As businesses prepare for a return to the office, many are considering precautions to protect their teams and customers from potential exposure and threats. The reality is, for some time, most organizations will need to change their expectations for “business as usual.” Physical distancing is still a crucial factor in limiting exposure to COVID-19, and potential future spikes in cases may lead to more remote work and new strategies for business continuity, data security, and workplace safety.
There are many things to consider as you look ahead to re-entry and re-opening your facilities to staff and customers. In this article, we focus on key ways technology can help you adapt and prepare for this new normal.
The shift back to your organization’s normal worksite may overload certain departments, such as the IT help desk and HR, who field employee questions and help troubleshoot issues during any significant change. Explore options such as non-traditional shifts, alternating in-office days, or having some staff continue full-time remote work to allow for a smoother transition while complying with physical distancing recommendations.
If you will be maintaining a dispersed workforce for some time, effective scheduling will be paramount to achieve the required level of efficiency. Managing staff who are working in the office, those who are still working from home, and facilitating effective communication across the board will present challenges. The ability to dial a coworker directly or message them via company chat software may not be available if one or both individuals are remote. Technology solutions, when fully leveraged, can allow more visibility, accuracy, and flexibility when communicating and scheduling people and resources.
There is still a very real risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Paramount to limiting this risk is understanding and clearly defining the expectations for interacting with co-workers, vendors, and customers. Not only is this understanding important from a risk perspective, but it can also be critical to maintaining relationships.
Business owners and facility managers should consider defining the screening process for in-person access to include employee and customer counts, and outline how to adhere to occupancy recommendations and limitations. This can be done manually, but there are technology options that can perform occupancy counting automatically and alleviate some of the burden.
No-contact thermographic imaging may also be worth implementing, and will become more common as companies open their doors once again to staff and visitors. Thermographic cameras can immediately detect elevated skin-surface temperature, so you can identify anyone entering your office who may have a fever—one of the first, key signs of COVID-19. Whether your organization needs temporary or long-term checkpoints, this technology can be adapted to support your efforts to help safeguard your employees as they return to the office in greater numbers.
Your employees may have used company technology—such as laptops, mice, keyboards, and monitors—to facilitate their ability to work from home, and these assets will soon be returning to the office. Additionally, if your business has shared technology (ATMs, kiosks, self-service checkout, etc.), you will need to consider the best way to make these multi-user items safer. Defining device cleaning protocols can help reduce the risk of infection from contaminated surfaces. If sanitization isn’t possible, decide whether items will be transitioned to single use, replaced with disposable alternatives, or temporarily removed.
Facility changes that can reduce contact with surfaces (i.e., automatic doors, elevators, coffee and vending machines) should also be assessed and appropriate changes implemented. From a technology perspective, can your facility support a digital transformation strategy that includes voice-enabled services and functionality?
Did your operational and process changes during the stay-home orders work for your organization, or do you need to adjust your pandemic response as future waves of COVID-19 cases are a very real possibility? Don’t forget existing threats in the scramble to plan for pandemic impacts. Review your data recovery capabilities and disaster response plans as we move into hurricane season, too.
Evaluate cash flow management strategies and consider leveraging financing options or implementing software as a service (SaaS) models for IT initiatives, payroll, bookkeeping, and other business processes. It may be preferable to limit all payable and receivable transactions to no-contact payment forms, such as credit cards, to reduce exposure through personal interactions and even help with collections and cash flow.
There were countless offers for free software and tools promoted as we all struggled to adapt to working remotely with little notice. Free trials will eventually expire, and there will be an ongoing costs to consider. Have new tools implemented during the stay at home order been incorporated into your operations? In the rush to adapt to new circumstances, these programs may have skipped your organization’s normal vetting process for security. Some may violate your current policies or could have introduced unknown vulnerabilities. Now is the time to evaluate your IT security posture through penetration testing or vulnerability assessment.
Don’t forget existing threats in the scramble to plan for pandemic impacts.
It is also critical to maintain security awareness and training efforts for end users. A remote/on-site hybrid workforce can create data in multiple locations, multiple services, and multiple devices. Email phishing attacks and credential harvesting efforts have increased dramatically, using COVID-19 specific content to prey on anxious and overwhelmed individuals. If you have not yet implemented security awareness training and testing, you should get your team up to speed as soon as possible.
Technology processes, such as backups, data encryption, compliance or contractual requirements, and data loss prevention must go through re-evaluation to create and verify adequate coverage in your organization’s present working model. Problems with devices that may not have been managed during quarantine will strain security systems and IT staff. Missing antivirus updates and security patches will need to be addressed. Cloud-native endpoint protection and patch management solutions are ideal to manage complete coverage and visibility of security solutions, regardless of the location of assets.
P&N’s Technology Services team can help you implement the right technology infrastructure and employee training to support your return to the office and plan for future disruption. Contact us to discuss your organization’s needs and learn more about navigating new risks and opportunities in a post-pandemic world.