Sustaining secure remote work beyond COVID-19

In a recent McKinsey & Co. article, the global management consulting firm says a study it conducted found that the financial services industry has the highest potential for work to be performed remotely of any other industry.

A PwC survey focused on remote work undertaken during the height of the pandemic in the U.S., picks up where McKinsey left off. Whereas McKinsey measured the potential for remote work, the PwC survey looked at what actually happened in financial services during the pandemic and what the likely lasting repercussions will be.

PwC found that, prior to the pandemic, flexible work arrangements and remote work were far from the norm for most financial institutions. Thirty-nine percent of financial services employees said that they had never worked from home prior to March 2020, and only 16 percent said they worked from home even as little as once a month.

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But COVID-19 changed attitudes toward remote work. More than 70 percent of financial services employers said they found the widescale work-from-home experience in response to the pandemic to be “successful” or “very successful,” and more than two-thirds of financial services companies expect at least 60 percent of their workforce to telecommute at least once a week. PwC also found that 61 percent of financial services CFOs plan to make remote work permanent for roles that allow it.

Financial services employees are also onboard with this paradigm shift. A vast majority of workers – 86 percent – reported being in favor of the idea of working from home at least one day a week, and more than a third want remote work as a full-time option. COVID-19 forced a worldwide proof of concept that business can flourish in remote, distributed settings.

Supporting secure work from anywhere

Estimates from before the pandemic pegged the endpoint as being responsible for upwards of 70 percent of all security breaches. When we consider how the past year further obfuscated the dividing line between work life and personal life, the need for stronger endpoint security becomes even more acute. With employees working from home full time, endpoints became multipurpose tools, enabling workers to do their jobs from anywhere, often via risky remote collaboration and communication solutions.

With workers also accessing sensitive corporate data, usually from the same laptop, enabling secure work from home is a challenge for financial services companies. Mixed usage of corporate and productivity tasks, as well as personal ones, adds a whole different layer of IT complexity. But this is the new reality, and companies in financial services and all industries need better and more flexible solutions to assure secure remote work.

One possible path to successful digital transformation for financial services companies may be adoption of “isolated workspaces” – fully segregated environments complete with their own operating systems that effectively split an endpoint into two completely separate workspaces. Using isolation technology, financial services firms can enable their workers without having to provision each employee with multiple laptops.

Within an isolated workspace, financial services employees can instantly establish a virtual operating system that preserves a secure environment for tasks involving sensitive corporate or customer data, while relegating higher-risk activities (including downloading email attachments, web browsing, accessing third-party content, and more) to the host operating system where any malware or other malicious code can be sequestered.

For chief information security officers, isolated workspaces can provide the means to achieve the potential for long-term remote or distributed work as suggested by the McKinsey study, without incurring more risk to the enterprise assets.

To be certain, the digital transformation that financial institutions are undergoing involves more than just employee enablement. However, transforming the workforce to embrace the advantages of remote workspaces for employees is a major underpinning. Whereas compliance issues have been a long-cited reason for cautious progress in the pursuit of transformative technologies, the pandemic showed us that those who can’t adapt quickly stand to lose.

Marc Gaffan is CEO at Hysolate.