The WFH Series: Addressing the Tech and Security Concerns of Remote Work
How Private and Public Sector Management Should Deal with the Information Technology Issues of Increased Remote Working Today
Certainly, one of the most critical issues involved with remote working - and one that most assuredly keeps CIO’s (Chief Information Officers) and other information technology executives in the private and public sectors up late at night worried about - is the whole issue of data security. And when talking about a governmental entity, the information security issues and concerns rise to a whole new level of complexity and importance over that found in most private sector environments. While data security, privacy, and hacking concerns about remote working are indeed important, and definitely do need to be addressed both upfront and on an ongoing basis, such issues can and must be managed proactively and aggressively in today’s working environment.
This management professor and consultant believes that there are several issues that need to be worked through by any organization - and especially government agencies - implementing hybrid and/or remote working arrangements on the security and technology fronts. First, there is the matter of what it will take to adequately outfit and equip agency employees who do engage in remote work with the resources they need. While one of the extremely fortunate things that happened that allowed working from home to work so well during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic was the simple fact that most of us today (though certainly not all of us) have very good computing and web resources available to us that we personally own. Indeed, one of the buzzwords in the information technology area over the last couple of years has been the whole notion of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), where employees use their own computers, laptops, smart phones, etc. to do their work. Now, in an increasingly remote working environment, the notion of “bringing” your own device for work becomes basically an oxymoron, as your own device may indeed be the only device (or devices) that you have at your disposal.
And so, if one looks at the matter objectively, most organizations, both in the private and in the public sectors, were able to have their employees work remotely “on the cheap” during the course of the pandemic. Beyond computing resources, there was also the issue of outfitting and or upgrading the home environment for use as an office. Indeed, the vast majority of companies - and certainly government agencies - did not provide funding to help their employees create a home office, or at least a home working environment, even though workers spent, on average, hundreds of dollars in doing so - and sometimes far more. In the future, as in likely right now, as organizations seek to adapt to remote work, the whole notion of providing additional computing, web, and office like resources will be an important matter for consideration, both from a productivity and security perspective, and one which would also help improve employee relations as well.
With government agencies having additional concerns, unlike their private sector counterparts, in regards to data security and information archiving, providing those employees who do engage in remote work, even on a partial basis, it will be a necessity to provide such computing equipment to remote and home-based workers on a routine basis. While this may raise the IT costs for all organizations, especially for public sector entities, especially in the short-term as they ramp up the ability of their remote workers to do their work in a secure fashion, the IT outlays should, especially when viewed over the longer-term, be outweighed by both the cost savings from reduced office footprint and the productivity gains to be found from working remotely, not to mention the costs “saved” from any data breaches or other security concerns that simply do not occur.
By necessity then, government agencies at all levels must, of necessity, factor in information technology concerns at the top of their decision making priorities in regards to hybrid and remote work. The failure to do so can – and likely will at some point - result in not just negative headlines about a data breach, but very real data security concerns. And so any agency’s leadership that seeks to implement hybrid and remote working to any extent in their agency will have to factor IT concerns at the top of their priorities.
“Organizational inertia“ is going to be a strong force to overcome as remote work grows. Simply holding onto the way things have been done is a powerful force, and one that is indeed difficult to overcome. And one very real data security issue for government agencies to overcome in particular is the issue of paper. Any agency looking to expand its remote working opportunities for its employees, for all the benefits that can come from such a shift, will have to examine its processes to try and minimize or eliminate the need for physical paper handling and processes. Indeed, the paper issue may be one of the toughest obstacles for government agencies to not just work around, but to work with, in the coming shift in the way work gets done.
All in all, the information technology and data security area is one of, if not the most important concerns in the shift to remote working. For government agencies, these issues can be a choke point, if not a stopping point, for any such effort, no matter how well-intentioned or thought out. Certainly, IT-related expenditures will likely be the largest cost area for government agencies seeking to expand their remote work opportunities for their employees. But, while there will be significant upfront, and yes ongoing, costs to provide employees with the computing and networking resources necessary to carry out their work remotely, the downside risks in not doing so are too great to ignore. So yes, in any effort to shift to remote work, these issues and costs will need to be addressed. In terms of each agency, their IT and data security concerns will be unique. However, over time, there will certainly be opportunities to share best practices and innovations in the data security area, both across the federal government and within and between local and state governments as they embark on this journey.
So, in short the recommendation here is to take proactive actions to provide distance workers with the resources they need in order to work productively and securely from home, or really, from anywhere. This will require expenditures, and in many cases, these expenditures will be quite significant. However, the benefits to be gained from working remotely are too great to simply dismiss the entire effort out of IT concerns. Indeed, this will be an exciting area to watch as likely over the next few years, as new ways of working remotely will likely be developed in the public sector that can indeed serve as models for the private sector, due to the heightened standards for data security, access, and integrity that public entities face. In other words, as we have seen with so many projects, especially on the federal level, from defense and space to clean energy to the development of the Internet itself, the expenditures in this area may well provide a very real, but hard to calculate, ROI (return on investment) as government best practices transition to the private sector.
About David Wyld
David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld.
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