Evolving from a rare employee perk in the wider modern business landscape into a mainstream business strategy for many companies in recent years, telecommuting is increasingly popular. It’s easy to see why. After all, studies into the practice have yielded results which reflect that it saves businesses serious cash, increases efficiency (believe it or not!) and even improves morale and worker retention.
According to the CBI, over half of employers in the UK offer telecommuting as a legitimate option for workers. Making more sense for companies in which a large proportion of employees are engaged in more solitary or ‘heads down’ tasks; for example computer programming, design and research, telecommuting offers up a huge range of positives to consider.
Of course, there are downsides too. Perhaps the most prominent of which is security.
Given that a large part of most, if not all modern business is computer-network based, the proper flow and subsequent protection of sensitive or confidential information is a major concern when it comes to allowing employees to work from outside of the office. Primary risks in this capacity include not only the likes of physical loss of information (laptop, hard drive), but access from unauthorised individuals as well as conducting internal company communications through non-secure channels.
Additionally, further risks telecommuters have been known to expose employers to include:
- Storing information on unprotected or encrypted computers
- Allowing outside access (via family members, friends) to a company computer
- Incorrect disposal of confidential information (printouts, documents)
- Unauthorised sharing of passphrases etc.
Managing the risks
The chief goal for a company allowing its employees to telecommute should always be a well-rounded and wide-spanning written policy. Even if telecommuting is only an occasional/seasonal happening, there should always be an official policy in place which addresses the specific needs of the company in relation to the specific activities of the employee working remotely.
Any well-organised policy should address the following:
- Whether or not employees can handle private or sensitive information remotely
- Whether or not the employees require any security credentials to access particular information which may be regarded as private or sensitive
- Policy with regards to printing at home/guidelines for correct disposal
- Policy with regards to employees using personal computers for work or to store company information
- Whether or not employees are allowed to transfer data via un-encrypted USB flash drives
- Any VPN (Virtual Private Network) requirements
- Policy with regards to downloading unauthorised software of programmes onto company computers
- Details of any email encryption requirements
- Details of any internal monitoring of employees emails/online activity
Beyond a well thought-out security policy which outlines the main dos and don’ts for telecommuting employees, there is little that can be done to ensure security which doesn’t touch on personal accountability. This (personal accountability), after all, is probably the most important factor within all of this; hence the reluctance faced by many employees seeking this fresh and exciting perk in their working life.
As technology and, more specifically, the ways in which we are able to interact with one another from afar grow more and more sophisticated, it is likely that the risk-factor involved with telecommuting will be reduced. Therefore, the number of functioning telecommuters within modern commerce can only really grow in size.