Working remotely has become the new normal as the pandemic grinds on, separating us from colleagues and the conveniences of the office. Some love the work-at-home experience, relishing the peace and freedom from interruptions, not to mention the flexibility remote work affords. For others, the situation is quite the contrary as they wrangle family responsibilities and home-schooling the kids on Zoom. But additional issues can cause even more consternation. As we find ourselves six months into the “new normal,” our experiences have begun to cement remote best practices and continues to highlight the importance of having access to insights from systems and data on-the-go. Here are a few of those new learnings and best practices:
Software and Accessible Data
All firms must now consider cloud-based, SaaS solutions for essential business, and focus on assimilating data in compact and usable formats to empower employees. Instead of your legacy system providing data reports daily, whether it was needed or not, smarter routing of data can make employees much more efficient. For example, rather than receiving a P&L report every day at 5 pm, rules can be written into newer systems dictating reports only be sent when a gain or loss exceeding 1% per day is booked. Smart routing prevents distracted employees at-home from being inundated with unnecessary data and potentially missing important alerts due to notification fatigue. Consequently, this allows the employee to tailor data flows that are aligned with business needs and offers benefits in risk mitigation as well.
But, of course, accessing data and systems remotely continues to threaten a company’s network and data security. A recent study by BitSight found that 25% of devices on home networks are exposed to the internet. Moreover, 45% of organizations surveyed had one or more devices accessing the corporate network from a home network with at least one malware infection. It’s easy for those working at home to forget that peril can lurk in every corner. It might seem harmless to send a document from your work laptop to your home printer, but that wireless connection is a gateway for trouble. Protecting confidential data is of critical importance, and system security has to be sufficiently robust to enable secure remote access. Measures such as 2-factor identification and PUSH are simple enough to keep employees engaged but offer a valuable safeguard against unauthorized access. Conditional security measures, such as preventing logins from certain locations, can also be a boost to security. Training and firm work-from-home policies, in addition to technological solutions, are the best way to keep your network and data safe.
How we collaborate directly has not only evolved but has proved problematic for many employees. While Zoom has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the pandemic, along with GoToMeeting, tools like Slack and Basecamp have also been a boon to remote employees. These tools have now become permanent fixtures that will continue to live long after the pandemic has passed. A significant number of employees will likely choose to continue working remotely, and large firms are moving from spending on real estate and physical premises to developing in-house applications to enhance collaboration. Unfortunately, many remote employees have found it challenging to work in less-than-fully equipped offices, lacking such essentials as printers, multiple monitor setups, and other essential office equipment. The “new normal” will witness, if not already so, companies providing office-grade equipment to key employees to ensure both productivity and security. Company-owned laptops, printers, and other equipment are already being equipped with appropriate security measures with use restricted to company business on company networks, thus offering enhanced protection against cybercrime. Remote employees are also making greater use of small devices such as phones and tablets. When appropriate, firms should consider offering security-enhanced devices to key personnel as well.
Remote work introduces new issues in continuity planning. Pre-COVID, continuity plans covered disruptions in the office environment that would necessitate working remotely. Now, there is the issue of what happens when remote workers suffer disruptions in essential services. We’ve all experienced problems with internet connections at one time or another, and hardware issues shouldn’t be overlooked either. A laptop, cat, and cup of coffee sharing the same desk can end in disaster. Key employees should have two sources of the internet. Depending on the area of the country and the likelihood of power outages, a generator could be a wise investment. Protocols should be in place now by firms to replace damaged equipment quickly to preclude the temptation for employees to use personal devices.
Remote work is here to stay. The pandemic has given many of us a taste of freedom, and the genie is out of the bottle. While some employees are eager to return to the collegial atmosphere of the office, many others want nothing more than to work remotely permanently. Firms will have to learn from their COVID experience and implement measures, and the right software, to ensure they can manage a remote workforce while maintaining security, efficiency, and productivity.
About the Author
Rebecca Baldridge, CFA, is an investment professional and financial writer with more than 20 years of experience in creating content and research for asset managers, investment banks, brokers and other financial services clients. She’s worked for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Merrill Lynch Asset Management, JP Morgan Asset Management, BNY Mellon and Franklin Templeton. Rebecca also spent 9 years as an analyst and director of equity research in Moscow, working for several Russian banks. In late 2019, she founded Quartet Communications, a boutique communications firm serving financial services clients. Her writing has been published in outlets including Pensions & Investments, MSNBC.com, Inc. magazine, and Investopedia.com. She holds a B.A. in Russian from Purdue University and an M.S. in Finance from the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue.