How to Focus on Business Cybersecurity and Productivity While Everyone in Seattle Is Doing Remote Work Because of COVID-19

How is the remote work revolution going for your business? It looks like the dust is settling as we’re all starting to normalize to our at-home routine to handle the COVID-19 outbreak here in Seattle. That means now is a good time to make sure your organization maintains good cybersecurity habits outside of the office, along with high productivity levels. 

For nearly 20 years, the Interplay team has helped many Seattle organizations set up secure and effective remote work capabilities – and that means we’ve got a lot of great tips to share with you!

This article goes in-depth on our top tips, but we have more to offer. Please feel free to contact us if you’d like additional advice on maintaining business cybersecurity for remote workers.

Tip #1: Make Sure Your Employees Understand Good Cybersecurity Practices 

A few weeks ago, Interplay posted a warning about fake coronavirus phishing emails that claimed to be from the CDC. Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 crisis has intensified, malicious hackers have intensified their attacks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suffered a particularly aggressive attack on March 15-16 and coronavirus-related cybercrime has been skyrocketing. 

With your staff working remotely and data integrity being so critical right now, it’s worth it to ensure your cybersecurity practices are tip-top.

Here’s what to do:

  • Update everyone’s antivirus software. Antivirus is your first line of defense against cyberthreats, so make sure you verify that all work and personal devices have great antivirus software. Don’t stop there; personally verify the software is up to date and show employees how to keep up on updates. 
  • Instruct employees to set auto-updates for operating systems and patches. Help your staff set workstation patching (AKA “computer patching,” as opposed to “server patching”) to auto-update and then download the patches manually, just in case. If you’re working with an MSP (a Managed Services Provider for IT) like Interplay, your MSP can take care of most updates for you and your staff. 
  • Tell employees to update their routers. Many routers are set up with vulnerable, factory-set admin passwords and have out-of-date firmware, as we explained in this article. It’s time to change those passwords and update those routers, people. 
  • Use secure, unique passwords for each account. As employees set up new accounts online, make sure they don’t share or reuse passwords. Looking for a password manager to secure hand-to-remember passwords? Dashlane is free and it rocks.
  • Check out Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions that keep phones, laptops, and tablets secure. MDM can remote-wipe sensitive data if a mobile device is stolen or lost, which is extremely important while we’re all so distracted. 
  • Remind employees not to download work files to their personal devices. Instead, they should work on files using secure online services. If you have Office 365, this is easy. If you don’t have Office 365, you’ll want to strongly consider Mobile Device Management.
  • Work with an MSP to install Endpoint Detection & Response tools. These use sophisticated analysis to flag emerging threats, as well as block malware and other malicious threats on all business devices and systems. 
  • Set up a VPN and a zero-trust perimeter. It’s important to empower your staff to find work files when they need them, but you want to make sure access is secured. A VPN protects your sensitive business data from unauthorized snoops on potentially unsecured home networks and a zero-trust perimeter requires that all access attempts from inside and outside your network be legitimized before granting access.
  • Back up all files on the cloud. With so many employees engaged in remote work, your business cybersecurity is likely to take a hit, no matter how many protections you put in place. Having a strong, reliable backup plan, such as a business continuity solution, can help your organization get back to work fast in an IT emergency.

Tip #2: Use the Right Business Tools

With so many sudden changes, it’s tempting to cut costs by using free or “freemium” business tech tools that “mostly” work for your needs. Sorry folks, but bootstrapping just isn’t going to work right now. Juggling a bunch of “halfway-there” tools is going to get you “halfway there” to a job well done. 

You need the right tools to get your remote team working right – that’s all there is to it.

With that in mind, we recommend:

  • Microsoft Teams. To help during the COVID-19 outbreak, Microsoft is offering 6-12 months of free access to Microsoft Teams, which provides collaboration and communication tools for your workers. From calls to videoconferencing to chats and collaborative file editing and sharing, MS Teams has got you covered – for free! Your MSP can help you set that up immediately
  • Slack. Pretty much the same as MS Teams, but with different administrative controls, Slack is the tool we’d probably recommend for small teams if MS Teams wasn’t free as well right now. Slack and Teams are both incredible products and either one will be a great resource to you while so many people in Seattle are focusing on remote work. 

    Insider tip: Whether you choose MS Teams, Slack, or something else, make sure employees also download the app to their phones. That way, they can keep in touch even if their home internet goes down.

  • Webcams, headsets, dongles, and extra monitors. The rumors are true: monitor costs are definitely rising in a classic supply-and-demand SNAFU here in Seattle… but there’s a reason everyone wants one. Research has shown, for a very long time, that dual monitors and large-ish monitors improve employee productivity significantly, making all tasks faster and easier. Of course, it goes without saying that webcams, headsets, and adapters/dongles make videoconferencing, calling, and equipment hookup much better. Looking for a basic headset with excellent noise rejection and active cancellation that’s designed specifically for things like web conferencing? We strongly recommend the Plantronics Blackwire series.Insider tip: Connecting remotely with headsets means most people will be on mute during a call. When you ask a question in a conference filled with remote workers, allow extra time for people to unmute before answering you. 

Tip #3: Set up Remote Work Productivity Enhancers and Anxiety Relievers 

Everyone on your staff on the planet is anxious right now. (Even these people, who weren’t anxious a few days ago.) We’re living through strange, uncertain times. 

Because of this, your office productivity will suffer. Guaranteed. 

Whether it’s because they’re hitting “refresh” every five minutes on their newsfeeds or texting family members who are far, far away, your employees will be distracted and stressed during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

But, as it turns out, small habits can help

We’re talking about: 

  • Sticking to a routine. You probably already know this, but working from home should have the same hours as working from the office. Wake up at the same time, take regular short breaks, take a lunch, and end the day at your regular time. Teams can even get together over videoconferencing for a remote happy hour after work.
  • Setting up the workspace properly. Hunching over a laptop keyboard on a partially cleared-off portion of your bed feels like cramming for finals week. (AKA dreadful!) Give your staff time to set up their workspace properly, hopefully in a quiet room with a door, so they feel comfortable and settled-in with their at-home work environment.
  • Providing resources for work supplies. If certain employees are used to using a rainbow of Post-it Notes all over their desk, or if others prefer a specific brand of pen, let them know you’ll reimburse them for the order if they want to stock some preferred tools at home. Consider also offering laptop stands, external keyboards, monitors, and maybe even office chairs or footrests to keep your staff comfortable and ergonomic. (Your MSP can help you track and manage all the new tech assets you purchase now.)
  • Encouraging water cooler chat. We all need to connect with each other right now. Take a few moments for casual chit-chat in meetings, and by all means, share the latest funny memes over chat or email. Staying connected — at a distance — is one of the most important things we can all do to help each other get through this. 

That Was a Lot of Suggestions. Need Some Help? 

Some of these recommendations are easy to follow. For example, here’s a great water-cooler piece: John Oliver’s recent shout out to TikTok Hampster for succinct and accurate coronavirus tips.

(We also recommend Yo-Yo Ma’s #songsofcomfort and the Seattle Symphony’s online performances, as well as social media concerts and a way to turn your favorite songs into your favorite handwashing routines.)

However, while it’s easy for everyone to share great online references, it’s not as easy for everyone to share great IT support or service – but it’s really important to do so.

If you’d like help supporting your remote work team’s IT and cybersecurity needs during the COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle, or if you’d like to set up your Mobile Device Management, business continuity, or communications solutions quickly and securely, Interplay is here for you.

Since 2001, Interplay has brought our unique brand of super-friendly, super-expert IT support and service to Seattle business leaders, which is why we’re now one of the city’s longest-standing MSPs, as well as one of the only true MSPs here in Seattle. We’re committed to helping our community – now and forever. 

Let us know how we can help you and your team handle cybersecurity and productivity during the COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle.