Welcome to the new reality of WFH, folks! If you were fortunate enough to be able to already have a routine of working from home before the pathogen hit the propeller, then you’re already well ahead of the curve. However, the reality is that for many people in many organizations – especially security teams – it’s either not happening yet due to to technical limitations or a bunch of people have been thrown into more than a little chaos of full houses and full schedules.
So today I wanted to talk a little about this reality and some things I think might make a difference that I either know about firsthand from working remotely for the last few years or that I’ve seen strong evidence (and examples) that are worth considering instigating within your team.
There was a great article from Foreign Affairs about the coming Coronavirus Recession that probably means we’re looking at a lot of changes for quite a while. Apart from the chaos right now, as they say, “it won’t be easy to restart a modern interconnected global economy after the initial health threat has passed.”
And that means that no matter how big the cash coffers of your company might be today, by the end of all of this, it’s going to be pretty dented—and that means that budgets are likely to get squeezed pretty sharply sooner than later.
Which actually means that if we want the best chance to take care of our organizations right now and in the near future, we need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can continue to perform—even with screaming kids in the background of most of our current conference calls.
Because all the goodwill in the world will eventually evaporate if we don’t perform. And if we don’t perform, then we’re again cutting into the credibility and trust we need to win the coming budget battles.
I was speaking with someone the other day, and I figure that productivity is down to between 25-45% for a lot of people who’re now working from home. And that’s simply because with more than one worker in the house – often small – it means that coordination of the physical resources in the new homeplace becomes a challenge.
And it also means that we’re that much more likely to hide behind the phone receiver or the smiling corporate photo with our conference calls.
I know this because that’s how about 90% of the remote meetings I attend with clients and customers work. Now there can certainly be good reasons for this. Nobody wants to look at your unmade bed or piles of dirty clothes in the background.
However, for those teams that aren’t used to remote meetings without personal contact, it’s going to make things even harder for teams to feel connected and coherent. I’m not suggesting you should go to quite the extreme of a photo I saw on social media this morning where the woman was working at a small home-office desk and the husband and two kids were tied up, lying on the floor with tape over their mouths…
…no matter how tempting it might be sometimes.
And maybe full video isn’t the right answer for you and your team either. However, given that everyone’s under a lot of stress, being able to see the real state of the people on the other side of the virtual table can go a long way to avoiding misinterpretations of what people are saying.
Practically speaking, it also means that it’s harder to multitask or not pay attention—which is one of the other remote meeting killers I’ve experienced with teams in the past. By the time you actually get everyone on the call, settled and engaged, when people are tuned out because they aren’t paying attention, it means that many meetings take a lot more time than they should.
So my recommendation to you as a security leader is this: more meetings of shorter duration with fewer people—AND with the default being full video required.
The leaders of the meetings can set the tone for this, and people will generally follow their lead.
I know that our internal Archistry meetings are always full video because it just helps make (and keep) that personal connection.
Now maybe you think I’m preaching to the choir here, and we’re all experienced at this because we spend a good bit of time working remotely.
That’s true. But that was “part-time” and now we’re talking “full-time”—at least for a while, and I guarantee you it’ll be different without the smoke breaks, the coffee breaks and the normal groups of people you happen to meet at or on the way to lunch every day.
And that means managers and team leaders need to up their game. Even if you’re not doing agile, you still ought to have a daily, 15-minute stand up with the key people of your team. And that means it pyramids up the chain so you don’t end up with 1,000 people on any given call peer my previous advice.
One of the things I saw in my inbox today from HBR (who’re making their COVID coverage and relevant articles free like a lot of other outlets) was the suggestion for virtual social gatherings. I actually had that thought this morning in the shower too.
During the last days I was with Informix, we used to have “beer fridays.” That meant everyone piled into one of the manager’s offices, someone (often me) went to the shop, bought a few mixed 6-packs, and those that wanted gathered for a beer or two to unwind and socialize about the week and what else was going on. Those times were pretty good, because it meant I got to know people on the team I wouldn’t have otherwise really spent time with—which pays dividends in many ways down the line.
So, my suggestion is either the HBR-suggested “pizza meetings” or my preferred suggestion of “beer calls” or “beverage-of-your-choice calls” if you want to be particularly PC, where everyone gathers for at least 30 min with a beverage, and is allowed to socialize on video at least once every couple of weeks.
With the added pressure of trying to manage kids without day-care or school, multiple people working and the anxiety and uncertainty of whether there’s going to be stocked shelves at the store, you need to really think about morale.
Yours, and your teams’.
Now I know you might be wondering why I’m talking about this since it’s not technically “security” stuff. But thinking that way is pretty short sighted, because the composition and management of your security teams is directly related to their overall performance. And having worked with many highly-distributed teams with lots of practice, it’s easy to get totally wrong and end up putting brakes on your forward progress under the best of times.
Given that many organizations weren’t exactly prepared for extended WFH for the global workforce – and the likelihood that things are gonna get worse rather than better in the near term – security’s performance during all this is going to be front-and-center with the rest of the organization.
We can either look like heroes, or we can look like goats.
But I can assure you that goats aren’t going to get a good shot at smaller budgets as the impacts of all this wear on, and lots of organizations are going to need to make tough funding calls where there isn’t an obvious right vs. wrong choice.
As I said before, everything we can do to maintain as much effectiveness as we can during all this will not only help us, but it’ll ultimately help the organization stay safe going forward because we’ll be able to leverage that credibility and trust we’ve been able to build through all this to make sure our sensible security budget requests are considered.
Maybe that’s not important to you, and maybe you think none of what I’ve said today was necessary. That’s fine. There’s always the unsubscribe link at the bottom.
However, it’s times like this where the reality that security is much more than technical controls is critically apparent, because the problems we’re solving are how best to help people manage new situations with different spins on previously managed risks that as of right now might not be quite so well managed.
People performance matters just as much (or more) than technical security control performance or all the automation in the world.
If you’ve got it under control, and you think you’re set for what lies ahead, then that’s great. If you’re not, then maybe I can help. To find out, you can use the button at the bottom of this link to set up a call to find out:
Either way…try to stay safe and healthy and sane through all this.
Andrew S. Townley
Archistry Chief Executive
P.S. If you want the source articles, you can google “The Coming Coronavirus Recession” to find the Foreign Affairs one, and you can find some additional great suggestions for effective remote team management in HBR’s “A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers.”