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Illustration by Security Management

COVID-19 Could Accelerate Drastic Workplace Changes

More than a dozen U.S. states decided to reopen portions of their economy on 1 May, allowing individuals to return to their workplaces on International Workers Day. But a new survey from Gartner finds that not all formerly on-site employees will return to their offices.

In an evaluation of chief financial officers and finance leaders, conducted 30 March 2020, Gartner found that 74 percent plan to keep at least 5 percent of their previously on-site workforce in a remote position after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

“This data is an example of the lasting impact the current coronavirus crisis will have on the way companies do business,” said Alexander Bant, practice vice president, research for Gartner’s finance practice, in a press release. “CFOs, already under pressure to tightly manage costs, clearly sense an opportunity to realize the cost benefits of a remote workforce. In fact, nearly a quarter of respondents said they will move at least 20 percent of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.”

Just 26 percent of CFOs said they would not have any of their previously on-site workforce work remotely after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

“Most CFOs recognize that technology and society has evolved to make remote work more viable for a wider variety of positions than ever before,” Bant said. “Within the finance function itself, 90 percent of CFOs previously reported to us that they expect minimal disruptions to their accounting close processes, with almost all activities able to be executed off-site.”

While moving some employees to permanent remote work may save operational costs, the decision can increase the risk of an insider threat who seeks to take advantage of limited oversight.

“With more employees working from home, client sites, and the road, an amorphous ‘digital fence’ grants insiders greater responsibility but also less direct oversight,” writes Val LeTellier in the May 2020 cover story for Security Management. “Specifically, valuable insights gained from regular face-to-face observation and engagement by managers, colleagues, and clients become limited.”

In his piece, “How to Create an Insider Threat Early Warning system for a Remote Workforce,” LeTellier explains how organizations will need to craft new policies and procedures to identify, assess, and react to anomalous activity outside the typical office environment where supervisors and colleagues would notice unusual behavior.

“Observation is significant because independent behavioral assessment has traditionally been a highly valuable resource for identifying malicious behavior,” he explains. “Essentially, fellow employees and managers have historically played a large role in identifying threats. This early warning resource is considerably degraded when exposure is limited to email, conference calls, and occasional meetings.”

Some positions, however, cannot be done remotely. Many employees at food processing plants and manufacturing facilities must be on site to perform essential job functions—creating unique challenges during a public health crisis.

In research for the ASIS Foundation, Michael Gips took a look at how a manufacturer that creates products for the healthcare industry is addressing this challenge through a variety of staffing changes and security screening procedures.


“Since mid-March, medical staff have been conducting temperature checks at the entrances of most facilities to identify anyone with a fever,” Gips wrote. “Two approaches are used: either everybody who enters a facility gets tested or staff are trusted to take their temperature at home and stay at home if they have a fever. Visitors and contractors receive temperature checks at the door.

“At each facility, social distancing is rigorously implemented, and sanitizer stations are abundant, though plant managers strongly encourage staff to wash with soap and water. Processes are in place to re-integrate staff after they have been quarantined.”

While these job functions must be performed by humans for now, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the adoption of automated solutions supported by artificial intelligence (AI).

In a survey of executives, the MIT Technology Review looked at business critical jobs that could be transitioned to remote work—and to what extent those positions could be supported with AI and automation.

“Directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, between 32 and 50 million U.S. jobs could be increasingly assisted by technology to reduce health risks posed by human interaction and safeguard productivity in a time of crisis,” according to MIT.

The survey also found that some specialist jobs—like nurses and health technologists—could be augmented with AI to make them more resilient to future pandemics.

“Pandemic preparedness will speed up AI deployment and accelerate the pace of AI innovation in high-risk job categories, causing both ‘job-positive’ and ‘job-negative’ effects,” MIT assessed. “The broad deployment of AI in critical roles across health care and the supply chain will ultimately have a positive impact, making essential jobs safer and more effective, and boosting the readiness of economies such as the United States to manage pandemics in the future.”