Working remotely never used to be widespread, even within the five years leading up to the COVID outbreak. That was down to various reasons, which can be largely broken down as follows.

– allowing working from home (or not in one specific place) was purely impractical: the tools of the trade were in the workplace, and employees needed to be where the tools were.
– a certain distrust on the part of decision-makers that their employees would be as efficient and dedicated if they were away from direct, in-person supervision.
– remote work might have been possible, but the security implications of data flows between a central point and across the internet were not acceptable.
– the technological practicalities of secure, truly collaborative remote work were difficult or expensive to establish and maintain: VPN tunnels are fragile individually, and are expensive at any significant scale.

Since the COVID pandemic and the faltering return to the central workplace, what’s clearly emerging is a greater acceptance of remote working. Each of the reasons against it above are being rethought, not least because of the enforced proof-of-concepting period brought around by the demands of 2020.

The last two issues listed above both have significant cybersecurity elements. So, what’s undeniable is that acceptance of a new working model has to involve concentrating on resolving issues around secure working practices. And a recent survey commissioned by Cisco of some 3,000 IT decision makers globally is giving IT leaders insight into attitudes, opinions and approaches to these issues and the broader questions which are being faced by just about every organization across the globe today.

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As the world makes faltering steps to return to some form of normalcy around the end of the year, the contents of the report, and a series of live webinars that focus on the key issues around new working practices, are helping companies adjust and reassess the shape of their new, more-distributed networks.

WfH cybersecurity

Speaking on the launch of the Cisco Global Report titled Future of Secure Remote Work, Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security & Applications business addressed both end-users and security product vendors when he said, “Cybersecurity historically has been overly complex. With this new way of working here to stay and organizations looking to increase their investment in cybersecurity, there’s a unique opportunity to transform the way we approach security as an industry to better meet the needs of our customers and end-users.”

The survey shows that two-thirds of organizations are looking to increase investments in cybersecurity, with secure access being the top cybersecurity challenge faced by the largest proportion of organizations (62%) when supporting remote workers.

Of course, creating multiple “offices away from the office” means employees are using personal devices and work machines that are often out of the direct physical control of qualified cybersecurity personnel — things which pose a challenge to protect and are causes for concern. But among those end-users there is also a deal of worry about data privacy with regard to the organization’s data and personal information, too. That’s a reflection of the intermingling of personal and work hardware and software that’s been inevitable during weeks or months of lockdown.

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If remote working is to continue (the survey found that globally, remote working incidence will roughly double post-COVID compared to pre-COVID) then addressing cybersecurity concerns and data privacy concerns should be focuses of any new investment in any IT solutions or any form of digitization, in fact.

WfH cybersecurity

The ethos of Cisco as a company has been laid out clearly on the latter point of data privacy: Harvey Jang, Cisco’s VP, Chief Privacy Officer, stated, “Privacy is much more than just a compliance obligation. It is a fundamental human right and business imperative that is critical to building and maintaining customer trust.”

From the employer’s point of view, cybersecurity and therefore by proxy, privacy, are also massively important. Indeed, 85% of those who responded in the survey said that cybersecurity is extremely or more important than before the spread of the coronavirus.

Proceeding from this point requires swift action, but decisions should not be taken in haste — there is simply too much at stake. To help IT decision-makers in this most difficult period in their careers, we recommend reading the report in full. Of great help is the series of webinars that Cisco is presenting across the globe at various times (scheduled according to time zones). These can show how organizations of any size or vertical can adapt both IT infrastructure and personnel as well as mindset, as the world moves into a more distributed working model. You can sign up to watch on demand at the following link. 

In many ways, the term ‘hybrid’ now applies to both IT topology and workforce. Ensuring both hybrid set-ups are viable poses the technology industry’s greatest challenge for a generation.

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