The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has, to some degree, been mitigated by humanity’s widespread use of technology. Indeed, although many people have tragically lost their livelihoods as a result of government-enforced lockdowns, the ability of white-collar employees to work remotely has prevented a catastrophic loss of employment opportunities, with some firms and businesses even managing to prosper.
This has also led to speculation that the notion of a ‘9 to 5 office job’ – a cultural staple of the Western world since the end of the Second World War – may be relegated to history, and that technologically-enabled working from home could become the new norm even after the crisis period of the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Opinion appears to be divided between those employees who feel more productive (and comfortable) working from home, and their counterparts who claim that traveling to an office makes them more productive, as well as preserving the more traditional balance between working life and domestic comfort. However, what is not being disputed is the fact that firms could save significant amounts of money by no longer being (or at least feeling) obligated to rent or purchase office space.
Indeed, Nationwide, the world’s largest building society, has already closed three of its UK offices without letting any staff go: 3,000 employees will now enjoy ‘flexible’ working conditions under the company’s new “work anywhere” plan. This came as a result of an internal company survey in which 56% of those asked stated they would prefer to continue working from home, with another 36% answering that they would like a trial system of mixing working between the office and their homes.
The company’s chief executive, Joe Garner, explained: “”The last year has taught many of us that ‘how’ we do our jobs is much more important than ‘where’ we do them from. We are putting our employees in control of where they work from, inviting them to ‘locate for their day’ depending on what they need to achieve. A third of our people are saying they have an even greater consideration of the human impact of their decisions. And perhaps that’s not surprising because people are in their home environment, they’re seeing other people’s children on the screen – [as well as] cats, dogs, etc.”
Nationwide is not alone. Santander, Lloyds, and HSBC are three other financial institutions considering similar schemes of their own, as is oil company BP. The future of work, it seems, could well be either entirely or partially home-based.
However, this comes with its own inherent cyber security risks. After all, home-based security systems will not compare in terms of their strength and sophistication to those used in corporate buildings. Likewise, it could be harder for IT teams and cyber security officers to address problems and threats from a distance; this would be an issue for any firm, but especially for those larger international companies hoping to make savings by reducing office costs.
Even with a hybrid working system between the office and the home, there is a risk that employees bringing their laptops back to work could create problems. “You want to be able to say: ‘Hey, like with COVID, part of coming back to the office is making sure that you’re not going to infect everybody with a computer virus,’” Helen Patton, advisory CISO with Cisco’s Duo Security, says. “We don’t want you coming back in and sneezing on everybody, and we don’t want you coming back and ‘ransomware-ing’ everybody as well. So before you come back, take your temperature and patch your damn device.”
Gabby DeMercurio, a professional PEN-tester, also raised an issue entirely unrelated to technology and cyberspace. It is, she highlights, a security risk when nobody is able to physically identify a colleague. “If you get these people that are always working from home, but come in onesies and twosies every month, you’re going to see all these ‘strangers’ walking around the office. That’s going to contribute to people becoming numb to seeing others they don’t recognize.”
Once again, therefore, the world of cyber security must evolve, and brace itself for new challenges and threats sure to emerge from the latest incarnation of the working world.