Stop Arguing, The New Normal Is WFH

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Writers and editors have long known that working from a remote location can benefit the process. A coffee shop with fewer distractions than a busy office facilitates the process of pushing words around, cutting unnecessary verbiage, and beating grammar into a recognizable shape.

All that’s needed is a laptop and the communication line to send the finished copy to another editor or upload it onto a content management system.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year, employees and HR departments alike have embraced WFH (it’s not “telecommuting” anymore). The term “essential worker” came into play for those whose jobs make WFH impossible.

While it’s part of the corporate lexicon now, WFH/telecommuting is not new. A decade ago, Forbes Magazine ran an article on the phenomenon. “While there may be a tradeoff to working at home — a salary haircut and less advancement potential — a surprising amount and variation of well-paying professional jobs have a two-second commute,” wrote the Forbes article. “From the health, tech, and creative industries, good at-home jobs are springing up everywhere.”

Unsurprisingly, tech knowledge-workers were highlighted at the time. “In 2008, completely virtual IT company MySQL was acquired for USD1 billion by what’s now Oracle,” said Forbes. “Its at-home staff means reduced building costs and a bigger talent pool.” As we’ve seen during the last year, a WFH home arrangement means tech firms have a far greater potential talent pool, and hiring workers that can cover multiple time zones is easier than ever.

But it isn’t all tech. The top-paid jobs a decade ago were home-based physicians, radiologists, and medical transcriptionists. Also, “registered nurses working at home earn near the industry median [for] telephone triage, advising patients about health concerns over the phone,” said Forbes.

Of course, frontline medical workers are always essential. But telehealth is a growth industry. As imaging techniques and other medical testing procedures evolve, diagnostics increasingly rely on analysis of data — a task with which AI can assist, and qualified technicians can perform off-premises.

It isn’t all rosy. As with any tech process, security is an issue.

Ghosts in the machine

Back when on-premises computer use was overseen by the “MIS Department,” users often worked on dumb terminals: a keyboard/monitor setup with all computing functions handled by large computers housed in a separate room. Nowadays, unless specific regulations are forbidding it, employees in the WFH ecosystem can use any type of device to get the work done.

When an idea strikes, a knowledge-worker will tap it out on their phone or tablet, then transfer it to the work machine later. It’s the 21st century equivalent of scribbling on a cocktail napkin.

But maybe that same tablet is also used for online gaming by the worker’s spouse and/or children. Multiple devices introduce potential weak links in the data transfer chain. It can be less dangerous than plugging a random USB stick directly into a PC connected to the company network, but still a risk.

Security isn’t the only issue plaguing WFH, although it’s potentially the most disastrous one. Other downsides: connectivity in the home environment. A worker with an overloaded network on an ISP with insufficient bandwidth will have problems. Other frustrations include distractions from family members and pets delighted that their owner is home all day.

A good office environment promotes communication and camaraderie among workers. It’s also a showcase for rewarding employees and recognizing a job well done, which leads to job satisfaction — a proven positive in talent retention. And in the WFH ecosystem, switching jobs is more a matter of switching IP addresses than planning a new commute.

The New Normal

With all its plusses and minuses, WFH is here to stay. Many employees like the arrangement and productivity increases have resulted. And with the global pandemic affecting travel, the health aspect is undeniable.

Chief digital officers charged with developing a WFH strategy must consider their company culture, security strategy, and HR ecosystem on a case-by-case business. There’s no one-size-fits-all in this space. Implementing best practices is the best insurance.

For WFH employees, they should start practicing cyber hygiene practices standard in office environments:

  • Ensure operating systems are up to date: Software is updated regularly to improve their security. Make sure operating systems are running the latest version. Enable automatic updates.
  • Choose a strong Wi-Fi password: Home Wi-Fi routers typically use factory-supplied default passwords, but these create a weak link in Wi-Fi security. At least, change the default password.
  • Keep your screen clean: Online meetings are a staple of the WFH environment, but what else is on your screen? Be aware of any open windows. You might accidentally share content that is not meant to be viewed by others.
  • Beware COVID-19-related scams: Internet criminals have exploited the COVID-19 situation in phishing and scam campaigns. Don’t click on email links from correspondents you don’t know, related to COVID-19 or not. Dodgy emails often include attachments — get your email system to download them first.
  • Don’t share personal information in messages or social media: Guard your personal data regarding messages or emails. If you’re not sure a request was legitimate, contact the sender by other means before sending crucial personal information.

Stefan Hammond is a contributing editor at CDOTrends. He is an avid follower of cybersecurity issues, robotic, and macro tech trends. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/SIphotography