Shifting to a workforce that works from home comes with implications for business security. Employees that work from home use their own networks, and often their own computers. Naturally, they will lack at least some of the cybersecurity protections that are afforded in the workplace.
Working from home can cause employees to feel more comfortable and at ease, which can cause even the most industrious of workers to let their guards down. In many cases, employees will opt to work in a neighborhood café, where they use WiFi networks open to the general public. In either case, productivity and security are not guaranteed in the same way that they are in the workplace.
Working from home is a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon. Pew Research has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic saw the portion of the workforce working from home rise from 20% to 71% in the US alone. More than half have stated a preference for working from home and that they would like to continue doing so even when the pandemic is a thing of the past.
New trends require new procedures on the part of businesses that want to keep up. To make the best of the new trend of the majority of the workforce at least having the ability to work from home, a thorough “work from home policy” is required.
What is a work from home policy?
A work from home policy is a written document setting the rules for employees working from home.
The more detailed and clear a work from home policy is, the more likely it is to result in the desired outcomes. Work from home (WFH) policies need to be comprehensive enough to ensure security and productivity as well. Typically, the policy will include rules surrounding:
- Applying for and being approved for working from home
- Working hours that employees are expected to be active and available for communication
- Communication expectations while on the clock
- Meeting times
- Security standards and guidelines for safekeeping of company assets
- Tech support guidelines when using a company device
- The process for requesting additional support or clarification on any of the above topics
Work from home policies use these features to make working from home a viable option. There are pros and cons to working from home, and the purpose of your business’s WFH policy is to maximize the pros and minimize the cons.
What are the benefits of working from home?
There are several reasons why more than half of the US workforce states a preference for working from home.
1. Reduced Stress
Getting up, getting presentable and getting to work can be stressful. In many places, especially big cities, this requires employees to get up very early and struggle to get to work on time alongside tens of thousands of fellow commuters. While many people get used to this process, no one really enjoys it.
2. (Potentially) Increased Productivity
While many employers won’t buy it, employees who feel trusted enough to work at home tend to be more productive. The quiet, familiar working environment at home is shown to increase productivity through the need for fewer breaks and sick days. A large part of it is also job satisfaction, which cuts attrition rates and reduces the need for time-consuming hiring processes.
When working from home is an option, commuting naturally seems to be a waste of time. On top of that, while there are certain times where employees must be working or available for communication, today’s employees prefer being able to choose when and where to get their work done. With the commute removed from the equation, employees can be productive while also having more free time.
At this point, it’s clear to everyone that working at home is safer for people’s health. The lack of commuting means employees are less likely to get into a traffic accident or to catch an illness on public transportation. The workplace is also a hotbed of infection, even during the regular flu season pre-pandemic.
Healthier employees are more productive and are less likely to leave your company.
What are the downsides of working from home?
While working from home has clear, data-backed benefits, it also has several downsides. Many of these can be mitigated with a good work from home policy.
1. Cyber Security
Modern businesses often have a well-established and strong security apparatus in place. It’s easier to maintain security on a dedicated office network and on company-owned devices.
One major threat is when employees use personal devices with which they are less careful. If they are the victim of a cyber attack and they use the same device to log into a work network, their problems become the company’s problems as well. That’s why businesses need to prepare for an alternative approach to security if employees are shifting to working from home.
2. Mental Health & Work Relationships
Working from home can be good for employees’ mental health in several ways, but a lot depends on individual employees’ home situations. Blurring the lines between work life and personal life can have several detrimental effects. Employees may begin to feel isolated from each other, which can make them feel disconnected from their colleagues and their employers.
Lastly, there’s the dreaded feeling of burnout that many people who work from home report. This is tied in many ways to mental health, work relationships and boundaries.
The lack of boundaries between work and leisure and working long hours in the same environment you’re normally more relaxed in can lead to burnout. This can become worsened when employees don’t take meaningful breaks and blur the lines even further by working late into the night. Even simple things like repeatedly checking emails late at night can contribute to burnout, which has negative implications for mental health and productivity.
Key components of a work from home policy
- List parameters for working from home. Not all jobs should be done at home. You should clearly list the positions and parameters surrounding eligibility for working from home.
- Create an approval process. Uniformity is important so that all eligible employees know they’re being treated equally. Set defined measurements for the time the approval process takes and the process employees must follow.
- Set work hours. Some tasks can be completed at any time, but it’s important to clearly state when employees working from home must be doing their work and available for communication. They should be available during regular operational hours.
- Provide clear guidance for behavior during work hours. Employees should have a process for clocking hours and proving they are at work. There are many software options available for these tasks.
- Define communications channels. All employees should be able to reach each other during work hours regardless of where they are working. Programs like Slack can make remote collaboration easier. Employees working from home should understand communications mediums and be available for communications during work hours.
- Provide very clear security standards. Employees must understand that they are still responsible for keeping their devices secure. Clearly lay out all the steps they are expected to take. Be sure to clarify any banned activities.
- IT support. Employees working from home will often need access to IT support. Exact requirements will naturally vary by business, but it’s important that everyone has consistent access to the necessary resources.
- Maintain existing culture and structure. Your remote worker policy must account for your existing structure, including regular meetings. Employees working from home risk becoming isolated from your company culture and mission if they are not included in regular workplace processes.
Employee tips for working from home
Like businesses embracing the shift to a workforce working from home, employees considering working from home must embrace change. Working from home carries many benefits, but it also has drawbacks, which we’ve gone over in some detail.
While being able to work from home may seem enviable, it’s not an ideal choice for every employee. Consider the various consequences, both negative and positive, before applying to work at home.