Small Talk: balancing workplace productivity and security for small businesses

Small Talk: balancing workplace productivity and security for small businesses

Andrew Zangre by Andrew Zangre on

Go, go, go, go. And then go some more. For countless small businesses, this is your reality. But breakneck productivity is not always the healthiest approach, and it often comes at the cost of security.

You’re focused on building your business. You may be piling on assignments for employees, even outside of their expertise, just to hit your goals and stay competitive. So you may think focusing on improving security is either unnecessary or, worse, hindering production. If that sounds like you, consider this your polite slap on the wrist. 💁

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice workplace productivity in the name of security – even if your “workplace” is fully remote. Believe it or not, when your employees work securely, improved productivity often follows. Striking the right balance now, in the early stages, can create lasting change as you scale and greet new challenges – and successes – in your journey. Stay secure … and productive? 🤯

The tunnel vision of workplace productivity

In recent years, a number of outdated philosophies have been rightfully reexamined, in and outside of work. Among these is the emphasis on productivity over, well, just about anything else. For example, a sensible work-life balance used to seem a rare perk. Now it’s (rightfully) expected.

Our collective tunnel vision on productivity has been straining employees mentally and emotionally. Burnout was officially recognized as an occupational health hazard in 2019 by the World Health Organization. The shift to remote work added a complex new layer to worker mental health struggles, as employees tried to keep on task while their way of life transformed in real time.

Small business owners were also put in an uncomfortable position. Accommodating the shift meant complete restructuring of processes, roles, and even entire business models. Most could not afford the luxury of pausing work to help complete the changes. This meant keeping employees engaged by any means necessary – such as loosening security protocols. Nearly half of SMBs did so during the pandemic, basically inviting attackers to pounce.

Most employees also took shortcuts with security, even when knowing the risks. And around half the workers that do so – for instance, downloading apps not approved by IT – say it’s in the pursuit of productivity.

If it wasn’t apparent before, this underlines the problem in bold marker. Our productivity culture creates blind spots that can harm employees and threaten businesses as a whole, as well as their customers. Security is usually the first thing to go, when it should be the highest priority.

That said, your small business team shouldn’t be expected to form safe habits without a degree of guidance. Leadership should set the right example – for both secure-minded processes and a healthy work-life balance – and it’s far easier to do so in a small business environment.

Where time actually goes

Here comes the irony. If your company’s output is lagging, your employees’ work rate is probably not to blame. Asking them to row faster will not fix the holes in your boat.

For one thing, work is often sidetracked to deal with small technical issues. The more technology we use, the more inevitable complications arise. And for millions of small business employees, basic job functions now involve at least some computer usage, if not a handful of software platforms.

Getting familiar with these technologies is one thing. Troubleshooting is another, and one that’s impossible to fully predict when it comes to productivity planning. The expertise and bandwidth of your IT team – and your employees’ relationship with them – factors into the equation. A recent 1Password survey showed that 30 percent of workers try to solve IT problems themselves, while 22 percent feel it’s too hard to get approval from IT.

Remembering (and, when necessary, resetting) passwords is a constant battle when it comes to time management and general frustration levels. When employees aren’t empowered to handle these tasks, or given the tools to create and store strong passwords, it creates bottlenecks for IT, and encourages reusing old passwords, or creating weak ones. When the majority of business data breaches involve weak or reused credentials – and 60 percent of hacked SMBs close within 6 months after a breach – this is a code-red situation.

IT departments face their own set of struggles with workplace productivity. IT workers spend an average of 21 days per year on basic identity and access management (IAM) for the company. At the same time, they’re often leaned on too heavily for basic support like resetting passwords, especially at SMBs. The more they’re called upon for such tasks, the less time they have for more complex support requests. It’s a vicious cycle that causes delays for everyone, while creating security vulnerabilities across the organization.

When security leads, productivity follows

In a November 2020 interview with TechRepublic, 1Password CXO Matt Davey summed it up nicely:

“As WFH reconfigures our entire infrastructure, pitting security against productivity becomes less helpful,” said Davey. “Instead, we should think about IT becoming more of a trusted business partner. That means letting workers choose their tools and accommodating them – their stated goals of getting more done in the name of the business are what we all want, after all.”

“At the same time, if you’re putting more control into the hands of business users, you should also be teaching them how to do their work securely, so education becomes key.”

At 1Password, we’re big believers in creating a culture of security. The unnecessary tension between security and productivity is a key example of why.

As cyber attacks grow more advanced and prevalent, a security-first mindset should be a core value for small business employees. Fostering safe online habits with your workforce is quite literally the most important security measure you can take – not to mention the most affordable. And empowering your team to work securely from the day they’re onboarded will naturally help them manage their time better. It will also eliminate headaches for IT and free up their own schedules.

Our guide to creating a culture of security lays out some basics for planning and implementing a security-first approach in how your employees do their jobs. A password manager like 1Password can be a huge piece of this paradigm shift. With password management as both your biggest security risk and one of the largest drains on productivity levels, the right tool for the job addresses the issue from both directions.

In other words, the secure way for your employees to work can also be the easiest. So your growing business can find that sweet spot where productivity and security not only coexist, but thrive together.

We love to see it.

Don’t let urgency hurt your employees

Even before remote and hybrid work, our attitude toward productivity was due for a review. Expecting too much of your employees – especially when not offering tools or guidance on the best way of doing things – doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you. As a small business leader, your employees’ needs should be top-of-mind, along with an informed strategy in how you help them do their jobs.

Modeling work habits and values comes from the top down. So how you frame your messaging is huge – while ensuring employees know that productivity levels should never be at the expense of mental health.

A culture of security is a winning model for boosting both security and productivity. Underneath that, a strong team culture as a whole will reverberate through all the rest. Not only is this easier to achieve within a small business, but also more critical.

You’re all in this journey together, and employees should be consistently reminded of this in ways big and small. Make a point to show you’re listening to their needs and you care about their well-being and individual success. A unified team with positive perceptions of leadership will be more engaged. Employees will also be more dedicated to security in the workplace – whether that’s in the office or their living room – and feel greater ownership over their responsibilities, deadlines, and goals.

As your company goes, goes, goes – you’ll need to adapt, adapt, adapt. Tools and processes should be reevaluated somewhat regularly based on what works, what doesn’t, and the new challenges that come with scale. But the right password manager is something that can grow with you. Whatever’s creeping around the corner, you can face it with both a secure and productive approach, without feeling like you or your team need to choose sides.

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Content Marketing Manager

Andrew Zangre - Content Marketing Manager Andrew Zangre - Content Marketing Manager

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