The importance of securing your WFH teams.

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Bryan Bassett, Sr. Research Analyst – Enterprise Mobility, IDC

In recent months, millions of U.S. workers have made the challenging pivot to full-time remote work. Heading into 2021, businesses are signaling that they fully expect this trend to continue well past the immediate crisis. In fact, 87% of U.S. enterprise IT decision makers surveyed by IDC anticipate that more of their companies' workers will regularly work from home (WFH) beyond 2020 even after mandatory policies are lifted. Thus, the number of workers who depend on secure remote access to corporate data outside the four walls of their office buildings will become a permanent fixture in the coming months and years.

Remote workers and the shift to WFH

Enabling remote workers has never been more important to businesses, and WFH practices will continue to influence modern business strategy in the years to come. Keep in mind that mobile workers (who have been on the scene for years and will, according to IDC, amount to 60 percent of the total U.S. workforce by 2024) are not the same as remote, WFH employees.

IDC defines mobile workers as those who are enabled with mobile devices by their company to complete specific tasks and workflows, like store associates, construction workers, and field service workers. In contrast and due to the pandemic, millions of office-bound workers were essentially forced into remote work, abandoning their offices for WFH scenarios. These remote workers hold a variety of positions and have different roles and responsibilities. For the most part, remote workers are expected to replicate the jobs that they formerly performed in an office environment. They must do their jobs from their homes using all the applications, data and collaborative tools they relied on at their offices and do so in as seamless a way as possible.

In 2021, the U.S. remote and WFH population will reach 36 million workers, accounting for 24% of the total U.S. worker population, according to IDC. To meet the unique demands of their positions, these workers will increasingly require secure remote access and ubiquitous connectivity to work from almost anywhere to meet the demands of their jobs and workflows. Considering that nearly a quarter of all workers in the U.S. will still be working from home or remotely well into 2021, the urgent need to address remote access, network, and mobile security in order to support hybrid workforce models in the near term becomes self-evident.

Out of necessity, the vast majority of workers who have made the shift to working from home are currently accessing and transmitting corporate assets over their home networks or unsecure public Wi-Fi networks. Enterprise organizations have historically sought to avoid this situation and have invested significantly in deploying and managing secure on-premise network infrastructures over the years, helping to ensure corporate data traffic is protected and monitored. Corporate firewalls, secure access points, enterprise-grade hardware, and traffic monitoring all help contribute to the increased levels of security and protection that enterprise networks deliver. In the likely event IT did not have direct control over where and how a worker was accessing corporate data, IT admins have deployed a variety of endpoint security solutions such as mobile device management (MDM), mobile threat detection (MTD), and enterprise mobility management (EMM) software to help keep employee devices secure and corporate data protected.

Remote work and mobile security risks

Unfortunately for most businesses, it cannot be said that the same level of effort that goes into securing modern on-premise enterprise networks goes into configuring the average consumer-grade home network. While the dramatic shift to WFH has certainly helped businesses and workers remain productive in the immediate term, it has left many companies exposed by creating an unsecure and target-rich environment for bad actors. Shared access points within the home, increased exposure to phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks, or improperly configured home networks can all lead to a potential security breach and expose or compromise corporate data.

In addition to network security concerns, there has been an influx of new mobile devices entering the corporate market meant to equip employees with the tools necessary for remote work. Millions of new smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other connected devices were thrust into the hands and homes of WFH employees with haste, often forgoing proper deployment, enrollment, or security policy enforcement procedures. In cases where devices were in short supply, many organizations reverted to sub-optimal and less secure bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in order to keep their employees productive, with the notion that these were only temporary measures to make ends meet. This secondary wave of unmanaged devices accessing corporate data further exacerbates the overall issue of corporate security, especially when combined with the risks of allowing employees to connect to their home networks or unsecure public Wi-Fi.

With an increasing reliance on secure remote access for hybrid workforces, cellular network providers will play a crucial role in helping build the foundation of a more secure and flexible enterprise network.

IT planned spending will shift to support hybrid workforces

The dramatic shift from centralized secure working environments to decentralized home offices served as an unpleasant wakeup call to enterprise IT organizations letting them know that they were not properly equipped to handle a remote and disparate workforce model. In response, enterprise organizations are re-evaluating their IT investment plans for 2021 and beyond, redirecting planned spending to specifically address creating a secure remote work environment and providing remote worker support. Among North American organizations, 42% will begin to redesign their network architecture to better support remote workers, and 47% plan to increase spending in security technologies in 2021 compared to 2020 spending.

With an increasing reliance on secure remote access for hybrid workforces, cellular network providers will play a crucial role in helping build the foundation of a more secure and flexible enterprise network. Cellular networks adhere to a high standard when it comes to network security, as cellular network data is encrypted by default. 5G deployments will also help organizations secure their remote workers by offering better privacy protections and stronger encryption methods.

Next steps for businesses facing WFH challenges

How are your industry peers facing WFH challenges? Where does your business fall in the remote work spectrum? Complete IDC’s Workforce Mobility Index Assessment to get tailored analysis for optimizing business outcomes in the post COVID-19 world. 

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