Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Reasonable or just possible?

by Michael Vogel

A few days ago, I returned from my first business trip in months. I didn’t travel because I had to, but because I decided that it would be better to be on-site instead of handling the project remotely. And we are handling a lot of projects remotely at the moment. But for this project it was a customer we had never audited before, a site that has not been successfully formally audited so far and the requirements to be applied were rather high.

While I was on my way back from the site, I realized that something was new here. While remote testing had been an option in the past, the choice between on-site and remote auditing for a site visit was not common in the past. At least not in my world. I think my choice this time to go on-site was the right one, although the site was half empty. Many developers were still working from home. If I think back 10 years, wasn't secure software development and working from home perceived as 'unthinkable'? Will this status remain or will it revert back to what it was? And is it on us to decide?   

Our (business) world has changed a lot due to the pandemic and we find ourselves more and more in the position of asking ‘what is reasonable’ instead of ‘what is possible’. For years we were flying across the world for some technical meetings while the technology was readily available to sort things out from the desk right in front of us. Today, remote testing and remote auditing work better than ever before. And to be honest, it wasn’t too hard to get from ‘we always have to perform task xyz at our customers’ site to the point where we are today.

For years, presence in the office was a must and the option to work from home was often the exception to the rule. Today, we know that our employees can work efficiently and effectively from home as well – and not only short term. There might be requirements, rules or regulations that force us to work in the office. But where we have the freedom of choice, we should make good use of it.

There are downsides to this new freedom of choice as well, of course. We need to show more discipline regarding communication as the talks at the coffee maker that augment communication take place less frequently than before. Working remotely usually also means being well organized and prepared, and you might need to invest some of the time you are saving by working from home into that. We see employees getting socially a little too distant and, in some cases, even lonely when they constantly work from home. In some families, tensions are on the rise when all family members are working from home all the time. Not all meetings and all audits can be held remotely. And I would really want to get back to on-site conferences today rather than tomorrow.  So, all in all, home office and remote working is not the cure to everything, but it’s much more a viable option than it has been considered for many years in the past.

The real challenge, though, is to fit a subjective ‘reasonable’ measure into formal company-wide regulations based on measurable criteria as 'reasonable' is difficult to quantify. Working for a rather small company like atsec, where we can rely more on guidelines and case-by-case decisions, is therefore quite a privilege these days. Everyone in the company knows about our business and we are the ones deciding about our own rules (as long as they are not determined by customer or accreditation requirements). We are constantly challenging ourselves to decide if we are still doing the right thing and why we are doing what we are doing - and not simply carrying out activities to satisfy a process description or a company regulation. In other words, our aim is that we are performing tasks because they are adding value to our customers and not because they can be done and can be billed. This is what determines our decision making every day. And whether we will be in the office tomorrow, on a business trip or working from home will be dependent on what is the best choice for our business and our customers. But we need to ensure that we are not gradually going back to where we came from. Because I want to be sure also that the next time I am on a business trip, I am on the road because it is reasonable and not only because it is possible.

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