Remote workforces are on the rise, and not just because of COVID-19. By the end of 2021, Global Workplace Analytics estimates 25% to 30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week, citing historical trends and employees’ increased demand for flexibility.
That shift calls for added protection within companies.
“We have found that as things go into the cloud, everybody feels like they’re ready for a remote transition, but what’s been concerning to us are some of the security issues,” says Bradd Konert Jr., president and founder of Gamma Tech Services in Naples.
All it takes is one employee’s personal computer to be hacked for their company’s poorly guarded information to be compromised. And, Konert said, small- and medium-sized businesses can be easy victims.
“Now, with the way automation works, I can basically make one piece of software that can scan large sections of the internet to find vulnerabilities and then target those. Unfortunately, small businesses are typically the least prepared and the most targeted, and I think it’s only going to get worse,” Konert says.
However, there are ways to run a remote workforce safely. One crucial step is setting a monthly budget for reoccurring information technology (IT) maintenance, rather than calling upon professionals after a data breach occurs.
“For a 20- to 30-person company, you should probably be spending at least $2,000 per month on IT support,” says Johnny Minerva, chief operating officer of Executive Electronics of Southwest Florida Inc. in Bonita Springs.
Konert breaks it down to about $30 per month per employee for basic security coverage, saying that as businesses implement a more digital workplace, passing off IT duties to a techie worker will no longer suffice.
“We see a lot of times where the small business owner is the IT guy, or they have someone in the office who’s tech-savvy, so they become the de facto IT person. Inevitably, security ends up taking a hit when this happens, and no one is aware of it until a catastrophic event causes there to be an issue,” Konert says.
Instead, businesses can pay an IT company that offers a managed service model. The specialists can regularly set up team members to work safely from anywhere, prevent hacks using strong software, back up information and troubleshoot any potential issues. In the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster, staff would already be capable of working remotely.
“We like to say it’s like having an IT person on sta but with the expertise of a whole team of people,” Konert says.
Regular IT management would also save business owners from replacing employee’s devices that become compromised, although that does not solve the root issue of lax security.
“We’re seeing a transition where computers as a whole are becoming rather replaceable, but we’re not thinking about the security implications of this,” Konert says.
The other step is to enforce best companywide security practices that remote workers can follow.
“You just can’t be out there using the same passwords on the same platforms,” Minerva says. Instead, he recommends changing passwords every 60 days or using two-factor authentication.
Employees can also sit in on educational seminars. “Training employees to be aware is a big piece of it,” Konert says.
DON’T FORGET TO STAY PERSONABLE
Face-to-face connection subsides when workers aren’t in the office every day, but companies can still maintain a caring environment.
“Once you’ve figured out the technology hurdles, just make sure you’re in touch with your teams,” says Johnny Minerva, chief operating officer of Executive Electronics of Southwest Florida Inc. in Bonita Springs. Especially in times of uncertainty, as we saw much of in 2020.
“Stay in contact constantly with your people—not to make sure they’re doing eight hours of work, but if they are remote and things are uncertain, there can be a lot of ambiguity,” Minerva says, speaking from his own experience. “We can all make technology work, but if our employees can’t take a couple of hours to find a new daycare or take a COVID-19 test, we just can’t run our business the same.”
His biggest piece of advice?
“It doesn’t hurt to over-communicate. Nothing beats a phone call at the end of the day. There’s nothing too techy about that.”