Twenty years ago, I had a boss who was, looking back at it now, ahead of her time. She was a firm believer in the remote office, thinking that one could get a lot more work done without the distractions of the office. We were in the beginning days of email and Internet connection, and since I was the "cutting edge" member of the office and had my own computer at home, I was allowed to work from my living room on bad weather days and when I was involved in a project with tight deadlines and needed minimal distractions. I just needed to be able to check in regularly or be available if someone from the office needed me. I loved it, and I think I got three times as much work done from home than I did at the office.
Back then, a lot of our colleagues frowned on this practice of working from home, thinking that it would lead to sleeping in and afternoons of Oprah rather than actual work getting done. Today, society is a lot more open-minded about remote work.
According to research conducted by Microsoft, many employees are turning to social networks to enable off-site collaboration, especially small businesses that have not invested in secure collaboration technologies. This is opening businesses up to an entirely new realm of security concerns, as sensitive business information is being exchanged via sites like Facebook and Twitter.
I spoke with Cindy Bates, Microsoft vice president of U.S. SMB, about the security concerns involved with remote work, particularly for those who work from coffee shops, hotel rooms or airports - anywhere that isn't the actual workplace. The primary risks are exactly the things you would expect: stolen laptops, lost USB drives, public Wi-Fi. But she also adds that information that might have once been shared in a conversation at the desk or passed in an office memo is now being shared on social networking sites and public portals.
So what can companies do to lessen the security risks of working remotely? Bates told me businesses should develop a preparedness plan that incorporates technology and business strategies to reduce security risks associated with remote working. Technology strategy elements include:
She also provided some business strategies to consider when developing a preparedness plan:
Bates and I also discussed developing a formal security policy for working remotely, which I'll cover tomorrow.