For business leaders, change is a constant inevitability that requires companies to pivot and adapt rapidly. The amount of change COVID-19 has prompted, however, is far beyond typical business norms.

The stakes involved are high — 60% of the businesses that have closed due to the pandemic won’t reopen. Across virtually all industries, business managers and executives must have a much deeper sense of how the work landscape is shifting in response to the virus to move forward effectively. Here’s what to keep in mind:

Acceleration of remote work and digital transformation

Most companies were already trying to make their workforce more flexible prior to the pandemic, experimenting with employees working in mobile and remote environments in addition to the traditional office. They also understood that they needed to engage digital transformation plans — not only to accommodate the new distributed work environments but also to eliminate expensive inefficiencies and establish new ways of operating that are more conducive to collaborative innovation.

Business leaders now have had to put these plans into hyperdrive. Seemingly overnight, managing a business was no longer a matter of gradually pivoting according to the market and operating budgets. It was a matter of employees being unable to perform their jobs unless leaders quickly reorganized and enabled their entire workforce outside of the traditional office.

Nowadays almost twice as many people work from home than in a corporate setting, and about 42% of working Americans work from home full-time. Companies will need to ensure that employees have fair, adequate internet access, and make it easier to gain the skills necessary to perform higher-paying jobs remotely.

Cybersecurity concerns

Prior to COVID-19, many companies looked at cybersecurity in terms of infrastructure and technology. The security perimeter was the network, and security teams built higher and higher walls after every data breach.

Today, with so many employees working from home using apps and internet connectivity the IT team did not provide, companies can’t continue to operate reactively. They are forced to look at cybersecurity more holistically and with many more variables that help establish the context of intent (e.g., different cloud apps and services, network connections and personal devices).

The key to this is understanding the behavior of users interacting with data and applications as a means to identify in real-time the level of risk behavior represents and proactively mitigate potential data loss/manipulation. The focus must shift away from simply prevention to keep attackers out. To a security posture that understands attackers are coming in the door and proactive, real-time detection and mitigation is the modern security path forward. Think of this as moving security “left of loss” — before the data breach and exfiltration of your critical data.

Restructure operations

All of this is likely to change the interactions and partnerships involved in cybersecurity, as well. In an interview for Forcepoint’s Government on the Edge Cybersummit, Admiral Michael S. Rogers, former director of the National Security Agency and former commander for U.S. Cyber Command, asserted that there’s little reason for companies to hide how or why they are monitoring employees in the new work-from-home reality.

He recommends that businesses have more direct and open conversations about what they are doing and that leaders ask workers what they think about the company’s cybersecurity efforts. He also asserts that government and businesses can work together to fight new cybersecurity threats, as both private and public entities have advantages to share with each other to build even stronger protection ahead.

Admittedly, not all jobs can be done remotely, and not everyone enjoys being away from the office or sees it as being sustainable for the long-haul. Yet many employers say the current work-from-home reality hasn’t hurt productivity and is real evidence that remote work can be successful. Leaders who once were reluctant to permit employees to complete tasks at home are now easing this micromanagement in favor of flexibility. They are taking a serious look at previous “essential” processes to see what can be cut, reevaluating their mission and goals, and even rethinking the number of employees and offices they keep.

The workplace is also changing in terms of what businesses prioritize as a whole. According to Rogers, this creates an opportunity for companies to forge new partnerships, identify what is not working, reinvest in new and different areas, or reinvent themselves for new audiences and platforms.

Pandemic-inspired changes to the workplace are here to stay. This is the “new normal” all business leaders must now embrace.

Matt Moynahan is CEO of security software and data protection company Forcepoint.

More: 2020 was a bad year for ransomware. 2021 will be worse

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