Navigating the Future of (Secure) Work: the Hidden Perils of Virtual Technology

Kerie Kerstetter
5 min read
In the effort to prepare for the future of work, the need to support a remote digital workforce has been a key initiative for most companies in recent years. According to a 2017 Gallup Report, at least 43% of employed Americans had spent at least some time working remotely, and with it has come the adoption of tools'from VPNs to video conferencing'to facilitate this need. However, now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to a work from home world for many companies has happened fast and furious and may never return to 'normal.' In effect, we have ripped the bandage off, accelerating changes to how work we work and what tools we use'the future of work is here.

In the immediate days following all of our transition to a virtual workplace, you likely relied on many of the tools your company quickly put in place or scaled up to support virtual collaboration and information sharing. Take Slack, the digital messaging platform, for instance. On March 10, Slack hit 10 million users simultaneously connected, up from 1 million in October 2015. Less than a week later, it hit 11 million. It's a similar story with Zoom, the video conferencing platform. Zoom shared that roughly 200 million people used the software per day in March, up from about 10 million per day in December.

There's no doubt that this technology has enabled a new working rhythm in these uncertain times. But in this overnight transition to all things digital, organizations must remain wary of potential blind spots that virtual technologies can create.

The Hidden Risks of Virtual Tech

Think about some of the urgent or challenging decisions your company leadership had to make in early in this crisis. They may have evaluated how to shift operations to make personal protective equipment or collaborated on public statements of safety protocols to employees and customers. In many cases, discussions had to happen around layoffs or furloughs. Regardless of the action plan adopted for your company, it was likely that leadership needed virtual meetings to make tough calls on sensitive topics very quickly.

The sudden shift to virtual technology is riddled with the same difficult decisions and catch-22s. Sometimes, with connectivity and convenience comes greater risk. While the switch to video conferencing or messaging apps may be great for small talk or virtual happy hours, it can also lead to less precautions and looser practices when it comes to sensitive documents or conversations.

The enterprise tools likely adopted by your company are at their core designed and optimized as the ideal place for employees to collaborate at scale on the day-to-day operational activities that make a business hum. IT makes them widely available. You can pass files back and forth across teams. They plug into helpful third-party apps. And they're a great way to stay connected with your colleagues while working remote, be it personal conversations, company-wide announcements or departmental project management. But when used for sharing confidential information among leaders, you may unwittingly create security and discoverability risks.

First, the remote working rush is creating a playground for cyber criminals. For the last couple of months coronavirus-themed malware and phishing scams have been on the rise. Business email compromise scams are easier as we rely on email more heavily to communicate while at home. And as many of us struggle to balance work and personal priorities during this unprecedented time, there is likely to be the introduction of more human error, opening the door for cyber criminals.

Second, there are issues to be aware of around the tools themselves. For example, an investor in Zoom has filed a class action lawsuit against the company, accusing it of unclear details about its encryption, hiding security flaws and disclosing personal information to Facebook. Slack and Google Chat, as well, have grappled with security issues in the past.

Who has access to the data within these tools is also of concern. In some enterprise collaboration and messaging tools, you cannot shield IT, for example, from ultimately seeing the information stored. In others, preventing data leakage is a headache, offering no built-in prevention capabilities for identifying and controlling access or sharing of sensitive data. And while you can set retention and deletion policies for most tools, it is with a broad brush, regardless of who is having the conversation when.

What to Consider About the Future of (Secure) Work

This has serious implications for sensitive communication and information sharing as we face the future of work. To establish you have the proper tools in place, companies should:

  • Identify the different contexts for communication and collaboration across the company and at different levels of leadership
  • Understand the security implications and settings of all tools your teams are using
  • Evaluate the risks and consequences around each
  • Identify the best solution based on the type of information shared

Enabling modern governance in a distributed work world means ensuring the most important leadership communication, data and information remains secure while also maintaining agility. Companies are turning to Diligent, already a trusted partner for board-level collaboration and secure communication by more than half of the Fortune 1000, to empower leaders to embrace today's challenges and the future of work.

Diligent offers several ways for your leadership team to share information and converse on sensitive and confidential matters:

  • Diligent Messenger provides your leadership team with a secure, easy-to-use channel specially designed for important information sharing and discussions
  • Diligent Boards serves as a central repository for your leaders to access and collaborate on strategic initiatives, scenario plans and external communications in real-time

Modern governance is essential as we transition to a new way of working. For more information on operating in a virtual world, download the Virtual Meeting Toolkit: A Guide to Technology Best Practices.
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Kerie Kerstetter
Kerie Kerstetter is the former Senior Director of Content Strategy for Diligent and the Next Gen Board Leaders.