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The role of IT in remote working

Published 13th February 2020

More than 1.5 million people in the UK now regularly work away from the office, according to the TUC. This number is expected to rise, requiring businesses to tread an increasingly tricky line between embracing flexible working practices, and ensuring the security of their data and systems.

To be effective when they’re working remotely employees need to be able to access the corporate network and the information on it. This is inherently risky – and in a survey carried out by Apricorn almost a quarter of organisations admitted they couldn’t be certain their data was secure when it was used by remote workers.

Some businesses have taken a hardline approach by prohibiting mobile and flexible working, or limiting the use of cloud platforms, for example. This may well reduce risk, but it will also compromise productivity and frustrate employees.

Rather than restricting and controlling remote working, it’s time for businesses to embrace different ways of working and take the necessary steps to become leaner and more flexible by enabling people to work the way they want to while keeping data safe. So how can IT support a more flexible working model?

Identify the risks. Pinpoint the different kinds of data used by the organisation, and where it’s kept – including physical on-site databases and cloud deployments. Find out who accesses it, when, and why, and what security controls are applied at each stage in its journey. This will highlight ‘gaps’ where data might be vulnerable to attack or loss.

Address the chinks in your armour. Develop specific mobile and flexible working policies and processes which clearly set out the practices employees are required to follow when they work out of the office.

Clean the house. Create a leaner operation by encouraging employees to delete or archive files they no longer need. This will mean you’re not continually backing up data that nobody actually uses. It’s also good practice for compliance with regulations such as GDPR.

Implement ‘least privilege’ access. Not all users who connect to your network need access to every component or asset, so keep things lean by limiting each individual’s permissions to what they need to do their jobs. It’s always easier to grant permissions after a user has been verified than to take away access after a potential compromise.

Provide the right tools. Establish which applications your remote workers use, and make sure they’re available, supported and covered by security controls. Some apps may not be appropriate for the remote working environment, for instance those that involve high levels of data moving back and forth.

The cloud provides a strong layer of security for data accessed by employees who aren’t on site. Cloud suppliers build basic controls into their services, and typically offer additional security options, as well as a high level of support. Cloud-based apps and data are accessed through a remote virtualised desktop environment that exists centrally within the provider’s infrastructure, which means no data is shared with the employee’s device or laptop.

Upgrades, updates and backups to cloud services are carried out centrally, in one sweep, by the provider. At Amito we provide an hourly back up service, so if anything went wrong we can rewind, restore and investigate safely.  As well as ensuring that all users benefit from the latest software and security patches, this takes the burden off IT and means there’s no downtime for the employee.

Build a strong culture. Making remote working a success ultimately comes down to trusting employees to get the job done. Educating users in their responsibilities, and the rules and processes they must follow, plays a major part here. It’s also important to train people in how to access remote desktops and server environments, to avoid increasing the load on IT.

Bringing people together when possible is vital to building and sustaining relationships within the business. Using videoconferencing and collaboration tools will help teams to connect on a human level, as will getting employees together ‘in the flesh’ for team-building activities.

Investing time in an effective remote working strategy will help you to foster a more agile and productive workforce, confidently allowing workers to roam while assuring the safety of corporate data and systems.