This year’s celebration of the Safer Internet Day comes at a time when people are exercising social distancing measures to help contain the pandemic. At the same time, families were obliged to change their daily routines – fathers and mothers switched to remote working schemes, while their offspring participate to online classrooms. The theme of the day, “Together for a better internet”, couldn’t be more appropriate.
With all of us being more exposed to online threats and risks, including phishing attacks, ransomware, and misinformation, being able to take action to protect our personal data and stand for a more responsible and polite online behavior will make a difference.
In recognition of the efforts that Thales personnel and their families made to cope with this challenging environment, we decided to ask Hazem Adel how he and his family survived the work from home, educate from home situation, and what practices he could share with other families.
Hazem is based in Austin, Texas and has two children. He is the director of engineering & cloud operations for Thales’s Identity and Access Management business. He joined Gemalto (acquired by Thales) in 2008, and is currently leading a distributed team of more than 100 engineers across five countries developing and operating identity and access management solutions and serving more than 4,000 customers.
Let’s hear from Hazem.
One of the biggest challenges to overcome during lockdowns was the feeling of being isolated. How are you fighting this feeling?
I was very conscious about the potential impact on our psychological and mental wellbeing from day one. I tried to communicate with friends and relatives via the available mediums. However, I did not totally isolate. We included a circle of neighbors and friends that we maintained interaction with. We also seized the opportunity to go out camping during the summer which allowed us to also meet groups of likeminded folks in a safe setup.
During lockdowns, parents had to cope with both work from home and family requirements, including distance learning. What has been the biggest challenge during this time?
A big challenge was making sure the kids are well setup to receive the best possible education considering the situation. So, between making sure they are connected, and not getting kicked out from a Zoom session while attending to my work responsibilities was a challenging task. It was stressful to make sure they are not missing anything, and we haven’t misunderstood which tool to use to make sure their attendance is taken and their assignments are submitted in a timely manner.
Lockdowns have essentially transformed homes into small networks with many devices connected to the internet at the same time to support various online activities. How did you deal with this challenge?
I had to upgrade my connection and add a repeater at hope to extend the coverage. It didn’t help a lot because I could feel the impact on performance during peak time when all kids in the neighborhood are at home attending their demanding video classes. We eventually moved to another home and had access to fiber which changed things drastically for the better.
According to a recent article in Axios, kids' screen time has increased 50% during the pandemic. Did you experience this in your family and did you have concerns? How did you deal with it?
We have always been stricter than average with screen time. We have our time limits configured on the kids’ gadgets that we hardly negotiate. We also made sure that there is time spent outside every day or a workout indoors if Texas heat didn’t allow outside time. Our camping trips were gadget free and allowed for weekend’s free of any screen time. We spent more time on baking and arts projects than we typically would. All that helped keep the kids away from the screens.
What do you think have been the biggest risks for kids during quarantine?
Isolation and fear can have long-term scars on their psychology and mental wellbeing.
Do you believe that remote work is threatening the life-work balance? Are the boundaries between family life and professional now blurred into one?
Boundaries are blurred unless one has some rules and follows them. Rules allow one to accommodate business hours as well as personal errands and that flexibility is a positive thing. So, I don’t think it’s all bad if one can have self-control. The actual risk in my opinion is corporates invading on the personal space on the premise that working from home is a privilege. It can be a win-win situation if both parties respect the boundaries.
Are there any new tips or best practices that have emerged as a result of quarantine? Are they here to stay?
Mastering remote work and realizing the benefits from reduced commute and travel are definitely big wins. There will be some resistance from traditionalists but eventually, this new format will emerge as the winner.
What tried and true best practices became even more important during the pandemic?
Virtual meetings have been taken to new levels. Adoptions of newer tools was sped up too and we’ll all reap the benefit going forward.
How do you feel the meaning of Internet Safety Day has changed this year?
The meaning of the day has become more important given the level of exposure we all have to online risks and bad behaviors. We should all be more responsible. Parents should be the role models for their kids and teach them how to behave online.
What parting advice would you give to all parents out there?
Be aware of what the isolation and fear could cause and try to approach this in a balanced way. Make sure you have joint activities that you all like and gather around. Find the positive spin to the situation. We wouldn’t have spent so much time with our families if it wasn’t for the lockdowns. That’s one thing worthy of being grateful for.
A better internet is a multi-stakeholder effort. Thales proudly supports efforts for a safer, better, brighter internet. Happy #SaferInternetDay!
In the meantime, be sure to listen to our Security Sessions podcasts that explore the technologies, people, and processes behind information security.