What does the landscape look like in a world where growing numbers of people are working from home? As the coronavirus continues to keep most of the world in quarantine, companies are having to come up with new ways of maintaining oversight for their data and employees.
But is the new cycle upon us, rapidly forced on the landscape, just a function of a global pandemic? When this begins to resolve and subside, do we go back to wherever we were just 90 days ago? Or is the current malaise simply an unanticipated, natural disaster that illuminates shifts that have been underway for decades and that are now unstoppable?
To that end, I believe the concept of “remote” is now archaic and we need key changes in our understanding of organizational behaviors to catch up with the inevitable shifts taking place. And new efforts need attention in the areas of management, security, and socialization. A critical focus in these areas is beginning to suggest the answers are no longer obvious or optional.
Organizations are in triage mode, but they need to alter their long-term thinking and strategies.
So, what is at the heart of the new-new? Content—or, assets. The digitization of everything is at the heart of what work is about. Hence it needs to be organized, secured, and utilized.
Here is what we need to pay attention to (triage first):
The new order of things replaces an understanding of the term management to a more balanced view of disciplined oversight, coordination, AND empowerment.
Unfortunately, processes and systems have not caught up with the trends. In fact, many of the management techniques derived from the industrial era no longer apply, and we are now going through a period of reinvention.
As millions of workers are now stuck at home (and may begin to prefer it), how do you measure productivity? And how do you measure capital investments in technology if your definition is obscured by not knowing the intrinsic interactions between collaborative teams spread around the world?
It was much easier to measure the value of a worker when the output could be measured in terms of clocking in and out. But what does that look like when a worker is not showing up to a physical office? Are they truly clocked in at 9:00 a.m. working from home? Does it matter?
Oversight depends on a precisely defined mission, and the mission needs to be understood in order to coordinate expected outcomes (obvious even in the industrial era). But now this opens the genius of empowering knowledge workers to innovate and think through issues on the ground, so to speak, and in real-time (within a 24×7, coordinated learning curve).
By empowering team members to make micro decisions as issues emerge in a workflow, you are more able to minimize bottlenecks, inspire micro innovations not envisioned by the game plan, and transform a process. But only if the collaborative feedback loop AND learning curves derived from the process are well understood. Daily communications are critical to keep the process from hitting barriers. Time is everything.
I am not thinking of cybersecurity now. I am pointing to security surrounding “insiders” (authorized personnel within an organization’s defined security perimeter). This is becoming the greatest source of challenge on the security threat spectrum, sourced from employees, contractors, partners, and perhaps customers as well.
There is a certain safety that comes with knowing everyone who works for the company is conducting their work under one roof. But that is not the case anymore. As soon as teams become predominantly distributed, new risks present themselves (and it has not been “local” for some time).
The numbers suggest that insider malicious behavior is exploding. For context, according to The Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations report, “34% of all breaches in 2018 were caused by insiders,” with the average cost of an insider-related incident being around $513,000—and can cost a company up to $8.7 million a year.
Many times, these insider incidents are not done maliciously, but accidentally. Workers (including contractors) are given access to files or sensitive data they shouldn’t have access to, or are behaving carelessly without the company’s knowledge. And many companies do not have systems in place to ensure digital behaviors are being monitored. A bigger question might be, how in a free society, spanning global markets, do these types of surveillance systems remain effective without interfering with personal freedoms.
There are tremendous amounts of efficiencies that come with working remotely. Businesses employing distributed teams and systems can save on location costs, and long commutes could be reduced or eliminated. However, we have yet to truly figure out what human beings need from an interpersonal perspective in order to feel fully empowered as a remote professional.
Skype, Google Hangouts, and now Zoom, are everywhere and essentially do the same thing: connect people over video calls. What has changed is the stigma around conducting work over the internet—and, pushed further by the coronavirus, that people feel comfortable socializing in this way too.
Zoom recently experienced its own data breach, with 500,000 accounts being sold on The Dark Web. In the context of highly sensitive information being communicated over video calls, this is part of what makes “governance” of the socialization aspect so tricky.
Society has bought in. So, how can we continue to make remote work more efficient, secure, and comfortable? All three challenges—management, security, and socialization—give insight into where technology is going to be focused next.
And frankly, it is not about technology, it is about people.