Maybe allowing remote staff to use company computers to book a haircut or order a massage gun on Amazon may be a good policy after all.

That’s because remote workers likely will be more productive and less frustrated in their jobs if they have more freedom to perform personal tasks on their work devices, a Hysolate survey  found.

Hysolate, a security firm that works to isolate risks on users’ computers, polled 200 IT and security leaders at U.S. and U.K.-based companies.

Almost all (87 percent) of respondents said if remote workers could perform personal tasks on their work devices, productivity would increase. In the same vein, 79 percent said remote-worker frustration would decrease as a result of greater IT freedom.

“IT and security teams also recognize that with greater freedom, employees would feel more positively towards IT policies,” Hysolate said in the report.

Since data from the survey showed that an increase in personal freedom regarding IT policies would greatly benefit the workplace overall, why aren’t some companies loosening up such restrictions?

Third-party threats

One reason is that security and IT leaders still do not view security issues in the same light.  While 43 percent of security leaders believe many remote computer users work around IT restrictions, only 23 percent of IT professionals agree that is the case.

IT freedom for remote employees is not the only concern for IT and security leaders. Access to employees’ information by third parties and contractors remains a concern, the survey found.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents overall (and 100 percent in financial services) identified contractors as “the single greatest threat vector” when it comes to granting remote access to corporate resources, the study said.

To be sure, organizations and their security and IT teams have reason to worry.

Cyberattacks, like phishing and malware, surged from less than 5,000 incidents a week in February 2020, before the pandemic-inspired switch to remote work, to more than 200,000 a week in April 2021, according to the Swiss-based Financial Stability Board.

That has spurred massive spending by companies to combat breaches and manage remote IT, and almost all of respondents in Hysolate’s report said that managing remote IT is a priority budget item for 2021.

Freedom/restriction paradox

Organizations worldwide agree. Global spending on IT is expected to rise 6.2 percent (to $3.92 trillion) in 2021, according to a Gartner study. At the same time, venture-capital investors have dumped $12.2 billion into cybersecurity companies as the remote-work trend becomes the “new normal,” The New York Times reported.

Because “risks are growing in number and sophistication,” 79 percent of respondents in the Hysolate survey said they also want to increase IT restrictions for employees even while allowing more freedoms in certain areas.

“At first glance we were really surprised to see that any given respondent was calling both for more IT freedom for workers and also for more restrictive IT security,” Hysolate CEO Marc Gaffan said in the report.

“But as we dug deeper into the data it became clear that these leaders recognize that employee satisfaction is of utmost importance — employee retention largely depends on it — and that IT plays a critical role in enabling productivity and keeping workers happy,” he added. “And they also understand how crucial IT security is in preventing remote access by external parties, like contractors and others, from becoming a rogue way into the enterprise and also tunnel for data exfiltration. Today’s enterprises need to keep both at the top of the priority list.”

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