Working Remotely

Some employees will have most of the equipment required, but is it fit for purpose? For example, a home router comes configured for domestic use and may have unchanged, out-of-the-box default settings. Such equipment may pose a risk to data security and remote workers must take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk to the organisation, writes Kim Boyd of Frontier Software.

Organisations all over the world are facing unprecedented challenges brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The internet is awash with solutions to contain the spread of the contagion and how to protect colleagues, friends and family members. Most businesses have enacted business continuity plans and other strategies to enable business as usual operations. Mitigation strategies to manage COVID-19 include social distancing, and for many organisations, that includes having their staff work from home, often for the first time.

The impact of COVID-19 on your human resources is effectively managed through careful planning and execution coupled with ongoing team interaction. Isolation does not have to mean social separation.

Remote working comes with a variety of challenges – technology and process concerns, a workforce facing isolation from each other, not to mention the security issues surrounding sensitive data. What follows are some considerations for organisations choosing to have their teams operate remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider the effect on processes
It’s time to pay attention to processes. Comprehensive, up-to-date process maps are vital to understanding how your business works. Ensure you develop and regularly review your critical process maps. Some processes will lend themselves better to a remotely located workforce than others. Make sure you identify:

  • Critical and high-risk processes as a priority.
  • Processes that may require physical intervention; paying particular attention to those that relate to IT infrastructure maintenance.
  • Paper-based processes that could be automated. You can recreate many HR and payroll processes using sophisticated, customised workflow technology.

Understand your hardware requirements

  • Internet access.
  • What computer equipment they have.
  • Printing & scanning capability.
  • Filing & shredding requirements.
  • Secure authentication devices.

Some employees will have most of the equipment required, but is it fit for purpose? For example, a home router comes configured for domestic use and may have unchanged, out-of-the-box default settings. Such equipment may pose a risk to data security and remote workers must take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk to the organisation. With such a variety of additional equipment and devices to support, consider how technical support teams will be able to manage the increased volume of assistance required.

Non-employee access to information
Not everyone at an employee’s place of residence would normally be granted access to your offices. Employees who work remotely present a risk that must be mitigated. If the remote worker is using a shared household computer, organisations need to consider how they protect organisational data from unauthorised access or misuse. Reiterate security policies and provide training to ensure newly remote workers understand the risks involved as well as the mitigation strategies they are required to apply.

It’s time to pay attention to processes. Comprehensive, up-to-date process maps are vital to understanding how your business works.

What new technology is required?
Remotely located teams still need to meet and interact, so organisations will need to invest in communications and video conferencing applications such as Slack, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.  With any new tool, you must take care to ensure data protection, but also provide controls on how to use the technology. You may need to put rules around:

  • What you share via these platforms.
  • Who will be able to join audio or video conferences, and how you control access to enable discussions of a more confidential nature.
  • How you will offer support and training to employees installing these technologies remotely.

Managing the “Remote-ness”
To ensure productivity, managers must manage remote employees effectively. Practical considerations include regular catch-ups to monitor work progress as well as the capture of hours to satisfy Annualised Salary requirements. But equally important is managing the remote employee experience. While some employees thrive in a remote working environment and find themselves more productive, it can have the opposite effect for others, leaving them feeling lonely and unmotivated. While isolation to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19 is in the interests of employee welfare, a conscious effort is required to ensure the remedy does not cause new wellbeing issues.

Loneliness is an emotional response to isolation. Even confident, outgoing employees may feel isolated when required to work away from familiar office structures. From a manager’s perspective, responses to loneliness differ for individual team members and the only way to know how your employee is doing is via regular check-ins.

A sociable employee will benefit from as much team interaction as possible using the social tools available. Less socially engaged employees often feel overlooked and report themselves doubting the value of their contribution. For these employees, managing isolation is about confirming their place in the team and the value of their participation.

The impact of COVID-19 on your human resources is effectively managed through careful planning and execution coupled with ongoing team interaction. Isolation does not have to mean social separation.

Employees who work remotely present a risk that must be mitigated. If the remote worker is using a shared household computer, organisations need to consider how they protect organisational data from unauthorised access or misuse.

Tips to assist you in managing a remote workforce

  • Review processes. Prioritise critical processes, especially around IT; automate where possible.
  • Sort your hardware. Know what equipment your people will need and ensure it can be made secure.
  • Limit access. Restrict access to your employees only, if they are sharing equipment at home.
  • Get Social. Use video and audio, IM and chat tools to keep people connected.
  • Manage isolation. Ensure that each team member has social contact and knows their work is valued.

    Originally published in Inside HR in March 2020