Tools are only as good as their users. This should be your guiding philosophy as the world shifts to a hybrid work model to deal with the complexities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s great to define and implement essential security controls and tools, you could be in for a bumpy ride if it isn’t backed up by workforce buy-in and participation.

A Ponemon survey of IT security leaders revealed that 62% of remote employees do not follow security protocols closely.[1] And that’s only half of it. Think of all the logistical and monitoring challenges posed by hybrid working environments. You may have some employees working remotely, some from your office and a few others at a co-working space. If you have rotational shifts, you will have employees working throughout the day. To put it bluntly, building a security-first culture in this new era is a massive undertaking.

You must devise a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that involves and empowers your hybrid workforce. Here are the critical components of this strategy:

Perimeter-Less Technology

In a hybrid work model, employees will be spread over multiple locations, working together online. Some may use less secure home internet connections for work, while others may use personal devices to get the job done. That’s why upgrading your security systems, tools, and controls is critical to make sure they match the demands of a hybrid environment.

This means going truly perimeter-less and investing in cloud-based SaaS applications, secure VPNs, identity and access management tools, patch management applications, unified endpoint management systems, and backup and recovery solutions.

Make sure the application you choose supports Zero Trust architecture. It is a security concept that dictates that every attempt to access company networks and systems must be verified first, whether within your network perimeter or outside it.

Documented Policies and Procedures

If your security policies and procedures are not documented, you will struggle to enforce them. Your staff may not know what steps are involved or the whole process's purpose. There will be no buy-in from their side. For instance, if you don’t have an Acceptable Use Policy for your VPN in writing, your employees may use it for non-work purposes.

Identify critical IT policies and procedures like change management, remote access, incident response, etc. Then, have all of them documented and shared with the concerned teams and your staff members. Remember to keep the files up to date and in an easily accessible, central location. This will make it easier to enforce policies. Employees will know what is expected of them and why. Finally, make sure policies are reviewed periodically and make changes if needed.

Security Awareness Training Programs

Aim to make your employees the first line of defense against cyberattacks. Although this approach has been around for years, it is even more relevant in a hybrid work environment. The risk factor is higher, so you must take it seriously—no more gimmicks to meet compliance requirements.

Deploy engaging training programs that will help reduce human errors, develop good security habits and create awareness about the current threat landscape. Create training videos and a knowledge base covering security best practices and SOPs.

You should also set up interactive training programs that help employees learn how to defend against phishing, ransomware, brute-force password attacks, and social engineering. After training, reinforce what they learned by conducting routine tests and simulations.

Communication and Support Channels

When communication and support channels are clearly defined and easily accessible, you can handle threats more effectively. Every staff member will know how to raise an alarm, whom to contact, and what to do after reporting it. More importantly, it will help you detect threats early, thereby allowing you to minimize their impact.

Additionally, you should clearly define what tools can be used for communication and collaboration. For instance, employees should be discouraged from using personal apps like WhatsApp and Facebook for official communication and file transfer. Not only does it put company data in danger, it might also hurt your chances of achieving compliance.

Friction-Free Systems and Strategies

When it comes to devising new security strategies or evaluating new systems, ensure that you give due importance to user experience and efficiency. For instance, if your company’s antivirus solution is slowing down employee workstations, they may disable it to get work done, which is a recipe for disaster.

Although security is critical, it shouldn’t come at the cost of efficiency and user experience. Following security measures and policies shouldn’t feel like extra work. Otherwise, employees could grow weary and abandon security best practices altogether. Ensure your security systems and strategies dovetail nicely with their workflow.

Next Steps

The truth is, building a security-first culture is challenging. The hybrid work model has only made it more complicated by adding dozens of new layers and steps to the process. You will need skilled staff, 24/7 support, and specialized tools if you want to implement a security-first culture within a hybrid work environment.

If you consider going down this path, we can help ensure proper and effective implementation and ongoing management of necessary IT/cybersecurity and data security controls.

[1] [1]According to IT security leaders, remote workforces pose a greater risk to data because home networks are less secure (71%) and employees do not follow security protocols as closely (62%). [Source: 2021 Data Exposure Report Insider Risk, Ponemon]