Our longtime remote employees have some tips for working from home to keep you sane, and your company’s assets secure, during a strange, stressful time.
Many of us are abruptly and unexpectedly working from home, juggling the demands of a job and family, many of whom are also unexpectedly home.
Although it is unfamiliar to many people, this is exactly the life that I chose for myself nearly 25 years ago. I started working at home in late 1996, when my oldest child was four months old. I continued to work at home with three more children who were all homeschooled up until they attended a traditional high school.
I am no Superman—I could not have done this without my wife, who handled the majority of the child-raising and homeschooling. But I have survived the traditional trials of working from home, sometimes in living spaces that weren’t quite big enough for all of us, with all the interruptions and small crises and hullabaloo of a household with children.
Not everyone has this luxury, but it’s nice if you can have a specific space where you do your work. I worked at a desk in my bedroom for a while, which was not great, but I’ve had my own office for some time now, and it’s mentally healthy to be able to limit the physical space of your work. It’s also good to have doors you can close for your meetings, although you will find that dogs and children make enough noise to be heard even when you close your doors.
Sharing your home with kids and pets means your work will be interrupted frequently. Don’t be stressed and be as flexible as you can.
Many of the interruptions are pretty darn wonderful. If you have to take time to give your baby a bottle, that’s a privilege rather than a nuisance. The only thing we have in this world is time, so getting to spend more time with the people we love is an unexpected gift in an unusual time.
Also remember that your brain has basically two modes of operation. One is analytical and immediate; the other is better at complex pattern matching and creative thinking. Even when your conscious thoughts are focused on making dinner or brushing the dog or doing other day-to-day activities, your unconscious brain is chugging away on the events of the day and your challenges at work. By the time you get back to your desk, you might have figured something out that was giving you trouble.
And let’s be honest: Sometimes lost time is just lost time. Instead of getting upset, remind yourself that you probably lose just as much time when you are working in the office. In the office, it’s just bagel breaks and off-topic conversations rather than the grittier work of raising kids or taking care of a household.
I am not good at doing more than one thing at a time. However, there are certain activities at home that mesh well when combined with work activity.
Why not chop up vegetables while you hear about the latest product release details? Why not fold laundry when your quarter’s business is being presented? One of my favorites is working out during a meeting.
You need to mute yourself, of course, and this only works for meetings where you are not expected to speak. But combining activities this way can help you be less anxious about getting everything done that you want to get done.
People that work from home sometimes have trouble stopping work. If your work environment is essentially the same as your home environment, you might be tempted to answer every email as it arrives, or respond to every instant message.
This is a variation on having a specific place to work, except you are putting time boundaries on work instead of space. Give yourself a chance to rest and spend some real time with your family. Work will still be there tomorrow.
To minimize security risk while working at home, take time to think through the implications of your actions. As your finger is hovering over that Send button, or you are about to start up an unsecured cloud service (don’t do it), take some time to think like an attacker and understand what could go wrong.
People make more mistakes when they are under stress, distracted, and in a hurry. Many new work-from-home employees will be all three of these things, as they try to balance family and work responsibilities in a new and unfamiliar daily routine.
Cyber criminals will be on the prowl for files stored in places with weak or missing authentication, remote desktop environments with weak or missing authentication, and other errors where hassled employees have made poor decisions in the interests of expediency.
For accounts protected with passwords, make sure to choose passwords with enough complexity that they are hard to guess. Consider enabling two-factor authentication whenever possible. It is slightly less convenient, but much more secure.
As stay-at-home employees flood the internet with video conferences, and stay-at-home everyone else floods the internet with streaming video, expect to see slowdowns and service interruptions. Don’t get caught up in the moment and turn to personal accounts or services that haven’t been evaluated by your organization. Everyone knows a pandemic is happening; some things will just take a little longer.
Take a minute. Slow down. Think about what you’re doing and what could go wrong. We’re all in this together, so take a breath and stay safe and secure for yourself and your employer.
Here’s what other remote employees said about staying secure while working from home:
“Make sure you don’t take sensitive data off your company’s network. Some people prefer using their own computers for work, so they might transfer files via flash drive or even email files to themselves. Don’t do it! Moving data and documents to a personal computer widens your exposure to attack. Plus, it probably violates your company’s security policies, and you’re transferring the burden of liability from your company to yourself.”
“Use your organization’s VPN. If you’re confident in your home network security, you might think you can forgo the VPN (or you might just forget to log in every time). It can be a pain, especially if it blocks you from using certain sites or forces you to restart to reset your configuration. But it’s critical to keeping your organization’s assets secure.”
“Take some time to figure out how all your new tools work. If you’re using a new video conferencing software, for example, learn how password-protect your meetings to keep out eavesdroppers.”
“If you get a request that seems a little weird, take the time to check it out. When people are stressed out, they might have a different tone than usual. They might send messages full of bad grammar and misspellings. They might not follow procedure. When you’re really anxious, these things just don’t seem as important. But attackers know that! A stress-filled environment is the perfect backdrop for a business email compromise attack. If you’re unsure about any request, follow up directly with the requester.”
Jonathan Knudsen likes to break things. He has tested all kinds of software, from network infrastructure and medical devices to cryptocurrency nodes. Jonathan has worked as a developer, consultant, and author. He has published books about 2D graphics, cryptography, and Lego robots, and has written more than one hundred articles on a wide range of technical subjects.