Millions of employees are now working from home as many cities, counties and states have restricted travel and limited interpersonal interaction in an effort to lower the spread of the coronavirus as more people are impacted by it.
While some people were already working from home and had their computers and laptops set up to do video conferencing and remote access to the company’s network, other employees were caught off-guard and had to scramble at the last minute.
Here are 10 ways you can work from home and interact with your co-workers and the rest of your team while ensuring that your data and communications are secure and not vulnerable to hackers.
1. Message Platforms
Slack and other internal messaging apps such as Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report Teams, Ryver, Glip and Google (GOOGL) - Get Report Hangouts allow you to talk to co-workers instantly so you can ask questions and receive a quick response versus using email.
2. Old-Fashioned Phone Calls
Talking to a co-worker, boss or client directly might be the most efficient method sometimes. You can schedule calls through apps like calendly to save time.
3. Conference Calls
Conference calls are still a good method for discussing issues with a large team. The options include UberConference and Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report Chime, which has video chat and conference lines as well as screen sharing.
4. Video Conferencing
Using software to conduct video chats can be a strategic way to keep a team connected. There is a variety of software to choose from, including Zoom (ZM) - Get Report, Join.Me and GoToMeeting which provides online meetings, desktop sharing and video conferencing.
5. Sharing Files
Software such as Cisco (CSCO) - Get Report Webex Teams offers more options so you can easily conduct messaging, file sharing, video meetings and even whiteboarding. Companies such as Sharepoint allow team members to manage and store their documents through an online platform
Sending individual or group emails is still an effective method, especially if you are working with clients.
Webinars are a good option if you’re addressing a larger crowd or giving a presentation to clients, students or employees.
8. Social Media
FaceTime is available only through iPhones, iPads or Macs, but it allows up to 32 people to join in on the call so you can easily conduct a remote meeting.
Short podcasts can be an innovative strategy to connect with current clients who want that personal connection.
“I have to find a way to make that personal connection since we can't meet in person,” said Daren Blonski, managing principal of Sonoma Wealth Advisors in California. “The goal is to create that connection. You have to find different mediums that work for that client and meet them where they are at.”
How Some Companies Adapted to Working from Home
Some companies are offering their software for free. Vonage (VG) - Get Report, a Holmdel, New Jersey cloud communications company, is providing 250 mobile-only licenses for free for a maximum of 90 days. Teams can use the Vonage mobile or desktop application.
Kristin Treat, vice president of corporate marketing at Nintex, a Bellevue, Washington-based business processing software company, manages a global team. Employees utilize Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack.
“We are heavy users of Outlook for email, calendaring and ensuring we don’t miss deadlines,” she said. “Within our marketing department, we leverage Asana to manage our website updates, email sends, design requests, webinars and events. We’re also agile and can learn new technologies and tools pretty easily. We use video for every team meeting and for one on ones.”
Milin Iyer, a director at Sondhelm Partners, a financial marketing and public relations company in Alexandria, Virginia, said employees are using Skype and Zoom more regularly to “engage with clients on a more personal level.”
One advantage the company has was moving its data to Microsoft 360 a few years ago - its files are in the cloud and accessible whenever they need it on any device.
“It’s also easier to work with my team in real time to edit and share documents,” he said. “To keep everyone on track, since we aren’t collaborating face to face for the time being, we feel it is important to keep track of the projects everyone is working on. We use a project management tool called Monday and it has worked very well so far.”
Another strategy is conducting more webinars to communicate within the industry with relevant timely topics as well, Iyer said.
“This same type of strategy is also relevant for our asset management clients,” he said. “We are trying to help them engage with their own clients in a similar way since their face-to-face travel to meet clients and prospects has gone down to zero.”
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based nonprofit debt counseling organization reacted quickly in moving their critical counselors to work from home, said Jim Triggs, CEO of Money Management International.
“They did this to ensure that counselors were in place to assist consumers when they reach out for assistance at this critical time,” he said. “We use RingCentral for our virtual meetings and our telephone and other client communications system is through Genesys.”
MMI’s counselors securely communicate with consumers via telephone, web chat and email. The nonprofit organization has approximately 400 employees and 95% of its workforce are working remotely.
“Money Management International’s counselors and I have been on the front lines of every financial crisis that we’ve had in the U.S. for the last 23 years,” he said. “During the credit and foreclosure crisis of 2007-2010, MMI helped tens of thousands of consumers every month with understanding their options regarding their debt and housing-related financial challenges.”
The nonprofit was prepared to have most of its employees work from home because they already coped with this issue when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017, impacting their headquarters and many of their employees.
How to Work From Home Securely and Avoid Being Hacked
COVID-19 has forced many companies to deal with how they can quickly enable a remote workforce without putting the business at risk for cybersecurity concerns.
Employers should provide remote employees with secure VPN connections, so they can protect their internal network resources while employees access private information.
Strong mobile device management is critical to accommodate a remote workforce, said Lucas Wojcik, chief information security officer at Productsup, a Berlin-based software company.
“Companies need to ensure their employees’ devices are secure and operational at all times by enforcing operating system and security updates and providing seamless software distribution and license management,” he said.
Productsup regularly conducts risk-based assessments to prepare its critical assets for potential threat scenarios, like pandemics or natural catastrophes.
“The coronavirus outbreak provides an opportunity for us to gain hands-on experience managing business continuity beyond simulations, allowing us to gather important metrics and refine our plans to improve our precautionary measures for future pandemics,” Wojcik said.
Companies are more attentively evaluating the benefits and risks of collaboration and conferencing technologies from providers such as Zoom, Cisco WebEx Teams, Microsoft Teams and Slack before allowing employees to use them within their business, said Robert Cruz, vice president of information governance at Smarsh, a provider of cloud-based information archiving solutions in Portland, Oregon.
There are dangers such as potential cybersecurity, data privacy and regulatory compliance vulnerabilities.
“If key stakeholders determine that the benefits exceed risks, and that those risks can be controlled and mitigated through the use of technology, then they are more inclined to allow them to be used to do business,” he said.
Employees who use these collaboration tools need to be very aware of their surroundings, including home smart devices since virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri could be listening into calls, said Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and Advisory CISO at Thycotic, a Washington D.C. based provider of privileged access management (PAM) solutions.
“Use a headset when participating in audio and video conference calls to reduce others from being able to hear your conversations,” he said. “For video conferencing tools, it is critical to use the right collaboration tool and the right security controls, depending on the nature of the content. Be aware that calls could be recorded and always remind colleagues and peers when calls are being recorded.”
Managers should train employees how to use collaboration tools securely as a common mistake that people make when screen sharing is that they share their desktop instead of the application.
“Therefore, attendees can sometimes see emails as well as what they are browsing,” Carson said.
Current customers will increase their dependence on platforms like Zoom and Slack which allow users to remotely connect on specific topics or projects as in-person meetings drop to zero, said Chris Hazelton, director of security solutions at Lookout, a provider of mobile phishing solutions in San Francisco.
“New customers will begin to leverage these platforms as they are forced to move online as traditional in-person business processes are banned by temporary regulations,” he said.
Employees need to be aware of the risks because not enabling security controls such as publicly sharing meeting codes, removing security to simplify adoption and removing limitations on who can join Zoom sessions or Slack (WORK) - Get Report workspaces are the “digital equivalent of offering criminals, competitors and other adversaries a seat at the meeting table,” Hazelton said. “There is an urgency for organizations to go digital to avoid disruptions to business, but ignoring digital protections that secure collaboration platforms could create additional business disruptions and brand damage.”
Companies using these collaboration platforms must hold them to the same standards as other services such as email. Passwords should always be secure and complex, two-factor authentication should be used and confidential or sensitive information should not be treated any differently regardless of what platform is used, said Matt Gayford, principal consultant at the Crypsis Group, an incident response, risk management and digital forensics firm in McLean, Virginia.
“End users must stay vigilant in their daily work,” he said. “Organizations can implement layers of security controls, but they can all be circumvented by a single slip from and end user.”
Too many companies are not prepared to have a large number of employees working from home, said Jason Glassberg, co-founder of Casaba Security, a cybersecurity and ethical hacking headquartered in Redmond, Washington. These employees will be at a higher risk of getting hacked and scammed because they are outside of the company’s firewall.
“Home WiFi networks are typically insecure with weak password protection and vulnerabilities in the devices themselves,” he said. “People will also be connecting to their offices via remote desktop tools, which can be hacked or hijacked. In fact, there are many places on the Dark Web that sell stolen remote desktop credentials.”
When people are away from the office, they are more susceptible to business email compromise and other social engineering attacks.
“The hacker pretends to be the company’s CEO or another employee and tricks the person into conducting a wire transfer or sharing online credentials,” Glassberg said. “I have no doubt we are going to see data breaches and wire transfer fraud as a result of this outbreak.”