How the public sector can get remote working right
Thu 19 Mar 2020 | Sascha Giese
As Covid-19 continues to spread, more workers are being encouraged to work at home. SolarWinds Head Geek, Sascha Giese discusses how can the public sector foster a remote working culture that’s balanced, efficient, and productive
Mobile working is becoming the reality for an increasing number of public sector staff. From paramedics to healthcare workers and police officers, working remotely is part of daily routine for many in the sector. But the threat and impact brought by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has seen many organisations instructing office-based employees to work remotely, i.e., from home, as a way to minimise the risk of infection and spreading of the virus.
If COVID-19 continues to spread as the World Health Organization expects, an increasing number of organisations will require their employees to work from home—forcing organisations to create an action plan and adapt to an evolving remote working environment while maintaining solid security measures. And with over five million people working in the U.K. public sector, according to government figures, the number of remote workers may grow quickly and exponentially.
With this anticipated increase in remote working—which, it should be said, is also being driven by a combination of more flexible and dispersed management processes and technology advancements—how can the public sector foster a remote working culture that’s balanced, efficient, and productive?
Setting an example through the public sector
As the need for remote working continues to develop, public sector organisations can play an important role in shaping employment habits, including mobile working. According to the CIPD, “The state continues to have considerable influence as an employer. Public sector workplaces can be a testbed for different working arrangements and their experience can help other employers appreciate the advantages and disadvantages.” Technology plays a central role and gives the public sector the challenge of balancing a range of priorities.
For example, the monitoring, management, and security of all the hardware and software used to deliver remote working has become more complex as the number and variety of devices and access points has increased. Balancing ease of use with security is important, and while cybersecurity is the main priority, end users want their mobile and remote-working technologies to integrate effectively and perform well. In the end, they want to get their jobs done, and technology should be an enabler, not a frustrating barrier.
How to make home working work for all
One way to ensure ease of use matches the security needs of an organisation is to use virtual desktops. The benefit of these is how employees can use the technology as easily as they could do from their desks at work. They can be configured to offer the full range of commonly used applications and services and offer a uniform method of delivery, and the system being used to access the network is irrelevant.
Another approach is to implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) with profiling, which allows users to access network resources with their own device and use their own applications. The profiling element means administrators can ensure key services such as malware protection are installed, the firewall is on, policies are up to date, and the device has all its necessary security updates. This is easier than it used to be, since most tasks are based on web applications, and a browser is all we need.
Looking at the security of mobile and remote devices further, when a user is in the office, it’s easier to deploy security policies against their device, so they can securely use the network in line with IT security policies. Whereas endpoint security used to mean just providing users a firewall and some antivirus software, the rise of malware and other intrusions means endpoint security needs to be more comprehensive.
As a result, modern endpoint protection has progressed to the stage where agents now can contact their organisation’s security management systems, which can be located either on-premises or in a cloud, to get its policies and definitions. This version of protection allows organisations to provide maximum security to users whether on-site or working remotely. This can be especially helpful for users who are constantly on the move, as they’ll still receive security updates and configuration as soon as they’re published, while the administrator can, ideally, stay ahead of the game.
As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, the decision to send workers home isn’t just a problem faced by the U.K. public sector, but by many countries around the world trying to limit the contact between people. But the issues raised by this sudden, urgent need to work remotely shed light on how as a nation, the U.K. Central Government should already have better measures in place to enable more employees to work from home, as and when needed. After all, once the outbreak has settled down and things return to normal, some employees might find they miss the convenience of skipping the daily commute!