As the novel coronavirus continues to cause problems, growing numbers of British employees are embracing remote working. However, for many, it is not an option.

As of yesterday, 24,960 people have been tested in the UK for COVID-19, of which 24,641 were confirmed negative and 319 were confirmed as positive.

In light of this, the UK government could introduce measures to delay the spread of the virus, such as “social distancing”, although it has so far not decided to do so.

Current government advice is that it is not necessary for businesses to close, but some companies, including Twitter, have made the decision to instruct employees to work from home, and last week workers at HSBC’s Canary Wharf HQ were sent home after a coronavirus case within the organisation.

Therefore, it has become necessary for employers to plan for a scenario that would require remote working. However, according to a study by Flexioffices of 2,000 UK office workers, less than a third of the UK workforce are able to work from home.

Legally, employees in the UK have the right to request to work flexibly, and according to a study from Zapier, 95% of US knowledge workers want to have the option of working remotely.

Flexioffices’ study revealed that over a third of employees feel they are more productive when they have the option to work remotely, and 21% felt more active when they worked remotely, suggesting companies need to do more to make remote working an option, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak.

Michael Dubicki, Business Director from Flexioffices commented “Our research indicates it’s time for employers to re-think how they approach remote working and for a lot of companies this will mean a culture change. We take a person-centred approach when working with our partners to find their perfect working environment. We believe providing appropriate perks is a great way to show your team you value them.”

In order to minimise disruption but remain secure during the coronavirus outbreak, Garter has advised CIOs to source digital collaboration tools with security controls and network support, provide clear guidance to employees, and ensure that digital platforms such as video conferencing and livestreaming are utilised effectively.

Remote connectivity services company LogMeIn has also offered to produce free emergency remote work kits for healthcare providers, educational institutions, municipalities and non-profit organisations, to help those not yet equipped to deal with a remote workforce.

The coronavirus, remote working and cybersecurity

Some have predicted that a surge in remote working in response to coronavirus could lead to a change in workplace culture, causing employees to review their remote working policies or explore the benefits of greater flexibilit in the workplace. However, businesses must also be aware of the cybersecurity risk that remote working can bring.

Jake Moore, Cyber Security Specialist at ESET said:

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“The first thing to check is that employees working remotely are using computers that connect to a virtual private network, or VPN. This should be the default on office-supplied laptops, but it is worth checking if employees have a valid subscription. If employees are using home computers, they should be encouraged to install a well-established VPN network with good reviews. This is a secure way of transporting private data across unknown networks, even via a home router. Instead of worrying about the security of individual apps on a device, a VPN connection can protect against multiple attacks. A secure VPN connection can stop your passwords and IP address from being exposed.

He believes that there are a number of steps both employers and workers can take to improve cybersecurity:

“If workers have to use public Wi-Fi, they must be reminded not to use it without a VPN. Better still, they should try to use a hotspot phone connection instead, which can be faster and more secure. Taking simple steps, such as avoiding public Wi-Fi wherever possible, can go a long way in mitigating risks – so employers should ensure that they are actively reminding employees to choose secure networks.

“If employees are using personal computers, it is essential to use the latest operating system and make sure it is up-to-date. Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 recently, so you must remember to switch to other operating models that have full supplier support. All PC peripherals used, such as USBs, must have an antivirus installed to contain any form of malware that could be transmitted into the network. Also, it’s always a good idea to scan any machine for malware before it is used for work purposes.”


Read more: Hannah Fry: Data could help control UK coronavirus outbreak.