Embracing the New Workplace in a Post-COVID World

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The COVID-19 pandemic was a true test of resilience in countless ways. We witnessed the efforts of the masses of essential employees on the front lines every day, from the doctors and nurses working to save lives to the truck drivers and retail workers who ensured we had access to our most essential supplies during lockdown. But there was also a massive “silent” workforce—digital remote employees—that played a critical role in keeping the global economy functioning.

While the pandemic has created long-lasting impacts on how we work, and remote work and virtual meetings are likely to continue, returning to the physical office is also inevitable. What will it look like returning to the workplace in a post-COVID world? 

This question is already being considered by security, IT and digital transformation leaders and is a central theme across several sessions at RSA Conference this year. Before answering that question, we must pause to think about what we have learned in the past year, the challenges we had to overcome and the shifts we had to make in how we work that will continue to persist.

In the panel, “A Year of Living Dangerously: Resilience After COVID and Killer Hornets,” leaders from Microsoft, Northwestern Mutual, Markel and Cisco reflected on how COVID has put a renewed focus on employees and their well-being. The pressure that the pandemic put on organizations to continue “business as usual” operations in many ways had a direct impact on the physical and mental health of workers. Patricia Titus, Chief Privacy and Information Security Officer at Markel, noted that beyond the precautions taken by organizations around physical safety for those returning to the office, it is also important to ensure that organizations find innovative ways to stay connected to employees who continue to work remotely. For example, during the pandemic, Markel invested in a product called Cratejoy, where employees were sent a box of things for the kids to do. 

Employee well-being is just one component of a larger employee experience. In the session, “End the Battle Between Security and Productivity,” Forrester analysts Andrew Hewitt and David Holmes examined the struggle between security and productivity and the role technology will play in the employee experience.

Hewitt noted that for organizations who fail to balance the requirements of security, risk and compliance initiatives with what employees actually want can lead to major business outcomes in the way of decreased employee engagement, significant vulnerabilities as employees look to dodge security policies that hamper productivity, and a decline in innovation. Hewitt said, “If you don’t have a modern security architecture that allows you to take on things quickly and do it in a secure manner, what you’re going to find is your competition is going to start to take on new technologies and outperform you in markets because their employees are going to be way more effective at getting their work done.”

One of the ways to overcome the battle between productivity and security is to adopt a Zero Trust strategy. David Holmes shared how Zero Trust models have evolved over the past decade. “Zero Trust models are all about protecting the data, and not about protecting the network. However, you need more than just data security. You need to have security controls around things that interact with the data.” Forrester categorizes these into four domains: people, devices, networks and workloads.

As we look toward the future, Hewitt and Holmes pointed to technologies such as Zero Trust network access, passwordless authentication, and endpoint and device management suites as critical capabilities that will ensure security does not impact productivity and will create a positive employee experience.

Coming off the heels of radical transformation in the ways we work, Laura Koetzle, Vice President at Forrester, sorted through the changes we have faced in the past year in the session, “Adapting to the New, Unstable Normal: How to Secure the Roaring 2020s.” Koetzle looked at five radical shifts that will change the face of business and technology forever and what organizations can do to secure them.

Among those shifts was the drive by both the public and private sectors to invest in the future of work. An important factor Koetzle noted is how the investment made in employee well-being will reap dividends for “high empathy” firms in the way of competitive and creative advantages. Organizations that have handled this well are more likely to have employees that will stick around as the job market improves and will invest more in contributing to the future progress of the company. 

Koetzle also looked at the long-term impacts of a changing workforce and its impact on the global economy. Koetzle speculated as work continues to be redistributed and hybrid work models persist, employees with in-demand skills, such as information security and privacy professionals, will have the opportunity to do their jobs and live in very different places. This, in turn, can help distribute economic activity more evenly and benefit developing nations.

While the pandemic created risk, it also delivered many opportunities for organizations to transform their workforce and how they do business. Those who have embraced change and remained resilient in crisis will be the ones who stand to succeed in the future.

Register to view RSA Conference 2021 content on-demand: https://www.rsaconference.com/usa/passes-and-rates 

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