It is now a truism: the impact of COVID-19 on our work lives cannot be understated. In just a few weeks, entire businesses and industries have pivoted from their well-worn habits of office work to the brave new world of working-from-home where the ebb and flow of the 9-to-5 has been swapped with the blurry mixing of our professional and private lives.
Amid this dramatic shift, new technological challenges have also arisen for the millions of employees who have transformed their dining room tables into makeshift offices and their personal laptops into vehicles of doing standard business.
“Many of the employees who are now working from home have never worked outside the office before, aside from taking the odd phone call,” explains Kent Agerlund, Founder of Danish IT consultancy CTGlobal. “These people have had to get operational in a new setting, with no routines and no colleagues physically nearby to ask for help.”
An issue that quickly arises in this new set-up, adds Mr. Agerlund, is the various IT security issues that were hitherto addressed by in-office tech support. Now, he says, businesses need to be more flexible as new demands arises out of working-from-home scenarios.
Ahead of CTGlobal’s upcoming webinar on enterprise client management in the time of COVID-19, Denmark in New York caught up via email with Kent Agerlund for a conversation on the intersection of technology and working from home in these challenging times.
Denmark in New York: Kent Agerlund, thank you so much for sitting down with us — virtually. How has the COVID-19 crisis changed the way employees work within their companies and with technology?
Kent Agerlund: For the employees, the new remote work situation has challenged their habits and their comfort zones. Their focus has been on thinking about how to stay in touch with colleagues and co-workers using chat applications, shared documents, and replacing planned meetings with conference calls.
For the enterprise IT teams supporting the workforce, the challenge is to make this possible. Typically, enterprise operations are geared to accommodate between five and ten percent of their workforce working from home. Now, with the numbers sky-rocketing to 95–100 percent, the IT organization is experiencing a huge strain on technological capabilities. There is massive pressure on internal IT teams, who suddenly have to provide fixes and support to devices and users who are stressed out, far away and have to adjust to new ways of collaborating.
Many of the employees who are now working from home have never worked outside the office before, aside from taking the odd phone call. These people have had to get operational in a new setting, with no routines and no colleagues physically nearby to ask for help.
This puts an enormous strain on the IT organization, who is struggling to keep their users operational while keeping security tight, and at the same time being expected to provide their board and management with compliance and performance documentation.
What are the risks that we’ve seen when it comes to cyber security and working from home in new ways?
Kent Agerlund: When all your users connect to the company infrastructure from home, you have no way of knowing what those devices are going to drag home with them through connectivity through random public and private networks (even when you have VPN connections) that you have no control over. Users are certainly not thinking about cyberattacks, and CISOs and admins need to look urgently at new scenarios and new threat vectors as their organizations become a distributed organization overnight, with less time to make detailed plans or run pilots than normal.
Add to that the inability for organizations to fully manage devices, which includes deploying security updates. Without the required updates to operating systems and application updates, each device quickly becomes a threat to the overall security.
How do you see the impact of the pandemic when it comes to communication within companies in the future?
Kent Agerlund: We can see that having a communications plan ready for the next pandemic is essential to minimize the impact. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have learned a lot in terms of who’s doing what and who’s responsible for the various services. We have also learned that simply assuming our plan works, without a proper test, is not good enough.
What are the most critical performance issues employees and companies face in this new world of remote working?
Kent Agerlund: One very hands-on, practical problem area, when a larger than usual proportion of the workforce moves to “working elsewhere,” is VPN concentrators. VPN concentrators are devices built to conduct and manage the secured connections between end-user devices and the organizations’ servers. In this specific coronavirus crisis, a shortage of VPN concentrators has been a particular issue, because all VPN concentrators are manufactured in China. If your organization didn’t have enough of those in place to handle the new workload, there wasn’t much to do about it while Chinese production and export had ground to a halt.
Another area that has come into focus, is cloud maturity. A few organizations have been lucky — those who already had their data and connections based in the cloud.
But for most organizations that is not the case yet — especially the enterprise-sized ones. For most organizations, the reality is that they are in the process of shifting all or some functions to cloud, but are not quite there yet. They will have some services and functions in the cloud, while some are still on-premises.
Whichever balance they operate with, one thing is certain: they are not ready for their entire workforce to be ‘all cloud all the time, at the same time, and for absolutely everything.’ Their Azure services and licensing structure is not yet geared to take on the full load and responsibility of being the only vessel and the pivot for all activities, throughout the organization.
And, at a time of crisis for the business, everyone is just screaming for IT to “work”, “perform”, “do its thing”. A time of crisis is not the time to start moving or changing functions and processes, testing new technology, or changing work routines. There’s quite enough of change with the physical shift from office to living room, without IT operatives messing with procedures as well.
Put quite simply, the organizations that can say “work is where my device is” are miles ahead in the game. We are used to talking about ‘modern management’ and ‘digital workplaces’ — the next level up are the companies who can define work as ‘wherever the user happens to be, with their device(s)’.
How do we ensure that the topic of cyber security will remain an important topic for companies and employees on the other side of the pandemic?
Kent Agerlund: Two things are important for IT teams to stay on topic: awareness and the power to act.
We find that it heightens awareness and generally improves our clients’ infrastructure to run continuous health checks, visualize the results, and make sure those results are actionable. When you can see what is happening in your infrastructure, and where, and can understand how to fix the issues that have a negative impact on performance, operational excellence and security, it becomes a manageable task to address the issues proactively. When it’s easy to see what to do and how what you are doing helps, things get done.
We see this mechanism when we help our customers get visibility: we help them pull up data on how devices are performing individually and grouped across departments and geographies; we track if updates are installed and deployed correctly; and we monitor which security threats are putting systems at risk, and ensure that security measures are in fact effectuated in all, and particularly high-risk, environments. All of those insights are then turned into actionable IT management and results in a much healthier, more secure infrastructure.
Emilie Haaber Lynggaard is the Strategic Communications and Press intern at Denmark In New York.