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Working Remotely During a Pandemic

remote working

How to be productive and remain secure when you’re suddenly working from home

When you're used to working in an office, making the transition to working from home can be difficult. From technology issues to struggling to keep the cat off your desk, each day presents a new challenge.

These issues are exacerbated during a pandemic that has seen thousands of businesses across the United States move to remote work unexpectedly, leaving households full of individuals suddenly working together in close quarters.

Luckily, in our experience helping companies develop work from home strategies, Immedion has been able to identify a few key tips on how to be productive and secure while working remotely. Our vCIO, Anthony Schaefer, reviews these tips and tricks.

How To Be Secure

security remote working

When your goal is to get your employees up and running, security can fall by the wayside. But with a few minor tweaks, your employees can keep themselves and your company safe.

Focus 1: Home Office Environment

  • Keep others away from your computer

    Most investigated breaches are caused by human error

    Source: Security Magazine

    It’s unlikely that you live with someone who wants to harm your company, but accidents happen. If you allow a roommate to check something on your computer, or if a child or pet hits the mouse and accidentally clicks on a malicious link, it could do the same amount of damage as someone intentionally installing malware. In the end, it’s best to keep others away from your computer.

  • Lock your screen when you're away

    If you’re unable to keep people away from your computer, you should at least get in the habit of locking your screen when you step away from the computer. At least this way you know when someone is on your computer, with or without your permission.

  • Act like your home computer is part of your work environment

    350,000 new malicious programs are detected daily

    Source: DataProt

    Not all companies are prepared to have their workforce go remote, and in a pandemic situation that may mean working on your personal computer. It may be tempting to surf the web, check your email and do all the normal things you do on your personal computer, but if it is on your work network in any form or fashion, but you need to act like it’s your work computer. This will help keep your work network safe and your company running.

    • Check for patches and run updates. This can fix known issues that malicious actors are using to cause trouble.
    • Run antivirus software. This one is pretty straightforward - antivirus software protects you from viruses that can infect your computer and your work network.
    • Don't check your personal email. Because of your company's investment in security, your work email is less likely to have malicious links that could infect your work network.
    • Stick to work websites. As a general rule of thumb, you are more likely to pick up malware from sites with user generated content.
    • Consider using DNS tools. These tools will prevent malicious websites from loading, which means less work for you to try to determine whether a site is safe.
    Most PC software is outdated

    Source: DataProt

    The goal is to take the same reasonable safety precautions that are taken on your work computer to ensure that your computer is secure, virus-free and unable to be used as a backdoor to your wider network.

Focus 2: Home Network

  • Enable basic security

    At a minimum, make sure your home network is set to private, password-protected access only. Do not allow public or open access. This will help keep malicious users off your network and therefore off your company’s network. What’s more, by keeping unauthorized users off your network you may be able to decrease the load and increase call quality.

  • Optimize your home network

    If you feel comfortable managing your home network, you should see if there are any optimizations you can make for working from home. Ensure your Wi-Fi coverage is sufficient for any web-based meetings. If it isn’t, consider upgrading your Wi-Fi solution or even running a network cable rather than relying on Wi-Fi.

  • Change all of your default passwords

    More complex passwords take much longer to crack

    Source: WOT

    First and foremost, make sure that your network password has been changed from its default to something complex. Once that has been done, make sure your other default passwords have been changed. Access to any one device on your network makes it easier to access the other devices on your network. So if your Smart TV’s password is “password,” a malicious actor can use that device to access your smart home or, now that you’re working remotely, your work computer. For guidance on how to create a complex password, check out Immedion's Complex Password Guide and Krebs On Security's Password Dos and Don'ts

Focus 3: Data Protection

  • Don't download files

    Assuming you do not have to use your personal computer for work, you should avoid downloading work files to your home computer. Your work computer is regularly patched, updated and scanned for viruses, and your home computer may not be.

  • Use backups

    3-2-1 for data protection

    Source: Veeam

    Remember, your work typically has a backup for critical information. Even though you are at home, you need to try to save and store your data in the same location as you would at the office to ensure that it is still being backed up.

How To Be Productive

working from home

If you're not used to it, working from home can seriously diminish productivity. But by optimizing usage of your tools, software, space and routines, you can improve your remote work.

Immedion Helps KMK Law Switch to Remote Work

Focus 1: Remote Tools like Teams, Zoom or Slack

  • Use video calls

    Nonverbal communications is the vast majority of some conversations

    Source: Prof. Albert Mehrabian

    Many people are hesitant to use their cameras during conference calls, but they help you feel more connected with your coworkers and less isolated. When you’re on a video conference, Trello recommends using a grid view that allows you to see everyone instead of a speaker-focused view. Not only is it more realistic to being in the office, it lets you see the physical cues people are offering so you can better gauge their reactions.

    In a related vein, consider doing voice-only calls if video calls aren’t an option. Tone very easily gets lost in text, and a simple phone call can eliminate hours of confusion.

  • Check your settings

    What settings you can control and how they should be set will change depending on the circumstances. If it’s a video meeting, make sure you have your background blurred to minimize distractions and protect your privacy. If you’re running the meeting, make sure you know how much control your attendees may have. Collaborative meetings may require users to be able to take control or share their screen in the middle of the meeting, but presentation-style meetings would require that to be locked down.

  • Leverage your status

    In a real office, someone can stop by your desk and pretty easily determine whether you’ve stepped away just for a moment or for a longer break. They can also easily tell when you’re on a call or working diligently and unable to be interrupted. Like most things, it’s not that easy when you’re working from home. A coworker may IM or email you needing an immediate response, not realizing that you’ve stepped away for your lunch or are deep in a project.

    To help the flow of communication, you should leverage at least the basic statuses that are available within the platform you use (e.g. online, idle, offline or in a meeting). You can also easily adjust for items that aren’t on your calendar, or even set a “do not disturb” option that blocks all incoming notifications. If your platform enables status messages, you can also give more details about when you intend to be back or how to contact you in an emergency.

  • Chat with your coworkers

    Work best friends can increase productivity

    Source: Gallup

    There’s a reason water cooler chat has become a cliché. Whether your office has a water cooler, a kitchen or a breakroom, it almost certainly has a place where you and your coworkers can congregate for a minute or two and get to know each other. When everyone is working from home, this personal bonding time goes away completely, often to the detriment of collaboration. As silly as it may feel, you should make an effort to talk to your coworkers about non-work topics.

  • Beware of limited features

    Though not a standard work-from-home issue, feature-limiting during a pandemic is a certainty. Providers know that they will be experiencing a massively increased load, so they may limit extraneous features to ensure that the most critical ones – the ones that truly enable communications – are working at their full capacity.

Focus 2: Space and Routines

  • Set up a dedicated workspace, free of clutter

    Designated Workspaces

    Source: The Money Chat, and others

    If you have enough space, and particularly if you are going to be working from home for an extended period of time, you should set up a separate room with a door as your office. During a pandemic situation like COVID-19, people are unlikely to come visit you so guest rooms are a great option for your new home office. If you don’t have a spare room in your house, try to at least dedicate a single surface – desk, table, kitchen island, etc. – just to work.

    Wherever you wind up working, make sure that it’s free of clutter and distractions, but that you have any necessary supplies within easy reach. And don’t lock yourself in to one layout from the start – it may take a few days and a few tries to organize your space to your liking. This is certainly easier with a room that you can close off but assigning the dining room table as your semi-permanent workspace also allows you to set up your space without having to remove everything and restart each day. Also try to avoid your workspace outside of working hours. If you wouldn't stop by the office after dinner, don't stop by your home office after dinner.

    Setting up a dedicated workspace can also help if you are a working parent suddenly home with the kids. Trello’s Remote Work Guide for Parents recommends establishing boundaries with your children, and the easiest one for everyone to follow is that you aren’t to be disturbed in your home office. That’s certainly easier said than done if you have small children in the house, but ideally the presence of a physical barrier will help them stop to consider whether it’s work time or family time. Though not as clear a delineation, a dedicated work surface can also serve as an easy boundary.

  • Dress like you're at work

    When you go into the office every day, you have a routine. You get up, get ready, drink your coffee, eat your breakfast and head in to work. When suddenly you're working from home, you get a break from that routine. It can be relaxing, but that difference in your mindset can have a negative impact on your day.

    It's important to keep up some sort of routine, though it can be a bit relaxed from your normal routine. If you normally wear business casual to work you can certainly dress more casually, but you should still wear something you’d feel comfortable being seen in if you have to step outside or take a video call. Similarly, if you normally wear makeup or shave every morning, you can skip this step, but you should still perform your standard morning hygiene.

  • Work your standard hours and take breaks

    Lunch Breaks are Important

    Source: Tork

    Whether you’re working from home or from your company’s office, it’s important to take breaks and maintain work/life balance to make sure that you remain refreshed and creative. Yet when working from home, many people wind up starting earlier and staying later, working through breaks and skipping lunch. This can very quickly lead to burn out.

    In this piece from Trello, the author recommends “placing things that need attention out of reach.” This can mean keeping snacks in the kitchen instead of in the office, setting an alarm in another room for every 3 hours or even, as the author does, listening to music on vinyl so you have to regularly get up and switch the record. That said, make sure your thing that needs attention isn't (always) housework. It's nice to be able to start a load of laundry or load the dishwasher occasionally, but you also need to make time to relax.

    Finally, assuming you’re not under quarantine and you have a yard or balcony you can use during “Stay Home” orders, you should try to take at least one of your breaks outside. Some days in the office may feel like you never see the sun, but your normal commute requires you to step outside at least for a bit every day, and that can make a world of difference. Step outside, get some fresh air and try to see the sun.

Focus 3: O365

  • Leverage file sharing

    Collaborative work can suffer greatly from remote work. It’s simply not as easy to pull someone over to your desk and talk through a document. But with file sharing, multiple people can review and make edits to a document at the same time. This can also help eliminate some of the load of sending massive emails back and forth with updated versions of a document.

  • Use Teams for phone calls

    Not everyone feels comfortable using their personal cell phones for work, and many companies have BYOD policies that don’t allow it. In that case, you can use Teams for both one-on-one phone calls and for conference calls.

    Teams comes configured to be able to make calls within the system, but you can also have your IT provider set it up to make calls to regular phone lines. And conference calls within teams are as easy as scheduling and joining meetings from Outlook.

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