How remote workers could be putting your business at risk

The number of UK remote workers has increased by more than 800,000 overthe last decade, taking the total to more than four million. 13.7% of the workforce now regularly workfrom home. IT advances are helping to drive this trend, with reliableconnectivity, remote access and smart collaboration tools making remote workinga practical possibility across many industry sectors.

Organisations that enable remote working must avoid drifting into an‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. From reduced fixed costs for employers,through to greater flexibility for employees, there are advantages to be gainedfrom this way of operating. But with it comes specific business risks, both inrelation to the technology that drives remote working and wider concernsrelating to employee supervision and accountability.

When managing remote working, avoid putting your business at risk bypaying attention to the following areas…

Data security: are your systems, devices and staff geared up for remoteworking?

From firewalls and encryption through to ensuring updates are installedin a timely fashion, your on-site IT infrastructure may appear suitably robust.But from a security point of view, there’s a risk that this could becompromised by remote workers.

Your assessment of risk here should consider three things:

The software and data access methods currently in use in yourorganisation

Is it suitable for use by remote workers?

The hardware used by remote workers (desktop PCs, mobile and portabledevices)

Is it appropriate for business and personal data to co-exist on the samedevice? Here, you may wish to consider tools that enable different types ofdata to be compartmentalised on a single device. You should also consider toolsenabling your in-house IT staff to remote wipe data from a remote worker’sdevice in the event of an attempted data breach or theft of the device itself.

Alternatively, rather than a ‘use your own device’ approach, yourstrategy may be to issue hardware to remote workers and stipulate that it isfor business use only.  

Staff conduct

Ensure that remote workers are clear on the fact that your company ITusage and security policies still apply - even when they are working off-site.This includes matters such as downloading unauthorised apps, visiting off-limitwebsites on work machines and opening emails from unreliable sources. Forsecurity patches and other software updates, remote automatic activation may bea safer method than relying on employees to manually click ‘install now’.

Quality control

A failure to maintain performance standards gives rise to operationalrisks (mistakes are made, time and resources have to be put into correctingthose mistakes). Especially if this affects your clients directly, there’s aclear reputational risk too.

Remote and flexible working generally calls for a relatively openmanagement style, often with a shift of focus towards the results generatedrather than hours worked. But open management is not the same as no management.Ensure there are still adequate processes in place for appraisals and qualitycontrol to avoid standards slipping.

Client care

You should ensure that clients are receiving the same level of servicefrom remote workers compared to those on site. Are calls and emails beinganswered? Are concerns being flagged up? A remotely accessible clientrelationship management or case management system may be especially desirablewhere you have employees based off-site. This should record all touch-pointsbetween clients and your organisation’s representatives - wherever they may bebased.  

Supervision of junior employees

Issues can arise if either a trainee or his or her supervisor (or both)are spending large chunks of time away from the office. Even where thesupervisor says he is ‘contactable at any time via skype’, you need to considercarefully whether this is really an acceptable alternative to the trainee beingable to physically pop his head round the door in the event of a query.

The case for remote working for each employee needs to be considered onits own merits, which includes looking carefully at the duties and responsibilitiesof that employee from an operational perspective. If there’s a heavysupervisory or mentoring element to the job, you should consider carefullywhether a remote set-up is suitable.

Any remote working arrangement requires a very strong element of mutualtrust between you and your employee. Employers should also ensure they have thesystems in place necessary to manage workflow, maintain standards, stick todeadlines and meet their professional obligations.

Are you concerned about how remote working could affect your business’ clientcare or insurance premium? Speak to Bluefin’s professionalindemnity insurance expertstoday.