Podcast Transcription

Business impacts of the Coronavirus

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Welcome to the Veriato Insider, a biweekly podcast covering some of the recent trends and things to know in cybersecurity. I'm reporting to you from Chicago today. I'm Dr. Christine Izuakor, you're host. And today's podcast is covering some of the trends and concerns we are seeing across the industry as the world navigates the ongoing pandemic known as coronavirus or COVID-19. Now, these are unprecedented times we are living in and I first want to start by saying this is a very serious topic, of course, we don't take it lightly and safety is a number one priority always. Uh, we're sending positive vibes and thoughts to all who have been impacted by the pandemic in any way and hope that this episode can help shed some light on a few things companies should be thinking about as we navigate this new and uncharted territory.

Now, as you know this podcast is sponsored by Veriato, an award-winning Employee Monitoring, and Insider Threat Detection software provider. And to talk more about this topic we have a remarkable guest here today, none other than Larry Thompson, the CEO of Veriato. Um, in addition to leading within Veriato for over a decade, Larry has a wealth of experience across business, management, technology, that spans both the public and private sector. So basically if you have a question, he has all the insight that you need. Welcome Larry, and thanks for joining us.

Larry Thompson:
Thank you Christine, you made me blush with that, uh, intro. Thank you.

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Then my work here is done. Uh, yeah, it's, it's, it's my pleasure. Now, I know we have quite a bit of ground to cover on this special edition so we're gonna jump right in. Um, I can't think of one person or business that hasn't been impacted by the coronavirus in one way or another. And so can you start by telling us how has Veriato been impacted during this ongoing pandemic?

Larry Thompson:
Sure. For us, aside from the normal concern and anxiety that I believe everyone is, is feeling, uh, we actually remain symptom-free as a company. We're at full staff right now. We, we were actually preparing for this potential for a 100%, uh, work from home edict for some time now. So we really have been impacted in the largest way has been, uh, just from the flood of inquiries, uh, from both our customers and from prospective businesses out there. You know, we are thankful that we are symptom-free and that the families of our employees are okay and that we are at full resource right now, uh, to be able to handle these questions because there is a, a tremendous amount of, uh, uncertainty, concern, and anxiety, in the marketplace right now.

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Yeah, I agree. And I've definitely seen that as well. I think, and you alluded to this a little bit. But one of the biggest impacts that many corporations are facing right now is with asking their employees to work from home to help stop the spread. And, you know, just a year ago before all of this started I was reading, uh, through a few reports. One from Global Workplace Analytics and another from Owl Labs disclosed that there were about 4.3 million remote workers in the U.S., which is about 3% of the workforce. And also that 44% of companies did not allow remote work at all at the time.

And so, this is a completely different world that we're living in today, right? While it's a good call to have employees who can work from home during this pandemic it also adds, you know, new risks, uh, that some companies aren't traditionally accustomed to, right? And so can you share your thoughts on major risks that you're seeing whether it's on the remote work front or any other challenges with this pandemic?

Larry Thompson:
Sure, there's plenty. As you alluded to, right now there's just the health concerns and, you know, we certainly wish all our customers and their families and everyone that number one, that they're taking care of that, the safety and trying to prevent the spread. But aside from that, you've got folks whom we hear on the phones every day that have never had remote workers. And so, they've got all these questions popping into their mind. Those who have remote workers, as you alluded to, it's a small percentage of their workforce that's actually at home. And so, what we're seeing now is this push for scale and, and they're not ready for it. If we do get to a situation where, you know, the administration or the CDC makes a recommendation we've, we've already started with curfews and close-downs and you know, non-retail establishments and small gathering type pressures, and recommendations, if it comes down to a, "Okay, tell everyone to work from home," there are security concerns.

In a remote world, should employees use company-owned assets versus BYOD?

There's, you know, permissions and access issues that companies have to deal with. Whether or not they have adequate VPN coverage to have all those people at home. What hardware are the employees using, or should they use company-owned assets versus a BYOD kind of concept, except it's taking it to the home. Customers and people that we've been talking to I've heard, you know, both sides of it. There, people are actually turning their desktops into laptops. I've got customers that are telling their people to carry home their desktops because they've been forced to move their employees home.

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Oh, wow.

Larry Thompson:
It was the only way to solve the problem of, "Did I have all the things on that device. Because it's, it's the sense of urgency and the time window that there's a concern. People don't know, right? We just don't know yet. We don't have the answers as to when, when could this happen. And so fighting with having all these things to do at scale, as we talked about security, bandwidth, access, you know, various protocols. Having the machines and hardware, all of this in a small window as well, is putting extra pressure on IT departments, on business owners to make these decisions and they're concerned, they're anxious.

And we understand, you know, so we've been trying to give them just guidance and help where we can. Obviously, I can't' fix some problems but we can at least tell them and share with what we're hearing from the rest of our customers and the people that we talk too.

Leveraging AI to help provide visibility

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Yeah, that makes sense. You know this idea that remote work is so foreign to some companies, especially when you talk about scale and, you know, a small portion of your workforce versus potentially having the entire team. Um, beyond general technology and security concerns, people have also voiced concerns around employee engagement and employee productivity. Um, I know that one of your core offerings and strengths as a business is around employee monitoring and, you know, leveraging AI to help provide visibility into things like employee productivity. So this is a perfect area to get your insight on what advice do you have for companies concerned with employee productivity?

Larry Thompson:
Well, when it comes down to productivity, the simplest answer would be to recommend a solution like ours. There are numerous ways to look at this. But that's really the simplest way is if you've got an endpoint solution where you're monitoring all your employees, you get the most visibility into what they're using, what they're doing, how they're doing it. It gives you the visibility to compare employees in groups to one another. It also would help in this particular situation because the scale issue is really the one that I think most people are struggling with who have had some remote workforce previously, this will let you know that you've got people who might be struggling with the technology end of it, right? It's not a productivity issue, it's productivity because they are having bandwidth issues. They don't have, you know, connectivity issues from their home, right? That didn't get tested when we did our business and continuity test program was to make sure that every employee had the highest level plan from Xfinity. (laughing) That one escaped the mix.

So, you know, having a complete employee monitoring and User Behavior Analytics tool, that gives you the understanding to help guide your employees when they're away from the office so to speak is another thing. It, you know, to some degree, that would be a challenge for a lot of companies to do that now because we're in this kind of compressed window. That's great if you're looking forward to the future and you want add it to your business continuity so that you have an understanding of how can I best interact with my employees when they're not in the office. This gives me guidance. So, short of that, where are we today? What are we talking about and recommending to people is that they've got already in place the ability, to monitor their communication levels, both email and phone? So that's another way or different tool that they could use in, this situation.

We're telling them to invoke calendar sharing so that you have access to other people's outlook, at least. It doesn't have to be at the full detail level but I can see what's blocked off and what people have blocked off and I can get a general sense that my guys have things going on or that they're busy. Scheduling daily updates and daily meetings, for your various functional groups or teams just keeps people engaged. Uh, it lets them know that we're all in this together and that I can see that other people are working too. And it, there's a little bit of a guilt factor there. But, you know, it works to the benefit of the organization.

The other's just over-communicate. We believe that we want to be completely transparent here at Veriato. I, I know a lot, of companies that we talk to are very similar in our, our mindset is that just over-communicate. Let the people know what's going on. Anxiety and fear are the number one things going on right now in this particular situation. So, the more that's communicated to the employees, I believe, is being transparent and giving them a greater sense of understanding and it diminishes that level of anxiety. And once the anxiety levels and concern for what's the future holds, if you can diminish that, then people will get back to work naturally and get back focused, right? It's just all this distraction in the news and, and what's going on and newly reported cases that gets those anxiety levels up.

So, over-communicating I think is very, very important. I'm sure most people who are used to having remote employees do make use of Skype or Zoom or other video conferencing tools. But if you're in that group you said, uh, earlier you alluded to that 45 or 46% as being never having had remote employees. Well, okay, they don't even know these tools exist. So, you know, we've been recommending that to folks. Make sure, um, you know, you get everyone to sign up and get Skype or Skype for business or Zoom or, you know, whatever collaboration type tool that you can use to do video and voiceover, that helps too. It makes you feel like you're there.

We have, uh, an interesting little side note. Our development team is dispersed, naturally. And what the folks who are not in the office do, they leave Skype open all day. And we have a monitor for each employee in our development room. So all the people that are in the room and all the people that are not in the room actually believe that you know, they're all together. It makes, it gives that feel. The idle conversations, the interaction between people who are in the office can be heard by those who are not in the office. And they may have something to contribute or they may have a question about it and so it, it just closes the gap and makes it feel like they're all together.

You know, encouraging employees for those who are, who've never had employees at home. We, we also have been guiding them that you need to teach your employees. They've never done this before. They don't understand what you've experienced or what I've experienced when you've been on the phone call and someone's got a dog barking in the background (laughing) or there's a baby crying, you know, that it helps them be more productive if they can find, and it's not always easy. I understand that. It, it's, but if they can try and find that area that's their sort of safe zone office area, trying to be free from distractions and TV and, and the noises in the background, um, that's gonna help as well. Uh, so that's just kinda my off the top of my head the things that, uh, we've been talking to people about for the last couple of weeks that people have been, you know, sharing with us their challenges and we think that there ways to make and help people with productivity.

The last one I would say is just kind of the human side of it, really. You don't need a software package to just be interacting at the behavioral level and understanding what people are going through and let 'em explain and share why they're anxious. They, they may have exposure to the infection. They may be being tested. They could have family members that are infected. You know, we don't know those things. And that's a common theme without, take this pandemic off the table, that's just a common theme that in the history of our space when you're looking at employee monitoring and behavior analytics, it really hasn't been touched on that well by the entities that are in the space.

And we've made a big push recently to really dive deeper into the behavioral science side. Everyone's worried about the data science side because we collect so much information about what's going on and, and the activities. But what we really need is, is a little more focus on, on the employee side, right? That behavioral touch. How are they doing? Where's, where's their mindset at? What, what are they thinking? What stressors are being applied to them in their life outside of the office that I might not know about if I didn't take the time to be overt and, and ask? And, you know, you could do that through maybe like a planned break time where you schedule the call not to have a meeting about a particular business need but to just see how people are doing on your team.

Out of sight, still in mind

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Yeah, absolutely. I love your developer team set-up with the video screens that make people feel like they're, you know, even if not in the same room still very close. I think that's a very creative idea that hopefully, people take note of. Also super important points on, you know, just taking into account not only the technical consideration. Sure, there's a lot that we can do with technology, especially from, uh, an employee productivity standpoint but that human element and communication, uh, and just keeping people engaged, you know, not necessarily out of sight, out of mind. Um, more out of sight, still in mind. So yeah, really, really good points there.

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
We could probably spend another hour talking about this topic but our time is coming to an end here. As we wrap up, any final thoughts you want to share with our listeners?

We're all in this together

Larry Thompson:
Yeah, just follow the administration's lead. We're all in this together. We're trying to stop the spread and get back to business as usual. You know, there's the concerns out there, the levels that we've seen have really been quite shocking to us, as a company. In the last two weeks, I haven't seen levels like this, in a long time. So, we understand that it has to be driven by this and that we hope that if people have questions if they have concerns if they're wondering what other companies are doing during this time, you know, we certainly would invite them to call. We happen to be a funnel in that sense that we do talk to hundreds and hundreds of companies every day and understand what's going on with them. And so if we can share some best practices or just some small ideas or tips with folks that, you know, that's great. Well, we'll help everyone get through this together 'cause it is an, very uncertain time. Uh, both in the financial markets and, and in the health side.

And I think that's what's really driving so much concern and anxiety. But people are picking up the phone and they're talking with us so they're taking action which is, which is the best thing. People aren't being paralyzed by this fear, so, hopefully, that we can all work together to do that.

Dr. Christine Izuakor:
Well said. Um, well thanks so much for sharing all of that valuable insight. That concludes the Veriato Insider podcast for this week. Again, this podcast has been brought to you by Veriato, an award-winning cybersecurity company recently recognized by Gartner. Their solutions are anchored around four core pillars of cybersecurity protection including employee monitoring and web filtering, insider threat detection, employee investigations, and ransomware support. Each of these can help address some of the concerns around employee productivity and remote work we've discussed today as well as other risks. So, to learn more about how Veriato can protect your company, check out Veriato.com. Thanks for tuning in and a special thanks to Larry for not only joining us today but for sponsoring this series. I'm Dr. Christine Izuakor, the CEO of Cyber Pop-up and it's been my pleasure to share these insights with you. Until next time, wash your hands (laughing) and stay safe and secure, insiders. (silence)

Listen To Podcast