The global pandemic has generated a shift of thousands of employees from a centralized workspace to home-based work. Many employers look forward to a near-term return to the workplace while others see advantage in a dispersed workforce and are considering a larger permanent home-based workforce. These employers are wise to also consider the loss potential of homebased or remote work and mitigation steps to minimizing loss.
General Loss Exposures
The first consideration may be to identify jobs and employees well suited to remote work. Can the work be conducted successfully and efficiently from a remote location? Can that be verified? Can the work be done with limited in person group interaction and communication? Can work materials and tools be limited and kept secure?
Once the appropriate work is identified, suitable employees can be similarly vetted. Consider whether the remote employees have a strong knowledge of the work process and a track record of independence and dependability. Working remotely may not always be suited for newer employees or those with established performance issues.
Having identified the work and a workforce that are well suited to low exposure remote work, specific loss exposure types should be considered.
Much of today’s remote work is conducted electronically. To the extent possible, work that is conducted remotely should be done so that work product and proprietary data remains secure. When remote employees are using computers setup and controlled by the employer’s IT department, it is a plus. When employees are working on their own equipment, the employer can consider communication and security protocols, and security training to limit loss or breach of sensitive data. Good practices can include:
Sensitive information and communications accessed and stored only on secure local or remote computers and servers accessed through a secure virtual private network or website.
Password security protocols that can include frequent password changes, complex password length and character composition, password reuse prohibitions.
Employee security training to include exposure from phishing emails, malicious links and malware avoidance, and non-business use of company computer equipment, encouragement of “business use only” passwords.
Employee Injury or Illness
Work-related injury exposure often is less identifiable and controllable in the home. Being “at work” is not as black and white when the home and workplace are one and the same.
Encourage the establishment of separate workspace within the home when possible. Set an expected work schedule. A segregated workspace and expected work hours may be helpful in determining whether or not slip/fall and other housekeeping incidents occurred “at work and on the clock”.
For computer work, encourage the use of ergonomically designed equipment and workspaces. Where appropriate, provide ergonomics training and work practice expectations to remote employees.
Other Loss Considerations
Consider if remote employees present any significant auto liability exposure:
New work-related errands (office supplies, post office, client contacts).
Set boundaries. If driving is not required, consider prohibiting it. If expected, define work-related vs personal missions. Set driving behavior expectations. You may find it necessary to review driving records for any significant new exposure.
Do client visits or work-related deliveries expand your general liability exposure? If so, the condition of walking surfaces (particularly in winter) and maintenance could be a concern. Employers can remind employees of these potential exposures and encourage good exposure avoidance and maintenance practices.
Finally, business personal property, tools and inventory can be more easily lost when kept remotely. Employers may wish to consider identification markings on deployed property assigned to remote employees. Recorded IDs at deployment may assist in recovery of durable property “checked in” at replacement or employee separation.
When seeking the benefits of a greater home-based workforce, planning and preparation can minimize potential loss contributors and facilitate a successful transition to a long-term remote workforce.
Robert (Bob) Roe is the Director of Old Republic Risk Management’s loss control function. He is responsible for coordination of policyholder loss control services with an emphasis on carrier service compliance in regulated jurisdictions. Robert is is based out of our corporate office in Brookfield, WI.