Overlooked Security and Collaboration Perils Of Work From Home (WFH)

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We’re now almost 6 months into the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. Even though we here at Unify Square have been using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Slack internally for years now, it’s safe to assume that most of the world has now caught up. Everywhere we look we see organizations of all sizes working their way through various deployment struggles as they jump on either the cloud UC or cloud collaboration bandwagon, or both. To date, the majority of the IT struggles which we’ve helped customers with have centered on 3 different areas. The challenges were related to either a) remote work transitions and set-up; b) cloud communications transformations; or, more recently, c) return to the office hybrid scenario coordination.

Nevertheless, the more customers we work with, the more we have begun to identify some emerging, lesser-known themes in the collaboration world. All of these themes are an outgrowth of some combination of COVID-19-driven digital WFH and accelerated collaboration platform adoption. Let’s take a look at these 5 IT challenges in the new digital workplace.

software monitoring tools

Problem #1 – Control & Surveillance

As new technology and methods of working are adopted, it’s only natural for IT to attempt to take control. As such, as a good technology partner to businesses, companies like Zoom and Facebook attempt to listen to their customer’s needs. Unfortunately, when it comes to new environments and workplace analytics there is a tough learning curve.

One example is Zoom, who tried an attention-tracking feature that would alert meeting hosts if a participant clicked away for more than 30 seconds. The concept was great in theory to help track remote workers. In practice, of course, the big-brother factor loomed far too large and Zoom retracted the feature. A second example came in the form of a content control feature from Workplace from Facebook. The feature allowed IT to monitor and censor employee communications and cited as an example the ability to blacklist the word “unionize.” Once again – great theory, poor execution…and even poorer choice of a use-case example to publicize.

The key challenge here is to identify the correct level of workplace analytics data to collect so that IT can steer user behavior towards highly productive and highly engaged collaboration. The tricky part is balancing this data collection against the need to foster a digital workplace environment that allows for casual and comfortable employee interactions. Employees can’t feel like someone is always looking over their digital shoulders. The solution here appears to be one of the expedited social norm adjustments combined with third-party specialty tools for workplace analytics data collection so that the B2B collaboration platform vendors are not front and center in the data access discussion.

Problem #2 – Employee Burn-out

Perhaps this problem is not nearly that new or undiscovered. Many remote workers continue to have low or zero boundaries protecting their non-working time. As a result, stress levels soar, productivity plummets, and burnout becomes a very real danger. This has the potential to lead to huge costs for employees and their organizations. The new part of this challenge is how software tools can help.

Here’s a scenario: employees start WFH in mass, managers fear that WFH will equal goofing off, so they “monitor” productivity by doing periodic software presence check-ins. Employees, therefore, leave Slack or Teams running 24×7, attempt to respond to messages instantly, skip breaks, etc. Surveys find that burned out employees are 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job, and 63% are more likely to take a sick day. Workplace analytics has the potential to track real work styles and hours and report in a non-intrusive manner on patterns across teams, departments, and geographies.

Moving to the Cloud? Deciding between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other platforms? See how we stack them against each other.

Problem #3 – Data Privacy

With a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams, the marvelous thing is that you can use it to do so much. However, from the perspective of a knowledgeable and ever paranoid CISO, the frightening thing is that potentially sensitive conversations are happening up in someone else’s cloud. And it’s not just chat conversations. It’s also phone calls, file storage (remember that Teams uses SharePoint Online as its backend document management store), and more.

What does that mean for your data privacy? Unfortunately, because of the way that many of the collaboration platforms like Slack or Teams have been rolled out, either via a Shadow IT approach or by the telephony teams, the InfoSec department may not have been brought into the planning process. As a result, as the InfoSec Institute suggests, “before you even start thinking how to protect against the security vulnerabilities of these tools, you need to understand what kind of privacy the service providers themselves offer for the data they collect from your users.”

Once the governance structures have been established, then third-party specialty tools can be introduced to the project. These software tools can be used to create policies for managing security risk issues, enforcing these policies, and even doing spot compliance checks to ensure that the policies are working and that employees are using the collaboration platforms in a safe and risk-free manner.

Problem #4 – Increased Incivility

When most employees are working in the office, conversations are usually forthright and out in the open. However, with the shift to using collaboration platforms full time, the apps can evolve into a perfect storm of agitation, bullying, and passive-aggressive behavior. An email has always been a platform that can create misunderstandings or confusion. However, there is a certain formality to email which limited the damage much of the time. With 1-1 and group chats, almost everything is casual, and it’s very difficult to have a lengthy nuanced dialog. In fact, “the casual nature of many interactions means some people let their guards down, trash talk, and act unprofessionally.”  Finding the right balance between too aggressive and transparent authenticity is the challenge. Collaboration platforms allow remote workers to easily surface concerns and highlight grievances both on a peer-to-peer level as well as with upper management.

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Problem #5 — Informality Errors & Security Gaps

When you’re working from home, it’s easy to forget that you have to constantly maintain that professional demeanor and profile. The context cues provided by a given environment help to dictate behavior. With WFH, one is surrounded by family, dressed very casually, not in the presence of work colleagues. The potential for human error naturally increases. This informality, and decreased focus on quality, can potentially lead to even greater problems. Companies may “worry that workers may be more likely to ignore rules or take shortcuts when they work from home and lose touch with some reminders of corporate policies.”

Taking it one step further, the security risk dangers of unintentional call or chat stream recording or sharing are also amplified. As with most of the problems articulated in this post, the potential solution comes in the form of workplace analytics. The insights from software monitoring tools can help IT identify digital workplace trends and take action (either in the form of employee training or policies) to change or mitigate issues before damage can be done.

managed services

Workplace Analytics – The Panacea?

Just when you thought you had your collaboration platform all dialed in and working, we had to go and highlight some new challenges to be considered. However, you are not alone. This is our stomping ground. We’re not just digital natives; we’re collaboration natives. As we’ve outlined earlier in the pandemic, our job is to take on your toughest collaboration and UC challenges to ease your burden. Allow our consulting teams, our PowerSuite software tools, and our 24×7 managed services team to help confront and solve all of the above problems and even the future problems which have yet to surface.

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