What Are the COVID-19 Keepers? Four of 2020’s Changes We Plan to Continue

As we pass the year anniversary of the first lockdown, Grant McGregor asks: what are the COVID keepers?

A lot has changed in the world of IT over the last twelve to eighteen months. The changes we’ve made to enable our organisations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have been far-reaching. And we’ve been wondering, which of the changes we’ve made are going to change the way we work forever?

#1. Flexible & home working

While many people have been forced to work from home over the last twelve months – bringing with it its own unique mix of challenges and benefits – there is no doubt that over this time both employees and organisations have woken up to the benefits that home working can deliver.

Rather than having a negative impact on productivity, as many managers feared, home working has, on the whole, actually made us more productive.

In its report “Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic”(1), the CIPD advises that “homeworking is here to stay” and recommends that you “design your working practices to suit all locations”.

The survey on which the report is based found that the most frequently mentioned benefit of home working was increased wellbeing through avoiding the commute (46% of survey participants), followed by enhanced wellbeing because of greater flexibility of hours (39%).

Although collaboration is often mentioned as a challenge of homeworking, survey
participants reckoned that both creating new ways to collaborate with IT tools, and IT
upskilling, were benefits of homeworking, at 34% and 23% respectively.

#2. Video conferencing

2020 was a boom year for video conferencing. And 2021 is all set to continue the trend.

In April 2020 the BBC(2) reported that “when it comes to its growth rate, video conference company Zoom has lived up to its name. Use of the firm's software jumped 30-fold in April, as the coronavirus pandemic forced millions to work, learn and socialise remotely. At its peak, the firm counted more than 300 million daily participants in virtual meetings, while paying customers have more than tripled. The dramatic uptake has the potential to change the firm's path. Zoom said it expects sales as high as $1.8bn (£1.4bn) this year - roughly double what it forecast in March.”

There has been a similar story for other video conferencing tools. By October 2020, the Verge(3) reported that “Microsoft saw some big growth in Microsoft Teams at the beginning of the pandemic, and it has kept accelerating over the past six months. During an earnings call with investors today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed Microsoft Teams now has 115 million daily active users. That’s a more than 50 percent rise from the 75 million that Microsoft reported almost six months ago.”

Organisations are reporting the benefits in terms of cost optimisation, travel reduction, carbon reduction and productivity, so it’s likely that we’ll all be doing a bit less travelling and a bit more video conferencing after the pandemic is over.

Still not convinced? The Verge(4) has tips for how to get video conferencing right from a user’s point of view.

And the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)has a list of security considerations when video conferencing for organisations.(5)

#3. Increased attention to email security

Unfortunately, some of the keepers from the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t as positive as video conferencing.

The Mimecast State of Email Security report 2020(6) found that “To add to the complexity, many global corporations have been forced to adopt remote working policies for office-based employees to help ensure the safety of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, and threat actors have followed them home. An increase in the variety and volume of attacks is inevitable given the desire of financially- and criminally-motivated actors to obtain personal and confidential information.”

In a UK context, the NCSC(7) warns that, “Although, from the data seen to date, the overall levels of cyber crime have not increased both the NCSC and CISA are seeing a growing use of COVID-19 related themes by malicious cyber actors. At the same time, the surge in home working has increased the use of potentially vulnerable services, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), amplifying the threat to individuals and organisations.”

The best line of defence in response to these threats is staff training. This can be done online, so there is no need for it to stop during the pandemic. In fact, if anything, it should be stepped up and regularly refreshed.

Read the NCSC’s advice about how to manage cyber security challenges in the wake of increased home working as a result of COVID-19(8).

We also strongly recommend that all organisations sign up to the Cyber Essentials scheme. This is the best way to protect your organisation from the most common forms of cyber-attack.

#4. Improved device management

With so many of us working on mobile devices, home PCs and mobile phones, especially in the early days of the pandemic, device management rose up the IT agenda in 2020.

A huge number of organisations embarked on major rollouts of devices for staff to enable them to work from home is a secure and comfortable way. The best and most efficient approaches made use of remote deployment and device management solutions, such as Microsoft InTune(9) and Endpoint Manager.

As we highlighted in our December blog post, “If you’re concerned about data security at mobile endpoints, the Microsoft Teams mobile client supports App Protection Policies from Microsoft Intune. The Endpoint Manager(10) provides unified endpoint management of corporate and BYOD devices of all kinds in a way that protects corporate data. Microsoft Intune enables you to set policies that match you own risk appetite. For example, you can prevent file download to unmanaged devices. You can manage apps, patching, updates and policies, even for non-Microsoft devices.”

These solutions enable organisations to securely rollout new devices as well as manage them securely and effectively going forwards. It alleviates time spent on IT administration for users and for IT administrators and ensures a consistent and secure approach is taken across your IT estate.

With so many organisations seeing the advantages during their remote rollouts of devices and the likely uptick in remote working, we think this is another technology that has become firmly embedded in “the usual” way of doing business moving forwards.

What else will you be keeping from the past twelve months?

You can read some more of our thoughts about what the next “new normal” will look like on our blog here.

Or, if you’d like more information about any of the technology solutions mentioned in this article, please reach out to the Grant McGregor team. We’re always on hand to offer help and advice. Contact us below:

Request a call back

Sources:

1. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/flexible-working-lessons-from-pandemic-report_tcm18-92644.pdf

2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52884782

3. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/27/21537286/microsoft-teams-115-million-daily-active-users-stats

4. https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/19/21185472/video-confere-call-tips-zoom-skype-hangouts-facetime-remote-work

5. https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/video-conferencing-services-security-guidance-organisations

6. https://www.mimecast.com/state-of-email-security/

7. https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/files/Final Joint Advisory COVID-19 exploited by malicious cyber actors v2.pdf

8. https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/news/home-working-increases-in-response-to-covid-19

9. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/mem/intune/fundamentals/what-is-intune

10. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-gb/mem/endpoint-manager-overview

 

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