With 2020’s stay-at-home orders and physical distancing guidelines, many families across the country had to adjust quickly to a new normal. That included cobbling together a home office and/or at-home learning space for kids.
As the threat of COVID-19 still looms, it’s likely that remote working and some degree of distance education are here to stay for the foreseeable future. For the latest tips and expert opinions on how to keep your home office/school effective and secure, we spoke to Kelly Short, Manager of the Governance, Risk and Awareness team at TELUS, and Micha Breault, Strategy Manager on the Governance, Risk and Awareness team at TELUS.
Q: Now that most people are working/schooling from home, what are the biggest IT trends for individuals and companies?
Kelly Short: Our team is constantly evaluating risks and promoting awareness about them. As more people started working from home, we definitely saw an uptick in the incidences of phishing. Those threats are very real. With one click, you can provide someone with access to your entire computer. Device support is also important, especially regular updates. And that includes your cell phone. If you have an old device that possibly lacks support, we recommend upgrading to a new device that is fully supported.
Micha Breault: During the lockdown, there was heavy uptake in third-party video chatting apps. Many people opted for those solutions because they are free. But if it’s free, you may be paying in other ways, like providing access to your personal information and data – so, essentially you are the product. If you are going to be using those free apps, they should never be used on your corporate network. If you have kids at home, your corporate laptop should also be off limits in case your kids happen to download free apps. Even if you use free apps on personal devices, there are potential risks to personal information. Being aware and making smart choices are really essential right now.
Q: What are the biggest concerns/challenges in terms of working remotely?
KS: I always go back to data privacy. When working from home, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. If you are in a meeting discussing confidential information, it is critical to make sure other people in the house can’t overhear you. Home assistants can also pose data privacy risks. Turn off your digital home assistant, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or situate yourself far enough away so it can’t record your conversations.
MB: With everyone at home and using the Internet, it is important to know who is on your network at any given time and what they are doing. While you are working, it is harder to supervise kids’ activities online, and they could be downloading free stuff, which can create significant risk. Remind your kids to ask permission before downloading any new apps or visiting new websites. Even if you are logged into your VPN (virtual private network), there is still some data that could be accessible to the other people on your Wi-Fi network.
Q: What are the biggest IT-related concerns/challenges in terms of home schooling?
KS: Home schooling and remote work consume a lot of bandwidth, so Internet speeds need to be adequate enough for this new norm. This applies to both Wi-Fi connectivity and data plans. Home devices must also have the latest malware and antivirus installed. These safety measures combined with good digital hygiene - for instance, being careful what you click on and keeping your operating systems up to date - can help you avoid introducing something problematic into your home network.
MB: When considering video chatting or meetings, awareness is key. What’s behind you in the background? You don’t want to share personal information with work colleagues or sensitive corporate information when you’re connecting with friends and family.
Q: What are the most important things people can do to ensure an efficient and secure set up at home?
KS: When I use my personal device, I make sure that patches for anti-virus and anti-malware update automatically. You should also be aware of the threats online. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't click on links and attachments that you aren’t expecting. Question the validity of everything.
MB: Password hygiene is a critical habit. Many people still use the same password for everything. While it may be a bit harder to manage, it is recommended that you set an individual, complicated password for every account. Scammers have also been trying to capitalize on the new ways in which people are accessing IT support. If you have to access remote support, do your research and connect with a legitimate company. Many people are getting fed up with long wait times for contact centre agents, so they are searching the Internet and downloading quick “solutions.” Always work with your IT department or provider, whether it is for connectivity or device issues.
Q: What is your outlook for the future? How will companies, employees and parents continue to adjust to digital working and schooling?
KS: With this transition to working from home, people are getting used to their new schedules. Eliminating the commute has allowed people to be more flexible with their hours and find a new work/life balance. When people do head back into offices, and we start living a more hybrid lifestyle, we’ll have to maintain the same awareness about our environment. Whether you are working at home, in the office or in a cafe, knowing your surroundings and protecting your information remain vital.
MB: I think digital connectivity is here to stay in terms of how we share information. Many companies now realize they can share information effectively in virtual environments while saving costs and without sacrificing employee productivity. I think we will see companies continue to innovate virtually.
Q: Any final thoughts?
KS: Although the security and privacy of data is important, we’ve just experienced really challenging times, and there is still uncertainty. Make time to unplug during the day and in the evenings. People that are new to working from home might get caught up and extend their work days. Maintaining work/life balance is important. Keeping your workspace and personal space separate can help.
MB: Parents that are working full time and home schooling need to prioritize balance. Self-care is vital. Many people had to transition to remote work and schooling really quickly. Now it is important to make sure that you have a strong foundation in place, so you’re prepared for whatever happens in the future. The next normal is not just about dealing with crisis. It is also about living securely as work from home continues to be the standard.
While your summer vacation plans probably include more time at home this year, it is an opportunity to ready your home IT for the next stage of working and schooling from home, whatever that will turn out to be. Reference Kelly and Micha’s advice, as well as the TELUS Wise online safety and privacy tips.