Some interesting news out of both Lenovo and Blackberry this week concerning protecting and enhancing remote workers. Lenovo surveyed 1,000 companies to determine preparedness and detail recommended practices with those new to having most of their folks work at home. Also, given that people working from home are at risk. BlackBerry rolled out free trials and packaged employee security offerings. This move was to assure those that are working from home aren’t putting themselves and the company at risk. Besides, these tools assure the physical safety of your workforce and could be used to identify an early trend if it appeared a critical mass of workers were getting ill and might be unable to work.
Let’s talk about both efforts this week.
Lenovo surveyed 1,000 companies in areas walloped by the Covid-19 virus, including the US, China, Japan, Germany, and Italy. Only 71% felt they had access to the technology they needed to get their job done, suggesting at least a 29% additional drag on productivity due to a lack of remote resources. Many are struggling with the fact their homes aren’t set up with a work area and so are at a loss for where they can comfortably work. In this case, the recommendation is to be flexible, and you don’t have to be tied down to any one place. With a laptop, you can pretty much work anyplace in and around your home. So, use that flexibility to find a comfortable place where you can relax (not too much you don’t want to fall asleep) and work.
Part of the problem is that at work, they have multiple monitors and a desktop system and are now struggling with the single small screen of their laptop. But allowing the employees to check out the monitors they use and take them home can address that, and most current generation laptops support multiple monitors. Some portable monitors are designed to work with notebooks that are relatively reasonably priced, and a few of my peers that travel takes one or two of these with them, so they don’t experience large monitor withdrawal.
Video is often critical to an employee feeling connected and usually the camera on a laptop or tablet, while useful in a pinch; it may not be adequate if you must live off it and do frequent meetings, particularly if you like to stand and talk. However, you may be surprised at how good current laptop cameras are. They often come coupled with advanced microphones and decent speakers that exceed the home office video conferencing systems of a few years back.
Collaboration tools are critical, and tools like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom can be essential to allowing a remote employee to stay connected with their manager. I’d personally advise that it would be wise even for those few in the office to video conference into a meeting both to help make the remote employees not feel left out and to assure social distancing, so the virus doesn’t spread through meetings in the office. Make sure you keep the team chatroom open all day to emulate the ability people had to just chat with a co-worker when needed. This policy helps employees not feel disconnected.
Now 61% of those surveyed indicated they were more productive at home than at work. I found this myself, which is why I shifted to working from home even when I worked for a larger company. The office politics and people that just liked to drop in and chat cut down on my productivity, and I found that when I worked at home, I set productivity records in that company. Still, it does require focus, a lack of distractions (like children and pets), and the ability to work without requiring oversight. Keep the TV off, set family boundaries, but do take breaks, so you don’t feel like you’ve locked yourself in a personal prison. Just take them on your schedule, not due to avoidable distractions.
Finally, 77% of the employees surveyed thought their companies would continue to allow them to work from home once the Pandemic eases. Given that many firms, to reduce costs, will need to close offices anyway and will be unlikely to want to reopen them if people are doing well working from home, this result seems likely. The fact is that we may be under this cloud for months that should be enough to change behavior and for companies, wishing to avoid another avoidable disruption, a comparatively easy way to prepare for the next Pandemic. We’ve had two in a decade, so it is likely these will now be recurring events. But critical to this success is clear, open, and truthful communications so that employees are in the loops that involve them and don’t feel like they are being left out
BlackBerry Security Trials and Digital Workplace
Every security company out there is sending out alerts that you can’t just take employees used to working behind an enterprise firewall, given them VPN access, and hope for the best. That is because you won’t get the best; you’ll likely get a massive breach, and, right now, the rules surrounding disclosure and the protection of customer data haven’t been relaxed so that the result would be ugly.
The two free trials Blackberry is offering is with their BB Desktop and AtHoc. I’m a personal fan of AtHoc because it is a government level communications system that is sold to both governments and companies. What it does is link you to each one of your employees, so you know where they are, what their status is, and they can call for help if they need it. With likely food shortages, massive unemployment, and the ongoing possibility of major weather events as we transition to spring, this application could be critical to assuring the safety and well being of your employees.
The other free trial is the Blackberry Desktop. Now, this doesn’t use a VPN. I’m not a fan of VPNs because they allow the employee who is external to act like they are internal. But if that laptop or the employee becomes compromised, which is far easier to do if they are remote, the company is breached just as if someone physically broke in and got access to critical IT resources. This offering is an encrypted containerized solution that assures the remote employee is almost as secure as you can make them.
I said almost, but Blackberry has an even better offering, and that is their Digital Workplace offering. This layers on top of the Blackberry Desktop CylancePROTECT, an advanced AI tool that can tell rapidly if the employee or their laptop is compromised. This tool mitigates remote employee exposure significantly, and they include Awingu. This 3rd party tool provides simplified access to Windows® and Linux® apps, desktops, corporate intranets, and SaaS and file shares. With this, the employee is fully capable of working securely from almost anyplace in the world.
As the Lenovo survey showcased even when the Pandemic has mitigated, we’ll likely leave a lot of our employees working at home primarily because they are used to it. We’ll have closed a large number of offices to contain costs during the shutdown. And given we’ll likely have another Pandemic in a few years, the more people who are already working from home, the less disruptive that event will be.
Lenovo’s study also showcased the need to keep your employees well provisioned and connected with the likely result being higher productivity than you had when they were in the office, but only if you do it right. Part of doing it right is making sure the employees can securely access corporate resources and don’t themselves become compromised. Oh, and that they remain healthy and safe, Blackberry’s offerings appear to provide an elegant solution for that last. Since it is likely, this will become the new normal getting this remote worker thing right has never been more critical.