What worked, and what didn’t, for remote workers

The way we work changed dramatically as the world adapted to remote working. By Teck Wee Lim, Regional Director, ASEAN, CyberArk

The global pandemic upended our sense of normalcy and forced many aspects of everyday life into the confines of home in 2020 and we are likely to see that continue in 2021.

The way we work also changed dramatically as the world adapted to remote working. With the flexibility and productivity benefits also came challenges to employee morale and data security. Employers will need to identify what worked and address what the business struggled with if work from home arrangements are going to be a permanent option. Deloitte's Remote Work report found that up to 47.8 million people in the ASEAN-6 nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) could shift to working remotely over a multi-year time horizon.

What worked:

For many employees, the shift to remote work was a huge but largely positive change.

Employees were able to leverage on applications for video chat and online collaboration to stay connected with friends and family, while staying socially distanced. Hectic commutes became a distant memory. This is giving employees more time to relax and has reduced the stress associated with long journeys to and from work.

A recent CyberArk survey found that 47 percent of remote workers feel more productive at home, citing the flexibility to run errands, take a walk or do household chores between meetings. Businesses need to build on these benefits this year to help employees maintain the right work/life balance.

What Didn't:

Of course, remote work had its downsides. Distractions from family and pets at home were a significant challenge, particularly during work presentations. Additionally, as the lines between work and home blurred, always-home and always-on increasingly meant always working. The culture of "always online" became more prominent. A Cigna survey revealed that 59 percent of Singaporeans found themselves working during the weekends, compared to 47 percent in January.

At first, it was also fun to connect with colleagues by video. We saw their home offices and met significant others, children, and adorable pets. We got creative with elaborate video backgrounds and turned ourselves into virtual potatoes during team brainstorms. However, the novelty wore off quickly and Zoom fatigue set in as parents juggled work and virtual schooling for months and quick discussions became 30-minute video calls. This led to employees beginning to feel isolated, as they were not able to catch up with their colleagues the way they did over with coffee breaks prior to the pandemic.

In the same survey, CyberArk learned that while employees want to continue remote work even after it is safe to return to offices, poor security practices may prevent it from being a permanent solution for many businesses, as 67 percent admitted to finding workarounds to corporate security policies. The over-reliance on IT teams on simple issues such as forgetting passwords would hinder IT professionals from protecting the organisation from potential bigger cyber threats. By reducing the use of VPNs, and not being the primary tool to provide secure remote access, security and operations can see a major boost.

While these shortcuts may seem harmless, they open the door for cyber attackers to steal credentials and breach systems. Deloitte also found that even though senior leaders have the highest potential to shift fully offsite, they are facing barriers in terms of the skills and mindsets necessary to lead highly effective virtual teams. Leaders need to take charge and change their mindsets as they adapt to new communication methods with their teams continuing to work remotely.

Now is the time to brush up on cybersecurity best practices to protect the business. Employers should offer security training focused on remote workers, to ensure that everyone does their part to secure corporate networks and prove the viability of remote work for the long term.