Working from home, often referred to as telework or telecommuting, has many benefits for both employers and employees. Employees can be more productive, since there are fewer distractions, and work longer hours if they don’t have to fight traffic. Telework can improve work-life balance and reduce an employer’s operating costs. By reducing the carbon footprint, in having fewer cars on the road, telework is also beneficial for the environment. Despite the many benefits, telework has drawbacks. The most serious one is the potential for privacy breaches.
Whenever personal or confidential information is used outside the office, there is a greater risk that the information may be lost, stolen or accessed by unauthorized individuals. Employers ought to extend their privacy policies and protections to ensure they cover telework.
Teleworkers need to have the same data protection measures in place that they would normally have in their employer’s office. Many teleworkers work out of their homes where they share space and a printer with other family members, such as their partners and children. Documents left unattended on a printer or desk in a home office could lead to a data breach of customers’ personal or business information. Similar risks can be attributed to handwritten notes of telephone calls or meetings where personal information may be recorded.
In addition to securing personal information stored on paper, safeguards must be in place for electronic information, whether stored on desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. Teleworkers should not allow family members to use any devices that contain work-related documents, as this could lead to unauthorized access to personal information. Computers should have strong passwords that are not shared with others and screens should be set to lock when they’re not used for a set period. Teleworkers should consider installing a privacy filter on their computer screen so that personal information is not visible to others.
Businesses need to be proactive in protecting their customers’ data and pay serious attention to privacy issues affecting any employees who work from home. Privacy policies and practices should be extended to those working from home, even if only on a sporadic or part-time basis.
Employees should be trained to secure any personal or confidential information while in transit or in their home office and to store confidential documents in a secure location, such as a locked filing cabinet. To safeguard data, business owners may want to provide their teleworkers with shredders for their home offices, so that documents with personal information can be destroyed when they’re no longer required.
In order to prevent hackers from accessing data on home office computers, employers must ensure that their teleworkers’ electronic devices, if used for work, are secured with encryption, firewalls and antivirus software. Employers should provide and require employees to connect to the workplace network through a secure VPN connection, as many home wireless internet networks are unprotected and vulnerable to hackers. When transferring information for work purposes, teleworkers should not be permitted to use their personal email.
Telework is becoming increasingly more popular and common in certain industries. To attract and retain valuable employees, business owners have to be flexible and adapt to different working models. But it’s important that businesses take the appropriate measures needed to minimize security risks and data breaches that could expose them to liability. Prudent business owners might consider conducting home office visits to inspect a teleworker’s work environment, especially when dealing with highly sensitive information.