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The number of people working remotely spiked in 2020 due to COVID-19. U.S. manufacturers staff positions from the office compatible with at least partial telework. While we wait for a vaccine to be widely available, companies encourage social isolation and work from home to reduce the coronavirus spread and comply with CDC guidance.

As more people access company resources from home, this shift creates many unexpected variables for manufacturers that may harm employees and the company.

Productivity Concerns

Achieving success with your work from home program involves two variables, suitable remote work and eligible employees. Employers should carefully review each position and person on a case-by-case basis. Many jobs are conducive to remote work at least part of the time if you have the right security and access technologies in place.

Employee discipline is a significant variable with remote work. We have witnessed people who are focused and productive within the office or factory environment’s boundaries. Those same people may lack restraint and have few barriers when working remotely.

Netflix added 28 million subscribers in the first three quarters of 2020. Streaming content, online shopping, and social media rob employers of millions of paid hours each year. The most egregious we’ve heard of recently was someone who was working less than 8 hours a week and claiming 40 hours of paid work.

The best way to effectively manage remote employees is by objectives. This plan involves written goals and action plans that can be tracked and measured. Involving the employee in the planning process is strongly encouraged because commitment leads to increased productivity.

Signing a co-developed remote work agreement establishes clear expectations for the employees’ workday and the employer’s requirements. Some recommended items to include are:

  • Employee work from home safety survey and protocols
  • Employee performance expectations
  • The employee’s weekly work schedule
  • Expected availability during business hours
  • Documented work hours for non-exempt and exempt employees
  • Overtime policy for non-exempt employees
  • What constitutes a designated office space
  • Frequency of online meetings and communications with the team
  • Reporting requirements for data security issues, unusual emails, damaged or stolen equipment, and personal injuries
  • Appropriate computer use and protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of corporate information
Security analysts groups employees together based on riskHackers can exploit home computers and personal devices to gain access to secure corporate networks.

Shared Workspace

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 50% of homes have at least one child. Given that your home becomes a shared office space, this is problematic for employers who now face new exposures due to work from home.

Any staff member might share their computer with an 8-year old playing Roblox or a 10-year old doing homework. Spouses or significant others may use the system to search and download recipes, view personal email accounts, or watch do-it-yourself home improvement videos.

These devices accessed various websites and downloaded random personal content. Spyware, viruses, and malware from these websites and content downloads are now present on these systems. The staff member does not know that their system is compromised when they connect to company networks. Hackers use exploited devices to gain more secure corporate networks and launch malicious attacks.

Secure Connections

Manufacturers are concerned about information security. Many leadership teams supplied their remote workforce with laptops and monitors to be more productive and secure at home.

Several of those organizations deployed systems quickly to meet the business’s remote work demands. Some companies are still using Remote Desktop and insecure Virtual Private Network (VPN) software for remote access to private information and corporate resources.

Other leadership teams expect employees to provide their computers. These home systems rarely comply with basic security standards, yet these insecure devices access sensitive business information.

These less secure devices increase the likelihood of being compromised by hackers seeking to access the corporate network. That is why ransomware attacks continue to grow in frequency and expense.

Once remote systems store business information, security is no longer guaranteed. Every business has situations where sensitive or controlled information mistakenly resides on a mobile or remote device. Utilizing access control permissions, enforcing least privilege, and zero-trust improves data security.

Secure and reliable remote connections should be configured by an IT or security professional. The IT department must maintain remote assets like any other corporate device. That certainly includes regular patching of operating systems, applications, and web browsers.

Manager looks after manufacturing workloads.Employers must adjust their work-from-home protocols to emphasize security and cyber threat awareness.

Employer Considerations

Working from home may not be practical in many business environments. Manufacturers rely upon tools, machinery, and equipment to produce products. When a company must suspend work or close a production location due to a COVID outbreak, the employer must consider remote work, leave, and compensation for affected employees.

Here are some considerations for adjusting your work from home protocols and standards for employers who can continue operations with employees working from home, shared offices, coworking spaces, or other remote locations.

Home Work Area Safety

Team members left traditional offices and workspaces behind when the facility’s exodus occurred. Now that leadership has asked staff to work from home, how will employers mandate that employees comply with the business’s health and safety policies?

Require that each employee perform a documented home safety survey. The self-assessment safety survey validates the employees’ workplace is safe for the assigned tasks performed on behalf of their employer.

The designated work area would include ergonomically designed furniture, adequate lighting and ventilation, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers should all be checked for and put in place. Potential dangers such as exposed extension leads and other trip hazards should be removed or modified. Human Resources (HR) stores the completed safety surveys and photographs of the employees’ work area.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directs employers to maintain a safe working environment. It covers home-based workers with the same worker’s compensation rights as those working from the employer’s place of business. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also includes requirements for reasonable accommodations and non-discrimination based on disability.

Recent worker’s compensation case law has demonstrated that when the employee is furthering the employer’s interests at the time of injury, the injury is compensable. The key elements of such claims include showing an accident was work-related and that the injury sustained resulted from the accident.

There is no requirement to prove the employer was responsible for the injury or accident, only that the injury was work-related. Scenarios include slipping in the kitchen to get a drink of water during work hours or falling down the stairs while on a staff member’s phone call.

Employee Training

Employees require training to develop the skills necessary to protect company information from being exposed. Training should include working from home Internet safety and incident reporting expectations.

Phishing is a cyber-attack category using email to leverage unsuspecting victims to disclose information or open documents containing malicious content. Regular training can effectively reduce the number of security breach incidents caused by these attacks.

Insurance

Imagine that last night that someone stole your work laptop. Whose insurance is liable? Ensure that each remote employee’s homeowner policy is updated and active. Require that employees confirm insurance coverage. The validation ensures their homes and property are covered in the event of damage done during working hours. Have your employees’ supply documentation regarding their insurance coverage and keep it on file.

The remote workforce may expose your company to risks not covered by your general liability business insurance. Speak with your insurance company about having employees work from home to ensure that you are adequately covered. Cyber and management liability insurance may have exclusions that would expose employers to substantial legal fees.

Mental Health

Employees working from home can experience several emotional and psychological challenges. Remote work can be full of distractions, feel socially isolating, and be challenging to separate roles.

Employees with kids at home due to schools being closed experience unavoidable distractions and interruptions. Many families face cash flow challenges that limit childcare options. Scheduled calls and video meetings can cause distracted or interrupted employees to feel stressed and anxious.

Humans are social creatures to varying degrees. As the novelty begins to wear off for some people, working outside the office can lead to feeling disconnected and lonely, which hurts job performance. As team members become less effective in their work performance, they withdraw and stop collaborating.

“The lonelier you are, the worse you will perform,” said Sigal Barsade, a management professor at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. “You become less effectively committed to your organization.”

Instead of having the physical separation of work and home responsibilities, some people find it difficult to shut off at night. Some employees feel guilty for not being productive during their workday, and a subset will work extra hours to compensate.

The cognitive state of feeling less than or falling behind can also take a toll on family life. As work hours mount, family conflict builds, dissatisfaction grows, and typically results in a good employee leaving the company.

Safe and Secure

Before you begin supporting employees who wish to work from home, it is advisable to consider your legal obligations as their employer. If you have staff that did not return to work, evaluate the safety and legal concerns such as a safe workspace where productive work is completed on schedule and distributed securely.

As a proud supporter of American manufacturing, Certitude Security® is working diligently to inform leaders and facilitate essential asset protection priorities for manufacturing businesses throughout the United States. If you are interested in learning about the empowering services that Certitude Security® can offer, visit our website or coordinate a time to speak to a team member today