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Staying Positive When Panic is About to Affect Your Team

By Sergey Ozhegov

The need to transfer employees to remote work appeared to be one of the reasons to get stressed – businesses have to make such a transition to avoid losses and try to keep it going for as long as required. Although teleworking has been around for many years, many didn’t even dare to experience it, and our life made us do so. Nevertheless, there are several inspirational points.

Cost-cutting and increasing employee loyalty

Any company has to spend money to organise comfortable office life. The entry level expenses include utility costs (every day), cleaning (three times a week), garbage removal (all year round), and you would need to pay the rent.

Employees, working remotely, save money too: they don’t buy lunches and don’t pay for public transport or petrol. For any resident of a big city, this is a quality-of-life improvement: employees have at least two hours of life daily that they can spend with their families. Unattainable luxury in office life – 30-60 extra minutes of sleep. Under the circumstances, when businesses do not have the opportunity to increase or even pay salaries, this is quite a win-win situation.

The crisis continues to develop, people live in tension and fear of tomorrow. People got used to spend one-third of a day at work and whether they go to work or stay at home this anxiety doesn’t leave them. What risks does this entail for business and how to deal with them?

Old strategies

A crisis is a stress situation in which people act using old strategies. Reactions to events are simplified, instincts of self-preservation get awakened. Three reaction patterns are triggered: “freeze”, run away and hit.

Most people choose to freeze – they just wait for difficult times to pass. These people seem to ignore problems and do not fundamentally change their living habits and workstyle. When taking difficult decisions, they rely on experience and, overall, follow the path of least resistance.

Another part of people prefers to act, they choose to hit or to run away. Those who run away complain about life, panic and begin to look for simpler and faster ways to earn money. Those who choose to hit usually try to solve their problems, make difficult decisions, eliminate difficulties, try to live and work adapting to the crisis, but there are few of them.

Tension might result in the expectation of negative scenarios at work: people are afraid of corporate downsizing, cuts in salaries, layoffs, even if there are no prerequisites for this. And then some just hope for the best and pretend that everything is fine, others – they spread panic in a team and look for ways to play safe, and there are those who try to save or even get bonuses from the current situation.

Action!

How do crisis and stress affect employee performance? There are several negative scenarios:

  • The employees’ performance is reducing. The desire to develop creative, innovative solutions disappears and the desire to be safe, to avoid problems and risks dominates. Familiar behavior strategies are triggered. Some employees can get so “frozen” that even standard work will be performed at minimum speed. The wait-and-see strategy is not in the organisation’s favor, because at that time competitors can use the crisis to breakthrough.
  • Working at home can be perceived by some staffers as a mini vacation. Not all employees understand that working from home and working in the office require the same approach. And the previous productivity may come to naught: the employee will be more often distracted, do personal things, and family may decide that remote work is something like a free schedule. Of course, this behavior is not common to everyone. However, unexpected freedom and relaxation can negatively affect an organisation’s plans.
  • Secondary things become even less significant. And if, for example, an employee used to be careless about information security rules, then in a crisis situation this attitude will only intensify. The logic is simple, this does not apply to my job responsibilities, which means that these are other people’s problems. This is not an intentional sabotage, but certainly is an additional risk for a company. Indeed, during the crisis, the number of cyber threats is growing, especially with the use of social engineering: fraudsters spread malicious links through fake newsletters, use false addresses of official organisations, and draw out personal and payment data.
  • Panic is growing and spreading fast. Most often, several people in any team are very sensitive to negative information and give in easily to anxious mood and pass it on to others. It is difficult to say in advance, in which department an employee can bring panic to the table. But if, for example, it’s a sales department, then in a difficult financial situation it can even knock the company down, scaring managers with bad forecast, “No one will buy anything else … They will soon begin to cut everything … Customers will go to competitors, because it’s cheaper, etc.”
  • Employees are looking for a plan B even if it is harmful for an organisation. When a person is threatened to become unemployed due to a crisis, even if there are no real reasons, an employee can build a safety net. In addition, some employees can use criminal methods: sell a customer base to competitors, leak trade secrets leakage or sell personal data on the dark web. If employees used to do something like that, then in a crisis they might become even more zealous.

How to reduce risks?

As in the case of the pandemic, it is unlikely to be completely secure, but it is quite possible to reduce risks. Here are some suggestions:

  • Become a source of information. In order not to provoke rumors and reduce the influence of negative colleagues, speak with your employees in a simple manner and more often – through newsletters, via Skype, at offline meetings. Tell your team in plain language what exactly the management is going to do, how it will affect the staff and what they should definitely not be afraid of. This will not only reduce panic and remove frightening suspense, but also increase employee loyalty.
  • Use special mailbox for questions. It is not always possible to predict what is bothering people at a particular moment. Therefore, having one email address for collecting questions and suggestions is a good way to receive a feedback. To sort incoming emails, you can assign a temporary executor. This employee will select a relevant request, delete the duplicate and transfer the information further for processing. Based on employee requests, you can create a newsletter with answers and an up-to-date agenda for meetings. It will also help reduce stress among employees and take control of the situation.
  • Prepare checklists and instructions. For example, if you think that employees will forget about information security rules during a crisis, then do not wait until one of them opens a phishing email. Prepare a checklist in which you recall all the basic information security rules. Show how non-compliance can end up, a couple of real-life examples that describe the consequences will help staff regain awareness. Instructions for employees who are switching to remote work will also help them adapt faster in new conditions.
  • Implement basic tools for data protection and employee monitoring, especially if you transfer staff to remote work. This will solve several problems at once: it will ensure staff discipline and productivity, reduce the risk of information leaks and fraud attempts, and increase protection against accidental data leaks and external attacks.
    Among the basic actions when switching to remote work: setting up a corporate VPN, configure VPN clients on employees’ devices, ensure critical devices protection, or use cloud PBX, etc. A system administrator can solve such problems in a short period of time. However, this employee will not understand the issues of information security and employee monitoring.
    Moreover, if nobody used to be responsible for information security and risk mitigation tasks in your organisation before the crisis, then it’s high time your team started to. Although this will require investment of time, effort and money, the damage caused by sensitive data leaks or theft is still higher. 9 out of 10 companies faced similar incidents last year. In the crisis, these unpleasant numbers will only grow.

People by nature are always trying to make life easier, if there is no control an employee will surf on the Internet instead of work or perform tasks slowly, because there are no colleagues and no bosses. In case you are worried about employee discipline, there is a piece of practical advice you might want to follow when letting your team work from home:

  • Configure a connection with internal services via a VPN channel protected by two-factor authentication.
  • Check the availability of services, the bandwidth of the Internet channels and backup communication channels.
  • Install a service health monitoring system. The program is needed to promptly alert the specialists responsible for risk management to service disruptions.
  • If your employees go home with a corporate PC, ban them from accessing a corporate laptop’s BIOS to prevent loading of the operating system from a USB flash drive; enable disk encryption; ensure they have all the data transferred via the Internet using port forwarding on a proxy server
  • If employees work on a personal PC, connect to a terminal server or VDI with the installed software which transfers data to the server of the solution you chose to protect your system; make sure they have their software and OS updated.

It is not the first crisis in our history. And although each of them has its own obstacles, something remains unchanged – human stereotypes and reaction patterns. A head of a company can foresee these reactions and prepare for the panic storm.

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Sergey Ozhegov

Sergey Ozhegov is a Chief Executive Officer at SearchInform, information security and risk management solution developer.
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