Archive | March 2020

Adapting to a new normal: Where work and home collide

Up until about 3 weeks ago, the conversation about productivity and effectiveness in our home and work lives were discreet, but inevitably connected topics.  The events of the past few weeks has involved many HUGE changes, thrusting swathes of workers for whom “normal”, was to go to work and interact with people, to now have to operate in a completely remote manner.  If that were not difficult enough for many people, the broader circumstances of school closures and being “locked down” have made this a very challenging period.

There have been monumental efforts of IT departments, service providers and of course users that has enabled this to happen in such a dramatic and rapid fashion.  It is a credit to those involved that so many people are now able to work effectively during this time.   When we look at organisations up and across the country (and world), their offices – tangible icons of a company’s power and presence are deserted.  Teams and departments are now operating in a fundamentally different virtual mode of operation – and this will persist, it seems, for a foreseeable period.

My focus is on the impact of this change, and what it will mean to users in the coming weeks.  Many organisations have implemented the shift, and users are now working at home and those that haven’t yet, soon will.  The initial frantic activity to equip and enabling users to access resources remotely will die down, and we should divert our attentions to focus on the impacts that this shift will have on users.

Working from home used to be a privilege for many, but it can be and always was difficult to do effectively.  Many people have learnt the lessons and can apply these in the current situation we find ourselves in.  But for many, this is a whole new world.  Some observations and “watch points” for your users and teams to potentially consider:

  • We are not used to working in this way: Fairly obvious, but these are challenging and uncertain times for many people.  People are now isolated within their own homes, and from their teams and other support networks.  Its important to consider after the initial melee of getting users set up for work, how they’re feeling and ensuring they are connected and engaged with work.  Over the next few months as we continue to adapt to this new normal, that will no doubt become more difficult as the novelty of virtualised social activities potentially starts to wear off.
  • We need to strike a balance between home and work: This is incredibly difficult now. Many people are unprepared for long stints of working from home, so potentially don’t have the equipment and physical space to have a designated “work zone”.  Add to this the complexity of children being at home, and I imagine the challenge becomes exponentially worse.  If we can’t achieve demarcation through the space in the home, then it’s important to try to do this through time.  It’s easy to work a little earlier or later and just finish that “one more thing”, but this just makes it harder to take the break and focus the mind on other topics, allowing you to do both work and life with a freshness and energy required
  • We cant be “always on calls”: The collaboration technologies that are enabling us to work this way are a huge bonus. I think had this situation occurred 5/10 years ago when we only had email and phone – what that would have meant for viability of this working model and the engagement of people in these circumstances.  But the calls/meetings can be relentless. Its easy (I’ve done it) to sit for 6/7 hours a day without particularly stopping for a break, venturing outside for fresh air or taking a proper meal break.  I’ve suffered head-ache, back-ache to name just two impacts of how I’m working today – and I’m lucky with a good home office set up to accommodate this.  The individual needs to manage this – take more breaks than usual, create specific working or planning time to give you time to do the important stuff and achieve objectives
  • It feels like Groundhog Day: I am not sure how you’re finding it, but I typically knew where in the week it was because if it was Monday or Friday I’d probably be working at home. Now everyday blends into all the others, and without the natural variety of work travel, different types of meetings – the days can feel very “samey”.  I’d encourage people to think about different “events” in their week that they can use to anchor a sense of time – maybe the run you do on a Tuesday before work? Or the virtual social you do once a week with the team – just to get some context

We need to consider this as a journey.  Whilst it’s been difficult so far, equipping users is just step one, and a onetime event.  The next challenge is more enduring to supporting users as they adapt to this situation and become effective – for however long it lasts.  This could be in the provision of new tools and functionality, training on new features, or more pastoral or health and well-being support to ensure users are able to be productive.  And when we are out of this, and we again redefine what “normal” is, how do we optimise to take the best of what we’ve learnt and implemented – from technology platforms to user behaviour and re-strike a balance that better supports and enables people to work wherever and however they choose.

As we get closer to getting out of this, more answers on what to take and learn from this will become much clearer, giving us a window of opportunity to act and make changes that could benefit users and businesses moving forwards.

 

Take care of yourselves and your families,

Paul

It’s time for remote web conferencing meetings to positively change the game.

It’s time to act different to get different. Outside of the core fundamentals of life I value KNOWLEDGE and TIME higher than most things. Remaining knowledge hungry ensures the world is forever a captivating and interesting place to be. Optimum use of time ensures both essential and desirable socio-personal and business outcomes can be achieved with metronome like consistency and efficiency.

Home or remote working can deliver a mass of advantages including the removal of time lost to commuting, the potential to maximise time available for non-work activities, the chance for services to remain available through times of crisis and the potential to offer work opportunities to different demographics. However, it requires a rethink of work behaviour or meeting etiquette to ensure the remote collaboration or meeting experience is beneficial to all. Web and video remote conferencing services used effectively have the potential to “change the game”.

The points below are a handful of ideas to optimise and unlock measurable value from the use of remote web or conferencing platforms. Many are well known and common sense practices, but at this challenging time should be applied with increased levels of consistency:

Prepare the remote working space and web collaboration tools in advance of the remote meeting. Clear background clutter in the room if broadcasting yourself or your environment using video or web conferencing. At its most basic, move your seating position into a hallway with a blank wall behind you if you don’t want family pictures or your home environment on display.

If you do or don’t not want to use video during the remote web conferencing meeting, explain to all participants the need or benefits of using video (ability to see and interpret body language, etc). Video within a conferencing platform can be selectively used with participants either interacting via voice, video or both. Unless company policy forces the use of video, engage in a manner that feels most comfortable for all participants and if that means no video for the individual participant, it should be their choice.

Web remote conference meeting recording is a very important issue to address at the start of any meeting. The meeting host must convey their desire for the meeting to be recorded or not. If a participant for legal, privacy or other reason explains they do not want the session recorded the recording option must be turned off or the participant must leave the remote meeting. Background recording of a session by stealth contravenes all privacy guidelines and statutes.

Check to ensure the web conference remote access device (laptop, smartphones, tablet) is working and connects successfully at least 15 minutes before the call. It stops all parties losing the first 10 minutes of the call due to connection issues.

Send any pre read content for the remote meeting participants by Email 24 hours before the meeting or at least an hour if it’s a last minute request. Explain in the email the importance of the pre read email content to be absorbed ahead of the remote session to deliver context and additional insight. This will save 15 to 20 mins at the start of the session ensuring all participants are at the same knowledge level.

Circulate, ideally in the same email as the pre read content, the need for the remote meeting, the outcomes of the actual remote conferencing session (what does good look like at the end), a few bullet points to consider as topics for “discussion” or topics for “decision”. This ensures the remote conferencing meeting participants attend the meeting with views already formed to be discussed and tangible outcomes in mind.

If the main speaker will be occupied answering questions during the meeting from the start, appoint an alternative meeting chair to keep the meeting flowing, stop a single point or person dominating the meeting or to keep referring back to the meeting objectives and outcomes highlighted in the pre read email.

And lastly consider the impact of the duration of remote conferencing meetings. One hour is a time frame all can accommodate with enthusiasm and energy. One to two hours should also deliver valuable remote conferencing meeting outcomes applying the meeting etiquette techniques previously mentioned. Longer than two hours may be challenging for all parties based on keeping all participants fully engaged without human, person to person, proximity based energy. Longer remote conferencing or collaboration meetings are possible prepared and managed well but shorter, direct remote engagement seems to be effective.

I hope the content above is useful as we all expand the well-known and effective remote web conferencing approach and flip it for the short to medium term into the primary organisational, societal and personal user engagement platform.

Used well remote web conferencing (audio and video) will help to maximise the value of that golden component of life, “TIME”. Remote collaboration and conferencing tools used as the norm, in primary engagement mode have the potential to change the way we interact and work forever. But as people we need to re-calibrate our remote or home working engagement expectations first because the platform is only a vehicle or channel to achieve that engagement.

Until next time.

Colin W

Business Line CTO UK (Networking & Security)

Twitter: @colinwccuk

Its time to redefine the meaning of “Work” – signposting the new normal for remote users

It could be said the word “WORK” has been misunderstood forever. Its neither a location or something to do with business only endeavours but a description of the product or effort applied to deliver an output. The current virus outbreak is encouraging us to reset historical perspectives on the nature of WORK and perform a cultural reset, with work for many shifting from the defined confines of a corporate address and instead to a location neutral “output” delivered wherever the employee or customer may be.

The effective use of digital platforms is key to a successful remote employee and customer experience when it delivers the value expected by both parties. This is hardly new, with evidence daily of the value of digital collaboration and engagement platforms used to bridge geographical, social boundaries, for human engagement and access to services based on our use of social media platforms every day. However, the use of remote user, remote access and digital collaboration platforms as a critical success factor of business continuity through this time of unknown unknowns may result in some organisations determining existing processes, platforms, security and governance are insufficient.

There are number of steps organisations should consider to ensure they are well positioned through this challenging time and continue to deliver a positive employee and customer experience.  Firstly, ensure the lines of communication are clear with corporate guidelines explaining the approved way to perform company activities using remote or digital platforms. Simplicity is everything and organisations must strive to simplify user engagement via corporate digital collaboration platforms to make them as easy to use as the social media platforms accessed regularly by users. Simplicity is also key to successfully crossing the cultural adoption chasm. The creation and publication of easy on-boarding or quick start guides for users (and potentially customers) to reduce the load on helpdesk teams and to encourage self service should be available to all.

The network will play a massive role in the success of any remote worker, digital collaboration or remote user engagement programme. It’s important to check the network capacity, availability and resilience of inbound communication links to ensure sufficient bandwidth exists with latency optimised based on the unforeseen increased volume of remote users and external customer interaction. Increased use of video conferencing may place additional loads on networks via links previously not used meaning a thorough review of user paths, devices, workstyles and engagement expectations will deliver real value (consider how a user works, not how the network “should” operate). This may require discussions with telecommunications carriers from an operational and contractual perspective to gain confidence the user and customer experience delivered remotely is not sub-optimal and positive.

Remote access VPNs (virtual private networks) and digital conferencing platforms for both users and customer are in use today but a short term cultural shift may be required to use them as the primary engagement mechanism. Additional levels of employee guidance and potentially customer facing communication to convey the best way to maximise engagement and customer satisfaction via a predominantly digital engagement method should benefit all.

If remote access or conferencing platforms of the scale required do not currently exist or capacity augmentation is required it is straightforward to on-board functionality via cloud based VPNs, collaboration and remote access solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing platforms with minimal levels of reconfiguration required (consider the operational overhead or security impact). One button meeting join / start whether desk, mobile or other device is used is essential.

Security as expected must be at the heart of all remote employee and customer engagement. It’s important to issue security related policy guidelines explaining how to conduct business via remote or digital platforms to ensure both organisations employees and customers are protected (for example discussions about session recording). Security is best delivered “built in by design”, automated and requiring minimal user interaction.

In summary remote user and customer engagement using digital remote access, collaboration or conferencing platforms can deliver and maintain a positive customer experience through this challenging time. However, organisations must prepare well (in an accelerated timeframe) and operationally configure platforms to ensure this different way of working is as is simple, secure, seamless and beneficial as any previous way of working. And who knows, for many positive reasons aligned to work life balance in the digital age, the current challenge may signpost opportunities and benefits that help us to make this new way of working “the” way of working for many more in the future.

Until next time.

Colin W

Business Line CTO Computacenter UK (Networking and Security)

Twitter: @colinwccuk

 

RSA Security Summit 2020 Summary – Make the “Human Element” your strongest element.

The RSA security event was hosted last week in San Francisco. Circa 40000 people converged together at the immense Moscone Centre to understand information security challenges & solutions old, new and very very new that may help to protect and defend us all in an increasingly complex digital world.

The core thread of this year’s event, the “Human Element” is the most important aspect of the IT security world. Human behaviour guided by a proactive security persona can deliver positive defence against all but the most focussed and complex attacks. However, humans are equally the ideal vector targeted for compromise to ensure attacks are successful.

The recent virus outbreak of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) did affect the RSA event in numerous ways. For the first time a number (not many) of large segments of floor space remained empty based on the last minute withdrawal of a handful of security vendors. The normal on stand giveaways contained a “must have” in various forms and packages – “hand sanitizer” (thankfully something finally got rid of stress balls). The fear of virus transmission via handshakes was highly evident with a ” will they, won’t they” shake hands mental dance undertaken by many even with hand sanitizer available to minimize the spread of the virus. I fear the fist and elbow bumping used by many continue through the year (please “no”).

With so many vendors, activities, people sensory overload quickly overtook physical tiredness. The “Human Element” remained the key theme for the event but wasn’t alone as the main story. All attendees will summarise their own event messaging take aways based on their own rationale for attendance but the following resonated from my personal perspective.

  • The “Human Element” of course
  • Security automation
  • The impact of threat intelligence (fundamental)
  • Next generation security operations
  • The growing importance of the Mitre framework
  • Device, connection and person security visibility
  • Cloud & application development secure outcomes
  • The benefits of a platform approach to security architecture

There were many many more topics than the eight above, but I noticed they were most prominent from my perspective in the underpinning storyboards of many vendors.

It was pleasing to see increased numbers of vendors reinforcing optimum security is not about prevention or detection but instead both with accelerated remediation to a known good state the ultimate security operational goal. It is impossible to prevent all inbound attacks especially when “the Human Element” remains the most important and accessible part of the digital engagement chain. Simplification, enhanced visibility, a dynamic platform plus a single page view integrating all vendors must be the essential goal for any vendor aiming for mastery.

I have mentioned a few times on these pages the benefits to all of “brilliant basics”. It’s time for us to strive for operational simplicity always (automation can help) to make a secure outcome, the default outcome for the system or application user whether it is a person or a “thing”. The user should not need to consider “switching on security” for a particular task or outcome, it must be inherent, automatically appear (ideally invisibly) and protect the user activity by design. We can do this today in both application development and security operational delivery environments but in too many cases allow culture and traditional ways of working to stall our progress towards a secure by default digital world. Synergy is the way forward to ensure a win win for all.

In summary the RSA security event remains a “must attend” event for anyone in enterprise information technology and security operations. The focus by attackers using the “Human Element” as the most effective control stack to breach should highlight to all that simplicity, knowledge and potentially automation of security controls to empower those same humans will ensure they become the first & best line of defence. We must be on our guard. Be aware on this same note, large scale email phishing campaigns with information updates about Covid-19 are circulating in the wild and starting to have an impact as increased numbers of curious users engage to gain more information. Turn up your defences, warn and educate yourself and your users.

The “Human Element” is without doubt the most important element in the security chain – working together we can also make it the strongest one.

Until next time.

Colin W

Business Line CTO Computacenter UK (Networking and Security)

Twitter’ @colinwccuk