Managing Risks of Remote Working
The Covid-19 Pandemic has resulted in many companies being forced into implementing a full remote-working model overnight. Organisations have had to learn to adapt quickly, often making sticking plaster solutions to what we all believed would be temporary circumstances. However, a year has passed since these rapid responses were made and it is becoming clear that companies now need to put long-term plans in place to protect their business but also to capitalise on the positive changes that have been developed as part of the short-term solution. Risk Management is an essential element of developing longer term policies and procedures but it is also now key to analysing the current state of play for many companies.
What are the risks?
1. Motivation and Productivity
Many studies have been conducted on how to keep employees motivated and productive while at work, but these studies were widely undertaken in the context of working closely with staff in a communal workplace. There is much less data on how to keep employees motivated and productive when working remotely, however, this is something that most companies have had to consider over the past year. Many of our clients have reported challenges in keeping employees motivated while working from their own homes. It has been argued that this reduction in motivation which many employers are reporting, is a natural side-effect of the difficulties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and it is only temporary. However, others argue that it is extremely difficult for one's home to ever be a productive work environment.
2. Ergonomics, Health and Safety
Every workplace is subject to health and safety standards that it must adhere to, but how can this be managed when every employee is working from their own home? Some organisations have been slow to implement remote ergonomics and health and safety policies, however, employers could be exposed to legal claims if their staff are working in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Although it is objectively more difficult, employers should ensure their staff are working in safe surroundings. Some of our clients have implemented virtual ergonomic assessments to review the environment that each employee is working in. If organisations ignore this risk, employees could suffer physical damage while their employers suffer financial damage.
We believe that communication is key to an effective organisation as it is necessary in fostering teamwork, innovation and collaboration. All of our clients have adopted some level of technology that enables virtual communication, for example, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We believe that these tools are vital for open communication and they work perfectly for formal meetings, however, it has become clear that many companies are missing ad hoc communication, for example, chatting to someone over lunch or popping into someone's office. These informal 'meetings' are not only important for getting work done, they also help employees to feel more connected to their organisation. From our experience, it is clear that companies need to consider how they can enable informal communication remotely.
Organisations must understand the cyber risks that are heightened due to staff working remotely and how they can mitigate those risks. For example, if your employees are working from their own devices or using unsecured wireless connections, your company's data is at risk to hackers and cyber-criminals. Additional protocols and guidance for remote employees will be key to employers managing their cyber-security risks.
An organisation's culture permeates through every aspect of the business. It can affect how employees do their work, how they communicate and is probably one of the first things they explain to people when asked about their job. A positive organisational culture is something that should be protected, which involves monitoring behaviours and intervening when necessary. It is more difficult to nurture a culture remotely and many of our clients are struggling with this. Ensuring that your culture can evolve with a changing working environment is likely to be the biggest challenge that employers will face.
Although, there are significant risks, there are also huge efficiencies and opportunities to be realised through remote working and we would recommend that most companies consider some level of remote working for their staff in the long-term. The solution to managing all the above risks is implementing a remote working policy that encompasses all risk areas. These should be supported by remote working processes that the entire organisation understands. The organisation should ensure the policy and processes allow employees to complete their work while reducing the likelihood and impact of the risks.
If you would like advice on developing remote/ hybrid/ flexible working policies and processes, please contact a member of BDO's Future of Work Team:
Ria Kiely at [email protected]
Niamh O'Brien at [email protected]