The COVID-19 pandemic caused office workers to start working from home—but businesses should expect remote work to last a long time. Beyond the unpredictability of this pandemic, 99% of remote workers want to continue telecommuting at least a couple of days a week.
While you want to please your workers, business owners have to ensure their telecommuting workspace is still compliant. In addition to compliance considerations on your part, such as payroll requirements, your staff can also compromise your data and business security.
Help is at hand when it comes to ensuring that you’re considering and reducing potential compliance issues. In this guide, we will discuss remote work compliance and how to host a safe telecommuting workspace.
Remote Workers: Weakest Link or Greatest Asset?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was on the rise worldwide. Businesses experience many benefits by letting their staff work from home, such as saving on office space and enabling more flexible working patterns. But businesses may also run into plenty of compliance issues, and it’s important to balance the opportunities of a remote workforce with the additional security measures that will be required.
Commonly referred to as “working from home,” when considering compliance it should be remembered that remote working is defined as any work performed in an off-site location.
For the majority of staff members, this will be their home, but it could just as easily be a more public setting, such as a co-working space. Wherever work is performed in an off-site location, companies need to step up their efforts to ensure that every compliance risk is fully mitigated.
The global shift towards offsite working, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, represents an attractive prospect for cyber criminals. Aon recently referred to remote workers as a business’s “weakest link” – suggesting that they represented a clear and easy target for hackers.
When it comes to common compliance issues, such as data loss and sharing sensitive information, all business owners should keep this heightened risk in mind. We will discuss solutions to these compliance issues later in this article.
Data and Security Compliance Issues
When it comes to compliance issues surrounding remote work, it's common for organizations to focus on their HR related obligations. These include employee classification, home occupation permits and workers’ compensation. While these considerations need to be borne in mind by all businesses, it’s also important to remain mindful of pressing data and security issues. The risk of these issues is elevated when your staff works from home.
If employees are able to access sensitive information, you risk suffering a data loss issue. The risks increase when your staff shares private information with each other.
Always have a powerful data loss prevention (DLP) strategy in place. When crafting this strategy, remember that communication and adherence are as vital as the documentation itself. DLP must be actively practiced at all times and your policy needs to be very clearly outlined, so there can be no margin for error. Ensure that thorough training is given to all appropriate staff. Only require necessary team members to access certain files, and outline a document explaining what actions they are required to take. You should also password-protect all files. We’ll give some clear pointers on how to achieve success here in the upcoming “How To Create A Compliant Virtual Workspace” section.
There are many tools, such as file-sharing programs and video conferencing, that make remote work possible. But without implementing the right security measures, you risk a breach, either as result of internal accident or criminal external forces.
Data breaches are not the only ways that cyber criminals can disrupt your systems. You should also be mindful of:
- Scam phone calls where they ask for company and financial information
- Phishing emails and text messages
- Hacking of teleworking apps and software
- Hacking of Wi-Fi networks
Only use audio and video conferencing software that offers high-security options. If you’re desktop sharing, be mindful of the data you’re sharing and storing, especially if you use cloud platforms. Only give certain team members access to business programs and apps.
You should also have security requirements for your staff members. Make sure they only operate on a private WiFi and recommend they invest in a VPN.
There are many tools that enable you to monitor employee behavior online. You can do this online, in work chat rooms, enterprise collaboration software, and even on social media and text messages.
What type of behavior should you gather? For communication tools and enterprise software, you’ll want to monitor conversations, inappropriate behavior, and instances of data loss. For your website, you’ll want to view any website changes and edits that you may not have executed.
You’ll want to collect this information to comply with recordkeeping laws.
GDPR and CCPA
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have stringent personal data protection requirements. Any business that goes against these laws will face serious penalties and huge fines.
Since your staff is operating in a remote platform, they may use systems that compromise customer data. Because of this, all businesses must set extensive procedures and policies to guard customer data and ensure privacy.
First, familiarize yourself with these laws. Decide if your remote working situation causes employees to gather and store data in new ways and if your data is encrypted among all platforms. You’ll also want to ensure employee data is protected.
Advise all staff members to have antivirus or anti-malware programs, have a secure Wi-Fi, back up files regularly, install necessary encryption tools. Employers may want to consider remote access solutions for added security and restrict access to certain data and platforms.
In case there’s a data breach, you should also create an emergency procedure.
Data Considered a Liability
While all businesses need to comply with recordkeeping laws, there are times when data can be considered a liability. You’ll want to carefully review all data and delete any sensitive data that you don’t need.
How to Create a Compliant Virtual Workspace
Now that you know the potential legal obstacles you face with remote work, there are certain steps that business owners should follow to stay compliant. Here are the steps.
Step 1: Classify Your Workers Correctly
Be sure to correctly classify your workers, to ensure the varying requirements for correct compliance can be met within a remote setting.
If you’re working with freelancers, consider the access that they have to your internal documentation and Slack channels, etc. Should they have access to everything? Be sure that you’re covered with binding and up to date NDAs, and check that their contracts specifically cover confidentiality.
If you’re working within a tightly regulated industry, such as the financial services sector, remember that regulated employees’ communications must be archived by law. It's important to know exactly which of your employees are regulated -- and to put a solution in place for compliant recordkeeping that works within a remote operation.
Within large enterprises it’s common for high-level executives (and employees who handle very sensitive information) to have all of their communications collected and placed on legal hold as a matter of course. Again, make sure that your provision for this is suitable for remote working.
Step 2: Create a Compliant Remote Work Policy
Even if your employment situation isn’t changing, every business should create a remote work policy for staff members. This remote work policy should include all compliance requirements and potential legal pitfalls that fall under the scope of your work.
Step 3: Draft a Work Plan
In addition to a remote work policy, every business should draft a remote work plan. Identify the responsibilities of all workers and state possible changes that remote work may cause, including activities that you may have to sacrifice.
If you have lots of staff members, you can identify the roles of each department. You should also identify any possible impacts and solutions. Always have technical support solutions.
Find the best ways for staff members to communicate and collaborate. Schedule regular virtual meetings. If anyone has access to the office or worksite, draft ways they can safely distance and work.
Ensure all training is done, especially compliance training and remote working tools. Ask your staff members if any of them have worked remotely before — if not, you can have them undergo additional training including security and compliance training.
Step 4: Consider Data Security and Recordkeeping Laws
The online world creates many liabilities for businesses and workers, especially with regard to data and recordkeeping. From Financial Industry (FINRA and SEC) through to Government compliance (FOIA and Open Records) industries will find themselves liable for differing regulations, with data-intensive sectors coming under the heaviest scrutiny.
Step 5: Train Your Staff in Data Security
When your employees work from home, they will be using their personal devices and will work on their own WiFi network. Some employees may even work at a coffee shop or a co-working space. All of these factors can increase your risk of data breaches.
Always train your staff in data security measures, especially for those who regularly work with sensitive data. Train them on preventing data loss, the unsanctioned sharing of sensitive information, bring-your-own-device best practices, online data security, and even in GDPR and CCPA laws.
Step 6: Monitor Activity
Implement a tool that allows you to monitor team collaboration tools for inappropriate behavior and data loss. Modern monitoring and DLP solutions allow companies to automate this process, cutting down on inappropriate conversations and unsanctioned sharing of information, without employees being actively tracked by HR personnel every second of the day.
Step 7: Collect and Preserve All Communications
The best way to achieve total control and peace of mind with regard to your communication compliance is to work with an enterprise archiving solution that collects and preserves communications, specifically email, enterprise collaboration (such as Slack) and mobile text. Pagefreezer’s Collaboration Monitoring and Capture can help with all this and more.
Pagefreezer Can Help with Remote Work Compliance
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to start working remotely. While many workers prefer remote work, business owners should tread carefully when implementing a permanent telecommuting plan.
If you suspect this setup will continue, you’ll have to know the possible remote work compliance issues. These compliance issues affect businesses in all industries and can cause serious repercussions.
As long as you comply with these requirements, you can successfully implement remote work.
When it comes to total compliance surrounding online data obligations Pagefreezer is here to help. Download our white paper, Information Governance in the Modern Enterprise, to learn more.