Lessons Learned from 2020 & Best Practices for 2021

While everyone is happy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, the year’s challenges were a learning experience, particularly when it came to securing people, property and data. Lessons learned from 2020 will be extremely valuable this year and beyond, with the expectation that our data can be more secure and our employees can be safer.

Here is a look back at lessons learned in 2020 and what we think are the most important priorities for 2021:

Securing Data: Remote Work
Perhaps the biggest immediate challenge for organizations at the outset of the pandemic was adjusting to the new reality of remote work. Nearly overnight, employees transitioned from commuting to working from home. And also nearly overnight, the hacking industry followed up with a massive influx of activity aimed directly at accessing your valuable data or otherwise compromising computer systems.

The first trick was to enable remote work as a technical capability for employees. But in the rush to get workers productive, data security concerns were often bypassed. For hackers, this is low-hanging fruit begging to be picked.

Examples include ransomware attacks where systems are compromised until a ransom is paid. And highly sophisticated spear phishing attacks designed to trick the most savvy computer users into divulging sensitive information. In any case, you can count on endless creativity from the hacking community to find new ways to complicate your life.

LESSON LEARNED: Unsecured remote connections are dangerous. When enabling a new capability like remote access, it’s imperative to take the time and effort to understand how any change will affect data security, to select tools that fit your data security needs and to configure security tools to be effective in your environment. Because if you get hacked, you’ll spend a lot more time and money recovering your data or restoring your systems.

Securing People: Workplace Safety 
Temperature Screening
Remote work is now the default working arrangement for many organizations and employees. But there will always be a need for some workers and outsiders to visit your site. And as we graduate from lockdowns, the expectation is that more people will be returning to work. The ability for companies to ensure workplace safety is next on the list of post-pandemic priorities.

The first line of defense is simply to tell employees to stay home if they’re ill. But not everyone does that. Organizations are looking for ways to ensure workplace safety by screening employees and visitors at the front door in a way that doesn’t impede the flow of people or productivity.

There are many types of temperature screening systems with more solutions on the way. But choosing a solution from the plethora of choices can be daunting. The last thing you want to do is invest in a solution that’s not appropriate to the need.

LESSON LEARNED: The key is to match the right technology with your specific use cases and environment. IST suggests getting advice from an experienced security systems integrator that can review your needs and your currently installed technology, and help you come up with the best solution.

Contactless Access Control
Door handles and buttons are your building’s most common touch points. Perhaps the simplest way to stem the spread of infection from commonly touched surfaces is to use antimicrobial coatings for door handles and buttons. While this may be effective, not everyone will trust it.

You can take access control a step further by automating it, and in the process, reduce the number of touch points. Contactless access control has been around for a long time and includes intercom systems and doors that open automatically. New technology can make the technology more effective and easier to use.

There are several methods for automating entry. For example, doors can be actuated with mobile credentials installed on an employee’s smartphone. Or you can use biometrics such as facial recognition. (As you can imagine, using a fingerprint as a biometric is losing popularity.)

To further enhance workplace safety, some solutions provide tools for security and building management personnel to centrally manage access to track and manage the flow of people, giving them the ability to make access decisions in real time.

LESSON LEARNED: Many organizations already use some sort of technology for access control. Organizations can build on what they already own and use to help create a safer environment.

Securing Property: Authorized Access
Facial recognition technology, video analytics and high-definition cameras and monitors are a potent combination to ensure that only authorized individuals get access to your property or sensitive areas of your building. These technologies also provide the added benefit of monitoring mask compliance and building or room occupancy.

LESSON LEARNED: Facial recognition has been controversial. But studies show that nearly 70 percent of people trust the technology for workplace safety. Moving forward, ensuring privacy of facial recognition data will become a trending priority.

Hosted and Managed Solutions: Integrating Security Systems for Success
Adding new technology to improve security and support a healthy workplace is an important step to take. But new features can come with added complexity. Every new feature needs to be managed and supported somehow. If your underlying security system infrastructure and tools are outdated, and if you’re already experiencing downtime with your security systems, adding new features may also add management and support headaches.

Modernizing infrastructure and tools with cloud-based hosted and managed services can improve overall system reliability and make it easier to add new capabilities. By outsourcing infrastructure and services, you can simplify for easier management.

How to Promote Safety, Productivity, and Accountability in Your Workspace

Right now, our physical spaces necessarily look different than before the pandemic inundated every aspect of our lives.

In some ways, this is a good thing, especially for leaders who need to rethink their physical spaces to ensure that their teams remain safe, productive, and accountable. Updating and improving physical spaces is a critical next step for companies positioning themselves to thrive in the new normal.

It’s clear that protecting people and property are inextricably linked. As you take steps to prioritize both, here are three things to consider.

#1 Rearranging workspaces.
For employees to flourish in the workplace, they need to feel safe, which is best achieved through physical distancing and frequent hand washing. Of course, in today’s open-concept, collaborative workspaces are not inherently conducive to these requirements.

Therefore, companies should rethink these spaces. First, identify the number of employees that you can safely have on-site. Leveraging a hybrid workforce comprised of on-site remote, distributed teams can help minimize congestion and overall exposure.

For those working on-site, consider separating desks, installing dividers, and instituting other relevant changes to prepare your property for the new normal.

#2 Integrating assistive technology.
In addition to rudimentary physical changes, integrating assistive technology can further prepare your property for this unique moment. This includes:

  • Touchless technologies. The Coronavirus can survive for hours or days on surfaces. Reducing exposure to high-touch areas can help mitigate the threat. Specifically, wave readers and exit buttons keep buildings secure while keeping people safe. Similarly, touchless meeting rooms can allow companies to continue collaborative efforts while minimizing potential risk to workers.
  • Face-matching technologies. Limiting building access and authorizations is critical for physical distancing guidelines. Office buildings have a constant flow of workers, visitors, deliveries, and other in-and-out behavior. Face-matching technologies control this movement without exposing employees who would otherwise be tasked with overseeing visitor entry.
  • Auto-operators & wave buttons. Businesses can be proactive about eliminating high-touch surfaces by using these technologies for non-access controlled doors in bathrooms and other high traffic areas. In this case, employees can avoid touch door handles and other high-risk surfaces for virus transmission.

#3 Communicating regularly.
While it’s clear that the healthcare implications of the pandemic will be far-reaching and long-lasting, the informational environment is continually evolving.

Adjustments to on-site safety standards will be dynamic and on-going, requiring leaders to communicate regularly with stakeholders. To support these efforts, consider integrating digital signage to provide always-updated information about facility navigation, safety protocols, and other helpful directives.

In the weeks and months ahead, business leaders and facilities managers need to rethink the protocols protecting their people and property.

That’s why, at IST, we have retooled our product and service offerings to help leaders identify the physical changes that can support these initiatives. In addition to the best practices identified above, contact us today for a complimentary new normal gap assessment.

4 Ways to Prioritize Employee Safety When They Return to Work

As people begin making their way out of their homes and back to the office, companies will need to take extra steps to ensure that their employees are protected.

While some of these changes – like eliminating in-person meetings, spacing workspaces, or providing personal protective equipment – can be implemented with precise messaging and careful planning, other initiatives will require more strategic investments.

Here are four steps companies should take as they plan to bring employees back to the office.

#1 Control access to workspaces.
Controlling group size is a critical component of restricting the spread of COVID-19. For instance, modeling suggests that the risk of exposure grows exponentially as group sizes increase, meaning companies will want to take intentional steps to reduce the number of people entering the office.

When possible, companies can continue providing remote work opportunities to reduce on-site personnel and offer an alternative for employees still unsure about returning to the office. Since more than half of your workforce likely wants to continue working remotely anyway, this is an easy way to reduce the number of people on-site.

Of course, offices have a steady stream of traffic that involves more than just employees. Everything from delivery drivers to maintenance workers regularly visit office spaces, potentially exposing people to the virus.

In response, companies can install a video intercom system that enables workers to evaluate guest entries before granting access. This technology allows receptionists and other team members to communicate with guests before granting access to the office.

#2 Screen personnel & visitors.
As employees come and go, screening personnel and visitors is critical to keeping infected or contagious people out of the office. Although employers can’t ask employees health-specific questions, recent CDC guidance clarifies how companies conduct temperature screenings, check for symptoms of COVID-19, and exclude people who exhibit signs of the virus.

With the right technology, companies can streamline this process, relying on thermal cameras and wellness checks to prevent infected people from entering the workplace.

#3 Log personnel and visitors for contact tracing.
Contact tracing is one of the most frequently cited measures for stopping the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, people are often unreliable when it comes to remembering their daily movements, putting the responsibility on businesses to develop a capacity to contact trace on-site personnel and visitors.

Technology companies are racing to create apps capable of this task, but, as reopening begins, every organization will need systems and processes for ensuring timely and accurate contract tracing data.

#4 Implement digital signage for dynamic social distancing guidelines.
In-office logistics will necessarily look different when people return to work. For example, the CDC recommends using different doors for entering and exiting buildings and many other changes to physically separate employees.

In addition, workers will need constant reminders to adopt best practices. To support these efforts, implement digital signage to provide dynamic social distancing guidelines and information updates. This technology is flexible, allowing companies to update rules and directions as the situation evolves. Digital signage can also be more engaging, increasing the likelihood that employees see and adhere to the information presented.

A Closing Note
Everyone is eager to return to normal. However, our urgency can’t allow us to be reckless or indifferent. Management’s top priority must be the health and safety of its people. This issue comes with moral, ethical, and legal implications, making it essential that every organization take steps to secure their employees when they return to work.

At IST, we are ready to support your organization as it makes the transition back to the office. We will analyze your environment and existing systems, ensuring that you are prepared to welcome employees back to the office when the moment is right. Contact us today for a complimentary “New Normal” gap assessment.

People, Property and Data: Three Priorities for Navigating the New Normal

We are all experiencing one of the most profound transitional periods in modern history. A triumvirate of critical factors, including healthcare, economic, and societal changes, are quickly reshaping today’s business landscape, forcing companies to evolve or be left behind.

These changes have serious implications for businesses who are now grappling with a shifting consumer landscape, adjusted workplace arrangements, and a deluge of new cybersecurity threats.

In other words, successful companies will need a plan to account for their people, property, and data in the weeks and months ahead. Navigating this new normal requires intentional strategies for these priorities.

Here’s where it starts:

The Coronavirus necessitated an overnight transition to remote work that Time Magazine described as “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.” Now, it’s clear that this experiment is more of a feature than a bug.

Even after the Coronavirus subsides, employees will not immediately return to the office. According to an April Gallup poll, three-fifths of remote workers prefer to continue working from home, a new normal that presents unique, long-term challenges and opportunities for many organizations.

However, offices will not close down. Instead, businesses will accommodate a hybrid workforce of on-site, remote, and distributed teams. In this environment, every organization needs the right tools to keep people safe and productive. On-site, this means:

  • Controlling visitor access points
  • Screening personnel and visitors upon entrance
  • Logging staff and visitors for contact tracing
  • Displaying digital signage for entry point guidance.

Of course, for remote workers, having the systems in place to facilitate collaboration, communication, and productivity can help ensure that physical distance doesn’t create a disparity between your team and its goals.

On-site workplaces will necessarily look different moving forward. Many companies will need to rethink their office arrangements, ensuring that employees can practice social distancing guidelines while minimizing opportunities for so-called “superspreader” events.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for many hours or even days, so even the most ambitious hand washing regimens may not be enough to stop the virus from spreading. Minimizing contact with high-touch surfaces can reduce this risk, making it safer for employees to navigate the workplace.

Organizations will need to rethink their operations by relying on touchless technologies that can reduce the spread of germs and disease. For instance, wave readers and exit button systems can replace high-touch surfaces like pin pads or biometric sensors. Similarly, auto-operated access control doors in bathrooms and high traffic areas can reduce exposure.

For companies requiring a collaborative space, touchless meeting rooms can facilitate interactions while minimizing surface exposure to the virus through cables, remotes, and controllers.

The rapid transition to remote work and the general unease of the moment has created a perfect environment for bad actors and accidental cyber threats. For example, phishing attacks, malicious messages that trick employees into sharing sensitive information, increased by 350% since the onset of COVID-19. Google estimates that it’s blocking 18 million malware messages each day.

Not all threats originate outside of the company. Stressed out remote employees working in unusual circumstances are especially potent cyber threats, as everything from personal device use to unsecured internet connections puts company data at risk.

Since a cybersecurity incident has never been more expensive and customers are increasingly willing to walk away from businesses that can’t protect their digital environments, securing data, already a top priority for many companies, takes on even greater importance.

Fortunately, data loss isn’t inevitable. There are steps that every company can take to secure its data, including:

  • Providing VPN access to all employees
  • Integrating remote access to security management systems
  • Enabling notifications from security management systems
  • Encrypting and authenticating all data to ensure it’s cyber secure.

These actions can augment your other cybersecurity initiatives to more completely secure your data in this new, more dangerous, digital environment.

A Note for Leaders
Undoubtedly, today’s shifting landscape is substantial, and organizations will need to make significant strategic decisions to meet the moment. It’s also an opportunity to emerge better, healthier, and more relevant than ever before.

Analyzing the challenging reorientation facing today’s companies, McKinsey & Co. reminds leaders, “The moment is not to be lost: those who step up their game will be better off and far more ready to confront the challenges—and opportunities—of the next normal than those who do not.”

Embracing these priorities is a first step toward ensuring that your organization is prepared to navigate the new normal successfully. Of course, you don’t have to tackle these priorities alone. At IST, we have the experiences, insights, and tools to help you meet the moment. Contact us today to learn more.