“Disruptive” is a catchy buzzword that has been around for more than two decades. First coined by Professor Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School in 1997, “disruptive technology” refers to an innovative technology that displaces an established technology and shakes up the existing industry. A disruptive technology can also lead to ground-breaking products and services that create completely new industries, e.g. the personal computer displaced the typewriter, the digital camera displaced the film-based camera, and email displaced traditional snail mail.
While there are deliberate strategies, plans and trials to introducing disruptive technologies, products and services, the largely unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic caught the whole world by surprise in early 2020 and led to unprecedented disruption to the way we live, work, learn, play and socialise. In almost every country, governments imposed measures to contain the spread of the dreaded virus such as social distancing, contact tracing, health monitoring and testing, and even going to the extreme of “locking down” entire cities or municipalities where millions of people were ordered to stay at home for weeks or months, except for those who were providing essential services.
Even under lockdown conditions (or “circuit breaker” in Singapore government’s parlance), life has to go on, businesses have to continue to function, and schools have to complete their teaching curricula. Within a short span of time, multitudes of people have to learn how to use online technologies and tools to communicate, to do business, to buy and sell, to collaborate in work, to conduct training, and to hold conferences. Traditional brick-and mortar stores have to quickly adapt to setting up e-shops to sell their wares, collect payment and deliver the goods to customers. In short, people have to adapt to working remotely from home. According to guideline from the government1, work-from-home remains the default mode of working even as some employees may return to the workplace to better support work and business operations from 28 September 2020.
To a number of organisations and their employees, it is a whole new experience when a large percentage of their work force are "forced" to work from home due to the lockdown. There are privacy concerns they have to be aware of and how to address them, especially when they have to handle the organisation’s personal or sensitive data remotely from their homes. Most employees may not have the luxury of having a dedicated, undisturbed workspace for themselves in their own homes. More likely they have to share the workspace with their family members, be it in the study, bedroom, living room or dining room. Family members may inadvertently view personal or sensitive data displayed on the computer screen or in printed paper documents on the table. Or they may inadvertently overhear confidential conversations on the phone or via video conferencing platforms.
Therefore organisations need to put in place a remote working policy that spells out the do’s and don’ts for their employees to abide by when they are working remotely from home.
Among other things, this policy should contain the following guidelines:
In addition to the remote working policy, organisations have to communicate information security guidelines to their employees working from home. As more and more people are using online networks, platforms and systems to collaborate in work, share confidential and sensitive information, and conduct virtual meetings, hackers are also working equally hard to exploit the network and system vulnerabilities. Hackers are well aware that the wireless networks and routers in the homes usually have weaker security controls compared with those deployed in corporate or business settings. So here are some of the main preventive measures which organisations should require of their employees working from home:
As at this point of writing, 2 June 2020, Singapore’s circuit-breaker measures have been in place for two months and is gradually being relaxed with the re-opening of schools and certain businesses. There has been an announcement of vaccination available for the population. Even before that happens, a new strain of COVID-19 virus has been found circulating in the UK. Whether this is going to be the “new normal” remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated with new affected cases each day, working from home is the most likely mode. And some companies are planning to factor working from home as an alternative work arrangement as they have experienced for themselves that it is workable and work gets done. Who knows, in days to come, not all employees may be required to commute to the office to work, they can work from home.
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