COVID-19, popularly known as Coronavirus, has been called a potential global pandemic by experts and has been causing serious trouble in the stock market and beyond. While much of the nation is still in shock and wondering when the virus will spread in the US, business leaders are starting to wake to a new reality -- one where employees will be under quarantine or unable to travel. With this looming risk on the horizon, several technology experts weighed in on how organizations can maintain operations in the face of the rising threat of infection. From cybersecurity awareness to remote work, here are a few of the topics that business leaders need to consider as part of their near-term operational planning process.

Preparing for Remote Work

While remote work is becoming more the norm than the exception, there are still only around 40% of companies globally that offer these options. Even if remote work is offered, statistics show that only 3.2% of the US workforce actually works remotely. This is a huge gap and one that likely points to companies that technically offer remote work but may not have mechanisms in place that provide secure and consistent access to remote tools for their staff. With the Coronavirus outbreak, expert Tom Martinez, President of tca SynerTech, shared "We help clients work through a systematic process to define remote work opportunities, including setting up secure access for traditional workers in the event of an outbreak or disaster. Training for remote meetings, enhancing telecommunications options, investing in VPN and moving data securely to the cloud are also solid business decisions that improve long-term operational readiness."

Protecting Your Company from Emerging Threats

As expected, cybercriminals did not wait long before jumping to take advantage of the Coronavirus threat. With all of the media surrounding the outbreak, it was only a matter of time before hackers decided to use the word on everyone's lips as their new phish. Documents with the name 'Coronavirus' or 'COVID-19' are hiding in popular document formats such as MP4, Docx and PDFs while distributing malevolent infections that are targeted to exfiltrate sensitive data, encrypt your files or inject crypto-mining malware. "Protecting your organization against everything from phishing emails to bogus phone solicitations has never been more important, and that includes ensuring that your staff members are fully cognizant of these emerging threats", notes Philipp Baumann, CEO of BoomTech, Inc. Ken Dwight, President of The Virus Doctor(TM), goes further: "Email recipients are likely to open any message that includes headlines or a tease about the Coronavirus, making it an extremely potent way for cybercriminals to find new marks."

Staying Connected with Remote or Quarantined Staff

You've thought through various scenarios in terms of accessing databases and business applications securely, but what about other key avenues of connection? Your telecommunications infrastructure may need review if your staff will be working from home or alternate locations for an unknown period of time. "It's vital that companies review their current company policies, even for staff members travelling out of the country for a period of time as you need to maintain operations even when quarantined", per Ilan Sredni, President of Palindrome Consulting. If your office is mostly traditional -- with staff members coming in, responding to voice mails from customers or checking mail -- you'll need to rethink how these operations will continue in the event of an extended absence from the office. Short-term shutdowns of only a few days can be worked through, but completely shifting your business model takes time and planning. Staying connected often means ensuring that your staff are well-trained on and have access to:

  • Telephones that can be easily accessed remotely

  • Secure and reliable meeting software -- voice and video

  • Laptops or tablets with video capabilities

  • Cloud-based software for productivity

  • VPN for secure remote access to proprietary or on-premise databases and software

"As we help our clients work through offsite operations, it's good to know that widely-available Office 365 provides several platforms that can be leveraged to support remote work such as the secure Teams app for web-based meetings and cloud storage", commented Michael Nelson, owner of TLC Tech in Sacramento, California.

Ensure Adequate Horsepower for Remote Connections

According to Samantha Motz, Owner of Motz Technologies, "Remote connections require both uploads and downloads, so it's important to determine if your internet connection will handle the large load of a remote workforce. Internet speeds can often be upgraded on the fly, but if new hardware is required an onsite visit could place everyone at risk during an outbreak scenario." Ian Brady of Steadfast Solutions agrees: "Access to offices -- particularly those in large buildings -- can be restricted very quickly. Having access to remote handsets and the ability to mobilize anywhere could be the saving grace for companies."

If you take the advice of Adam Fadhli, President of DIscovery IT, you'll go a step further in your disaster planning: "Creating (and enforcing!) a formal stay-at-home policy if employees are sick and creating in-office infection control policies and offering training may help reduce risk of operational disruption in the future." While it's clear that companies will need to do some planning in order to ensure they are prepared in the face of a global crisis such as the potential Coronavirus pandemic, technology solutions and experts are readily available. Joe Cannata, President of TechSperts, LLC notes: "Fortunately, there are two key software platforms -- Office 365 and RingCentral -- that make it easier for users to stay fully connected outside the office. All you need is an internet connection."