insight magazine

Ethics Engaged | Winter 2020

The Ethics of Remote Work

Changes to the ways we work necessitate a new ethical perspective.
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner Head of Finance, International Legal Technology Association


Organizations around the world have moved all or some of their staff to remote working environments. While this change may be a boon for public health concerns, remote work has different ethical implications and fraud prevention considerations than a traditional in-person work environment. Here is how to evaluate how well your work-from-home practices are implemented and where you can improve them.

Productivity

Employers not used to virtual work environments may be concerned about their remote employees’ productivity. One way to address productivity is to set clear goals and expectations of what needs to be accomplished and in what time frame. Results should be prioritized over the hours worked or perception of hours worked. Consider holding weekly one-on-one meetings with your team members to discuss progress and remove obstacles to increase efficiency. Highlight achievements and celebrate individual successes—you might consider using a tool to record results and demonstrate ongoing praise for accomplishments.

Some employers have implemented productivity monitoring software to determine how much their employees are working; be careful with this kind of solution as it can send a message to your staff that you do not trust them. You can remind your employees of using their company-issued equipment for business purposes only, which should reduce time spent on non-business websites. You can also forbid time theft in your internal code of conduct and require employees to review and sign it. You can ask hourly employees to complete detailed hours per project and assess how efficient they are with using their time toward achieving goals; they can also sign timesheets attesting that their time is accurate.

Wellness

Working from home has unique benefits and challenges, and your employees may still need some time to adjust. By understanding your employees’ needs, such as taking care of a family member, you can find ways to support them. Employees may benefit from atypical working hours if the role allows them that flexibility. Consider setting up mentor relationships within the company to offer additional support for your employees— sometimes employees feel more comfortable confiding in colleagues from other groups. Additionally, set up an anonymous way for employees to give feedback to management so the organization can address issues in a timely manner.

Connect with employees to check in on their motivation and mental health. Give culture attention as it is crucial to retention and job satisfaction. Continue to hold organization-wide meetings and promote teamwork through decision-making and project work. Keep your organizational values visible; instead of having them posted on a physical wall of an office building, post them online and talk about your values in meetings to further create unity. Discuss how remote work aligns with your organizational values and highlight the benefits of remote work, such as reduced commuting time, more control over your interactions, and more personalization of your workspace.

Fraud

When employees work from home, it can be more difficult to set up effective controls to prevent fraud. Think through documentation of how to show multiple people are involved in decision-making and control of funds. Approvals must be maintained whether via software, email, or chat message.

Another area of fraud to consider is workers’ compensation fraud. As more employees work from home, it can be more difficult to determine if an injury or illness falls under workers’ compensation. You can mitigate risk of injury or illness related to work by asking your employees to describe or photograph their work environments, encouraging them to practice healthy habits—like taking appropriate breaks—and having them agree in writing that their work environments meet the organization’s safety and security requirements.

Confidentiality

Virtual environments lead to an increased focus on cybersecurity and necessitate more care to safeguard confidentiality. Educate your employees on correct password practices and other security steps to protect their computers, routers, and other internet-enabled devices. Ensure data backup processes are functioning and that backup files are held in a secure location.

Some security measures could include asking employees to encrypt their routers, preferably with Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) or Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3), and to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access files on the organization’s network. A VPN establishes a secure connection between the employee’s computer and the organization’s remote server. Also consider moving any Alexa-enabled devices out of the room and turning off Siri when you are discussing confidential work information. This extra step aids compliance with AICPA Code of Professional Conduct Rule 1.700.001: “A member in public practice shall not disclose any confidential client information without the specific consent of the client.” Finally, provide security training to your employees periodically to remind them of the threats that exist and to inform them of new fraud schemes they may encounter.

When done well, remote work can be beneficial to your organization and your employees, both amid a pandemic and afterward. By continuing to build a culture of ethics and excellence, you can make the best of remote work.

Leave a comment