available. In a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 41% of returned workers say the amount of stress they experience has worsened; 22% say it’s gotten better and 37% say it hasn’t changed.
Regardless of which way your employer – and your employees – end up, having a fully-formed security strategy to match your situation is critical. As Jeff Williams, Avast Global Head of Security, says, “You have to recognize that when your staff are working outside of the office, you have given up some level of control of the environment in which they work. Depending on the permissiveness of your security settings, this may increase the risk of malware or a compromised system where an adversary maintains access coming into the corporate network. What you don't want to have is a machine which was infected on someone's home network creating a foothold for a breach when they connect to the corporate LAN.” He points out that this can be especially disastrous if companies have a totally flat network without any segmentation to prevent attacks from spreading.
This means that hybrid situations – in which employees are moving their gear from home to work networks – need to have the full collection of security tools deployed.
Williams recommends using strong passwords along with multi-factor authentication; mature vulnerability management, VPN or other encrypted communications channel, and data loss protection tools. “It also may be worth looking into doing a one-time computer hygiene review as people are returning to the office with their laptops. Each business will know best what is right for their environment based on the visibility they have into the systems returning to the office.”
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