Security and Sanity: A Guide to Remote working from Home

A man working on his laptop at home

The coronavirus crisis means many of us are choosing, or being forced, to work from home at the moment.

Some people will be well used to remote working, but not every company and every boss has been so open to the concept.

In the long-run, it could be that broadening awareness of the benefits of remote working and the ease by which it can be done, is one of the great benefits of the epidemic. But it is still a shock to the system for many of us at the moment.

Right now, the prospect of writing reports in your pyjamas and browsing your emails while tucked up on the sofa watching Homes under the Hammer is still a novelty. But speaking as remote workers ourselves, we can assure you this will quickly wear off.

There are also some very important things that you have to get right if you are going to make remote working from home a success. The two priorities in our experience are security and sanity.

In this guide, we will address both in turn.

Staying secure while working from home

When you are working in an office, all of your online security concerns are dealt with by whoever manages your company’s IT. All you have to worry about is switching on your computer and logging in.

But this can often be different with remote working.

While some larger companies may have the ability to provide external connections to their corporate network, many others will not.

As a result, online security is the responsibility of you. And one false move could have implications not just for yourself, but the whole company.

But don’t panic. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure you are always safe and secure online:

Use secure personal Wi-Fi

If you are using your home Wi-Fi network to get online, this is the time to make sure it is as secure as possible.

Check that your router is up to date with the latest software and check your network password. Ensure that you change it from the default password on your router to something secure.

It's also worth changing your router name and hiding it from public view.

Use strong passwords on all accounts

Now is also a good time to review your account passwords more generally.

It’s easy to get complacent about passwords but just one weak password can compromise your entire online world.

LastPass discovered that 80% of hacking-related breaches are still tied to passwords (Source).

Check to make sure all your passwords are robust and difficult to crack. Better still, sign up for a password manager to help you do this, keep your passwords secure, and access them easily.

Use an encrypted online chat service

When remote working, it is vital to stay in touch with colleagues and clients throughout the day. But you will need to do this securely to stop hackers and other prying eyes being able to intercept or listen in to your conversations.

To do this, you should always use an encrypted messenger service.

WhatsApp is the best known of these, but there are still some question-marks over how secure they can be. Other options that offer even stronger encryption are services like Signal or Telegram.

Store data securely

If you are working on official or sensitive content, you want to ensure that everything you are doing is stored securely.

That doesn’t mean saving it on your desktop or in a My Documents folder as your device can easily be compromised and if it goes wrong, everything you are working on could be lost.

Instead, it is advisable to use an encrypted cloud storage service to ensure everything is safe and secure.

McAfee said 16.2% of files uploaded to cloud storage services contain sensitive or personal data (Source).

There are plenty of options out there for this and your company might want to invest in a solution for all staff to use. We quite like Tresolit, but Mega (The Privacy Company) and pCloud are good too.

Beware phishing emails

Human error is the most common cause of cyber-attacks and, believe it or not, phishing emails are one of the most successful tactics hackers use.

Phishing emails are something most people think they know all about. But it only takes one moment of distraction or a momentary lapse of judgement and the damage can be done.

It is worth taking a few minutes to reacquaint yourself with the best practice around phishing emails to try and stop yourself falling victim to them. Our comprehensive guide is a great place to start.

Use a VPN

Perhaps the most important security tip we have for any home worker is to use a VPN at all times when connected to the internet.

If you work for a big company, you might have no choice but to use their corporate email, but even freelancers need the protection a VPN can offer.

A VPN will encrypt everything you do online to keep it safe from hackers, government spies, and even malicious competitors. VPNs also protect your privacy online too and they can help you to access geo-restricted or censored content as well.

It is highly advisable to avoid the many free VPNs that are on the market as they can pose a significant security risk. Premium VPNs only cost a few quid a month but they offer security and certainty and mean you can work with confidence from home or wherever you are.

If you work for a large organisation they may have a corporate VPN solution which will likely need to be used to access company documents and would supersede any consumer recommendations we make below.

Our current top recommended VPN is ExpressVPN.

They offer industry-leading encryption, fast connection speeds, a wide-ranging server network, and more.

If you want to shop around, other VPNs worth considering include CyberGhost VPN and NordVPN.

Staying sane while working from home

All of this will enable you to continue working safely and securely from home during the coronavirus crisis, but that is just one of the challenges you will have to overcome.

The other will be keeping yourself sane and focused.

If you are used to working in an office, you will also be used to the peer pressure and managerial oversight that can drive you to be productive and focused during office hours.

Working from home removes those pressures and can also place a great many temptations in front of you too.

If the allure of daytime TV, your Nintendo Switch console, or just procrastinating on social media becomes too great, your productivity and the quality of your work can suffer.

But don’t give up.

Even in the office, you will have some days when you are less productive than others and there are a few good tips and habits you can apply to make yourself every bit as productive at home as in the office:

Have a clearly defined workspace

Delineating a clear workspace is crucial.

It is vital to have a clear perception of where you work and where you rest and play. If you have a spare room, it is an ideal time to install a desk and chair. You are unlikely to have guests staying much in the next couple of months.

If not, try to claim a small space as your work area.

Make sure this area has minimal distractions and enough room to do what you need. You should also communicate clearly with your family and others in the house that this is where you work and when you are there, they must be considerate.

Routine

Procrastination is the greatest enemy of the home worker and getting into a routine is the best way to beat it.

When you go into the office you have a defined start time and finish time. Arrange one with yourself at home too and communicate this clearly to others in the house. Knowing when you start and finish will help to focus the mind and maximise productivity.

Breaks

Allow yourself breaks as you would in the office. Don’t feel you have to work every second of your allocated work time.

Go and make a coffee, stand in the garden or on your balcony, or chat with your partner for ten minutes as you would at work.

Even the most productive workers need time to clear their heads.

Don’t work around the clock

One of the dangers of home working is that you end up extending your hours to meet that deadline or checking your emails at all hours.

Don’t fall into that trap.

We have to put in the odd late shift now and then but don’t let it become a habit. When the end of your allocated working period comes, be sure to close down your laptop, leave your designated work area, and get on with your everyday life and tasks.

SmallBizGenius said 40% of people feel the greatest benefit of remote work is the flexible schedule (Source), so take advantage of this.

Conclusion

Security and sanity are the two biggest challenges facing the home working and with the coronavirus driving many of us out of our offices and into our spare rooms for the coming weeks and months, they are something we all have to get a handle on.

In this guide, we have laid out our top tips to deal with both challenges.

Handling online security is simple with some encrypted technology like VPNs, password managers, and cloud storage providers as well as some sensible precautions like changing Wi-Fi passwords and being cautious about phishing emails.

Sanity can be more of a challenge but with some careful steps like having a defined workspace, sticking to office hours, and not succumbing to the temptation to work around the clock, it is possible to make it work and remain productive.

The coronavirus looks set to have a devastating impact on the UK and across the world in the coming months.

But one positive could be promoting the benefits of home-working to more business and staff. In the long run, both could benefit from this enforced transition.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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