Saturday, 24th October 2020

Advice for leading a remote business during turbulent times

The world has been hurled into an unprecedented working environment. Leaders are now having to think and act fast in order to maintain the effectiveness and productivity of their now remote workforces. This can be an incredibly challenging process, which has already revealed several cyber security issues such as software vulnerabilities in some of the most widely used applications, as well as issues with workforce management practices as they are put to the test more than ever before.To expedite that process, 12 business leaders from the technology arena share guidance on how to navigate this problematic time below.


Communication fundamental to effective remote management

Rick Kershaw, CPO at Peakon, believes that taking care of the individuals who make up an organisation should be a priority under lockdown. “It’s imperative that organisations engage in a continuous dialogue with their employees. Managers need to combine purpose and positivity with empathy, and they can only strike this balance effectively when armed with up to date insight. Ask employees how they're doing, how work is, how their family is. Be flexible on deadlines when possible and offer new resources that can help them to get their jobs done,” he says.

Continuous dialogue, however, can be a challenge under lockdown. Simon Johnson, General Manager UK&I at Freshworks, suggests there are several solutions that can be quickly implemented to help coordinate a remote team. “These include virtual dashboards that list live calls taking place, as well as calls in the queue and real-time agent availability status. Call ‘barging’ can enable supervisors to join calls when an agent requires support to defuse the situation, and in-depth reporting and metrics can enable managers to provide detailed feedback to agents.”

Neil Hammerton, CEO at Natterbox, agrees and says that the challenge of communication is particularly hard for those businesses that run call centres, with “many now scrabbling to adopt vital solutions and processes to maintain business as usual. This is especially true for the customer-facing workforce dealing in sales or customer service.”

As a solution, Hammerton advises that businesses consider intelligent telecommunications technology, which he says “is rapidly advancing and transforming how and where people work. New cloud-supported interfaces are already available to give users the ability to work from anywhere, on whichever device they want. Agents on the move or working from remote locations can benefit from the same functionality as in the office on their mobile device.”

Supporting employee satisfaction from afar

Whilst managing a remote workforce can be a monolithic challenge, it’s a job made much easier when employees’ satisfaction and mental health is properly supported.

Chief People Officer at Civica, Julie Chell, is making use of a variety of channels and tools to ensure Civica’s workforce feels valued. “Over recent weeks, our IT teams have done an amazing job in providing us with the technology and resources we need to continue providing business as usual. For example, we use Yammer, a space for social chat and collaboration, and we’re also doing a range of ‘drop in’ sessions where people can join colleagues at an agreed time for a virtual work-out, mindfulness sessions, virtual coffee, and book club discussions to keep our spirits up,” she says.

But whether between jobs, on furlough, or working from home, “now is the time to invest in skill development,” according to Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA at Pluralsight. “Online technology skills platforms offer the opportunity to take advantage of this time to better ourselves.

“When the lockdown eventually eases and companies look to recover, they need to hit the ground running – for which an engaged and appropriately skilled workforce is key.”

Looking to the future, Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director UK&I at IPsoft, foresees “a complete overhaul in attitudes and approaches to the workplace post-pandemic. Employees will have more appetite for flexibility and will look to intelligent solutions to help automate routine, low-value tasks that keep them tied to their desks. This may even help us take the first steps towards a four-day working week!”

Securing a remote workforce

With a fully remote workforce, maintaining the security of a company’s network is just another hurdle that businesses globally are being faced with. Cyber-criminals take advantage of chaos and vulnerability, meaning now is the time for organisations to be ultra-vigilant. This is in light of recent research from Tanium, which revealed that 93% of UK IT leaders have discovered unknown computing devices within their organisation’s IT environment.

Chris Hodson, CISO of Tanium says: “Irrespective of asset location, IT leaders need to ensure visibility and control of any endpoint accessing enterprise data and systems. To mitigate the risk, the first step will be to gain real-time visibility of all digital assets by communicating with employees and ensuring that IT leaders have a clear understanding of devices that are being used for work at home.”

Further, Spencer Pitts, Digital Workspace Chief Technologist at VMWare, advises: “Providing users easy and secure access to applications and services on whatever computer they own is paramount in these new, remote working environments.

“A software-based digital workspace solution can enable employees to be productive from day one on their devices of choice. It allows immediate access to an entire set of business applications with seamless single sign-on to all applications as needed based on job functions. Meanwhile, intrinsic security ensures that compliance and risk are considered prior to granting access to applications, protecting your infrastructure and data.”

Another digital solution that has seen an impressive amount of attention in recent weeks are video conferencing apps. According to Asaf Hecht, Security Research Team Leader at CyberArk, “Skype, Zoom, Slack, Teams, and the like have become the new gateway to the organisation, much like emails have been in the past. So instead of being limited to, for instance, a phishing attack vs. email, attackers have had their potential attack surface expanded. They now have the potential to enter chats they are not invited to – e.g. by Zoom Bombing – have sensitive data exposed to them, and also be able to post malicious links and files to infect other users.

“The overarching issue is that remote collaboration software is often integrated into an organisation’s overall identity access management defences, so identity theft in this area can – potentially – get attackers access to critical data and assets,” adds Hecht.

But David Warburton, Senior Threat Research Evangelist at F5 Networks, also acknowledges that securing these SaaS apps can be tricky. “We’ve seen a number of data breaches occur simply because weak passwords are used.

“Most enterprise-level SaaS tools will allow federation of user accounts, which will reduce the problem of password re-use and also allow integration with multi-factor authentication solutions. It’s crucial to enforce consistent security policies for all apps regardless of where they are hosted.”

Learning a lesson from the chaos

“This remote working experience has taught us a lot about the importance of having systems and processes that are resilient, flexible, and scalable across every area of the business,” says Martin Blackburn, EMEA Managing Director at Rackspace.

Blackburn believes that preparations were, for the most part, not enough and adds that, “scalability needs to be top of the agenda across every area of a business, with infrastructure in place that affords flexibility for unexpected events, to support the subsequent changes in both customer and employee behaviours.”

As the UK looks towards the near horizon and the eventual end of the pandemic, businesses must recognise that effective cybersecurity, employee engagement, and the prioritisation of workforce happiness are all key to successfully running a remote business. Learnings must be considered to ensure that the business world is prepared to maintain its course when another situation like this perhaps inevitably occurs.

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