Core Insights

Evolving Risks From Remote Working

Author: Robert Whelan

When businesses essentially ‘shut down’ and started having employees work from home back in February and March of this year, we did not see much drop-in production. We thought to ourselves, “alright, this isn’t so bad.”

However, that was when we were used to addressing risk within a brick and mortar setting. Now we are seeing new risks evolve from this virtual setting. What we are realizing is that while the employer is still legally responsible, they are no longer in control of the workspace.

One of our mottos here at CORE is we don’t think about the things that keep you up at night, we think about what you’re not thinking of.

New & Evolving Risks

Some of the evolving risks that we are talking to our clients about are based around security. Or lack thereof.

We are going from the use of a company computer on a company network, to employees using company computers or yet worse, their own devices, working on an unsecure network; i.e. their own home network or remote public network. What needs to be discussed, or reevaluated, are what the new standards for security and virus protection are. There is a lot of PII or possibly HIPPA data that is being passed back and forth which brings up data privacy related issues.

Upon hiring an employee, we historically were able to conduct a thorough background check. All of the employees in the office were also thoroughly vetted. In the home or in a remote setting we have no idea who else is in the reasonable proximity with our employee or what baggage they may come with. Most of our security protocols require that an employee lock their computer each and every time they walk away from their desk. If this is not being done on the home computer or remote device, we can only guess who now has the ability to access that computer and everything on it.

Additionally, employees may have voice automated assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google, etc.) within their homes that are listening in on work calls, monitoring web activity and essentially storing your company data and secrets.

Shift in Ergonomics

We are also seeing a shift from ergonomically designed furniture to fashionable furniture as employees work at home. Employees may also be working in more relaxed or lounging positions than they do in the traditional workspace setting. They are in their own environment, using their own chairs and desks, completing other household tasks while working at the same time. Because much of the work requires keyboard entry or mouse movement, we would expect to see increases in muscular/skeletal injuries. It all goes back to the message that the employer no longer controls the work environment and employees typically do not give safety within their own homes a second thought.

We manage the Workers’ Compensation program for some of our clients and have seen trends develop in the types of losses not traditionally submitted. Managing these claims, and disputing them on occasion, is proving to be exceptionally challenging. As a result, we find ourselves having to be flexible and adapt new policies and procedures to not only combat frivolous claims and lawsuits, but to adhere to CDC and OSHA guidelines on training.

What’s Going on In the Background?

When our employees conduct video conferencing, FaceTime or other video calls, we must be cognizant of other audio-visual input in the background. This includes other electronic devices and objects such as what’s on the TV, on posters, pictures and t-shirts? What religious symbols might also be in the background?

How about the way our employees are dressed? We used to have a dress code that can no longer be enforced at an employee’s home. All of these things allow our audience to make assumptions and associations about your company.

We now have a sneak peak of not only what the inside of our employee’s homes looks like, but also what is going on inside; which can create bias and lead to privacy issues.

Loss of Productivity

When we go to the office every day, we create a sense of belonging in a place where people come to collaborate with their teams and other departments. If we are no longer going to the office, that interaction may be limited and gradually that comradery is lost.

Working from home by yourself is lonely. Most of us are social beings that need interaction to keep our sanity. I know I fit this mold 10 times over.

Working from home will enhance the development of functional silos. Where we once could walk down the hall or look over a cubicle to ask a question from accounting or solicit input from marketing; that cross-department collaboration is lost.

Additionally, younger employees will no longer have the opportunity to work directly with and learn from senior employees, absorbing their invaluable knowledge and observe how things are done. As we all know, the loss of productivity leads to the loss of revenue.

Where Risk Meets Opportunity

These are just some of the issues that we have been discussing with our clients over the past six months. While some of these issues existed prior to the pandemic, in many organizations the extent had not reached the point where management felt the need to rewrite policies to reflect the changes. Every industry, in every state, is and should be treated differently; there is no one size fits all solution. Which is why it is important to be proactive, instead of reactive when it comes to these evolving risks.

The good news is, you most likely do not have to start from scratch. Your Business Continuity Plan and various policies and procedures should address most of these issues. You may just need to add to or tweak them a bit.