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Staying (Cyber)Safe at Home

How to overcome security and productivity challenges of working at home


By Joe Danaher and Jennifer Erena

Remote workers will quickly grow tired of— and get sore from— working at tables and on couches.

Many businesses have shifted to working from home and that trend is likely to continue even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. This is the new normal. The challenge is how to adjust to working from home and how to do that securely and productively.

Area IT specialists have seen a spike in cybersecurity threats directly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybercriminals are opportunists, and COVID-19 has provided another way to launch more phishing attacks, malware-laden websites, and fake GoFundMe schemes. The week of March 23 alone saw more than 5,000 new domains (website/email URLs) with “COVID-19” or “corona” in the name, and although some of these are legitimate, a large number were being registered for use in cybercrime. There also have been phishing attacks associated with sourcing masks and hand sanitizer, which many businesses did not stock prior to COVID-19. Other common threats pertain to having users unfamiliar with how to securely configure connectivity back to the office or how to set up and securely use conferencing tools, such as Zoom.

The AME Group, formerly called Integrity IT, and other IT firms across the state work with companies that are making telework a permanent option and a critical part of their business continuity plans. Companies are seeking to learn how to configure their remote meeting software in a secure and professional manner, and they are writing formal telecommuting policies and procedures.

There is a right way to securely implement telework. Without proper measures, businesses are opening the door to new threats to their data that they may not have ever considered. 

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Listed here are AME’s top remote work security tips:

• Think before you click. The best defense against criminal threats is you.

• Secure your home network. Change the default administrator password on your home router/modem and any devices on your network, and use WPA2 security on your home Wi-Fi that requires a secure passcode greater than 10 characters.

• Use strong passwords and multifactor authentication.

• Patch or update your systems.

• Do not allow others to use your work-from-home computer.

• Secure remote meetings. Require a password to join and use a “waiting room” where the host can monitor and admit attendees.

Maintaining focus and connection to coworkers vital

Increasing productivity at home is a whole other ballgame. Some of the biggest challenges are the lack of community and company culture; less engagement and communication; accountability; and physical pain from working in locations that are not ergonomically ideal.

First, having a dedicated space to do your work is crucial. A Microsoft study showed about 65% of people do not have the space, which creates the first barrier. Using a computer to work from dining room tables or sofas soon gets uncomfortable; ergonomic issues such as wrist, neck, back pain and fatigue set in.

Even with a dedicated space, a good chair, lighting and desk height, working from home can lead to reduced movement. Be intentional about taking breaks, standing up and turning off work to reset your brain.

Juggling home and work can be challenging. Some parents must work opposite hours to take care of children and give each other time for productive work. Working remotely makes using calendars and status updates important for collaboration with coworkers. Everyone needs to know when and how they can get in touch with you to schedule meeting times. The shifts created by this pandemic have extended the workday from the traditional 9 to 5 to more like a 20-hour time span. Having software tools, such as Microsoft Office 365, Teams, SharePoint and Zoom becomes more important for organizations to stay productive and to collaborate and communicate effectively.

Probably the most challenging part of working from home is maintaining focus. One strategy is to block off times to focus on single projects. Try using a timer.

The email inbox can be a significant distraction. Try batching emails and look at them only two to three times a day. Also, turn off social media notifications.

Other ways to improve focus: Make a task list and group similar tasks. Identify your best time of day to work on more thought-intense tasks. Use white noise to help drown out distractions. Do not multitask.

Isolation can be a real problem for remote workers. It is vital to stay connected to coworkers by setting up virtual lunch dates and using video when having meetings. Yes, turning on that video is proven to increase engagement and focus. Employers need to increase their use of staff meetings and general communication strategies to keep everyone on the same page. Managers should check in with team members, have clear responsibilities and utilize planning tools with tasks and due dates.

Stick to a plan

• Establish expectations.

• Create a schedule.

• Use a calendar.

• Tackle the most difficult things at the start of the day.

• Schedule time to learn to use tools to stay connected to coworkers.

• Try to separate work time and at-home time.

• Take breaks, especially a true lunch break.

Last but not least, periodically evaluate yourself. How are you feeling—mentally and physically? If things are not good, you must do something about it before it gets too far gone. Turning up the adrenaline to plow through challenging times works for a while, then you hit a wall. Remember that it’s harder to recover than it is to prevent exhaustion.

Are you meeting your deadlines? Are you connecting with your coworkers? Maintain an awareness of what works and what is difficult about working from home. Discuss it with your manager and make time to learn new tools and habits to help you stay productive and happy.

Joe Danaher is a senior information security analyst at The AME Group; Jennifer Erena is the firm’s marketing manager.