The Stack Archive

Telecommuting: security, continuity of operations, and emergency preparedness

Thu 12 Mar 2015

michael-shearMichael Shear is the President of the Broadband Planning Initiative in Washington DC. Having looked at the background facing proponents of telecommuting, issues of transport and environment and telecommunications policy, today Michael looks at ‘the security issue’…

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the increasing frequency and vulnerability to cyber-attacks, leaders at all levels of government are spending more time and money to improve security, emergency preparedness and continuity of operations which, ultimately, is a local concern. While these three areas are primarily addressed independently, they are intimately inter-related. All three need to be developed and their effectiveness assessed under at least three different sets of conditions: 1) Day-to-day, 2) Notification events (i.e. forecasted inclement weather), 3) Non-notification events (i.e. earthquakes, terrorism and cyber attacks).

Security of data, systems, networks, places, and people is an on-going and day-to-day activity. Given the rapid pace of change in technologies and mobility and the growing connectedness of today’s world, both the requirements and challenges of providing security have multiplied.

Continuity of operations refers to government initiatives (COOP) and Business continuity, the commercial sector counterpart (BCP) describe the efforts to assure that operations or, at least essential operations are uninterrupted under a variety of emergency scenarios. Redundancies, backup services, and alternate sites are all aspects of COOP and BCP, which must be at the highest state of readiness at all times.

We must understand the potential to erode personal privacy based upon employers’ needs to monitor security and performance

Emergency preparedness focuses on preparations for rapid responsiveness and is primarily oriented to the re-active capabilities of systems and people. However, preparedness can include pro-active planning and posturing, which can greatly enhance the effectiveness of re-active preparation. This pro-active process needs to be integrated into and coordinated with Security and Continuity of Operations thinking.

Impact on the Individual

We also need to consider the impact these global and technological changes have on the individual. In The High Cost of Low Bandwidth at The Atlantic, Bill Davidow said of our physical infrastructure that “We can view these information proxies as two separate pieces: an information sensitive piece, and a second piece with a valuable function that cannot be displaced by better virtual environments” reminds us that there is a social dimension and special aspect to the way and place we interact. We, as people, have a certain work persona; we dress ‘for work’ and we go ‘to work’. There is a certain camaraderie in being with our fellow workers and there is a certain level of job security that we are being noticed and not being left out. And there appears to be sound evidence that job security is a justifiable concern. Publishing ‘Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters’ in the June 2012 Issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Professors Kimberley Elsbach and Daniel Cable state “Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”


As the distinction between the work place and home is eroded and the workday is no longer confined to a specific period, the issue of ‘job creep’ creates unfairness, undermines relationships and may, over time, reduce productivity. On July 23, 2012, The New York Times published ‘Silicon Valley Says Step Away From the Device’ stating “The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.” Coincidently, Professors Mary Noonan and Jennifer Glass published ‘The Hard Truth About Telecommuting’ in the June 2012 Issue of Monthly Labor Review, which they stated “Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, and where it has become commonly used, it is not helpful in reducing work-family conflicts; telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional worktime beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees”.

The issue of ‘job creep’ creates unfairness, undermines relationships and may, over time, reduce productivity

Moreover, while ‘work is not a place, it is what we do’, everyone still needs a place to do their work. In the effort for employers to reduce costs, employees are being asked to allocate a portion of the homes as a place to work. Not all individuals have ‘extra’ space in their homes. Then there is the provisioning of power, connectivity, and equipment. While some of these expenses may be reimbursed by employers, there is a certain amount of ‘shadow work’ that goes with the maintenance of these elements. Finally, there is the issue of privacy. As more employees are asked to work from home, we must understand the potential to erode personal privacy based upon employers’ needs to monitor security and performance. This may become of growing concern for those who conduct more of their work from their homes.

In light of the impact of a global labor force and ‘The Coming Jobs War’, a sense of urgency exists to create a more competitive, flexible and economic model for the workplace. However, we must understand the human dimension and focus efforts on preserving existing jobs if we are to create new jobs.

Jim Clifton says “whether or not you have a good job defines your relationship with your city, your country and the whole world around you. . . . This recession will leave a more noticeable mark on American society than recessions of the past because ‘my job’ defines ‘my identity’ more than ever before.

Read the previous article in this series: Telecommuting: telecommunications policy and market factors

In the next and final feature, Michael will close by examining the role of the community in the future of teleworking


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