How to Make Telecommuting Work for Your Firm
As more employees demand more flexibility, law firms are learning how to adapt to the telecommuting trend.
As the world increasingly goes online and people rely more and more on their mobile devices, telecommuting has caught on in the workplace.
According to statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, 50 percent of the workforce in the United States has a job that is compatible with telecommuting, and 20 to 25 percent of workers telecommute at some frequency. Though most companies do not yet allow part- or full-time teleworking, 80 to 90 percent of American workers say they would like to work from their computers at home at least part time.
And it’s no surprise — more than two-thirds of managers say that there is an overall boost in productivity from their teleworkers, according to Forbes. In addition, workers are less stressed because they don’t have to commute, and teleworking enables more flexible schedules that can help older employees, parents and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities stay in the workforce.
TELECOMMUTING IN THE LAW FIRM
Some big law firms have jumped onto the telecommuting trend. According to Paul M. Ostroff, Partner and Shareholder at Lane Powell Attorneys & Counselors, several larger firms — including Morgan Lewis, Baker McKenzie, Jackson Lewis, and Shearman & Sterling — now let employees telecommute a certain number of days per week.
Other law firms may want to follow in these bigger firms’ footsteps. But before they do, they need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting.
“If implemented correctly and thoughtfully, I believe it’s very wise for law firms to allow their employees to telecommute,” says Caroline Cantelon, Sales Manager for Speech Processing Solutions Canada. “Having said that, many law firms have historically not put enough emphasis on security during the telecommuting process, which can lead to a plethora of issues for the firm. Security protocols are a must for firms looking to implement telecommuting.”
“Law firms have historically not put enough emphasis on security during the telecommuting process, which can lead to a plethora of issues for the firm. Security protocols are a must for firms looking to implement telecommuting.”
TAKING SECURITY PRECAUTIONS
Telecommuting brings a whole host of security issues. If employees log on to public Wi-Fi and the network is then hacked into, the law firm’s information could be stolen. If employees forget to log out of shared computers, other users could see private, sensitive data.
“The proliferation of data copies through file sharing services and staff use of personal devices present security challenges,” says Forrest Blair, President of Programs and Services at AirDesk Legal. “In those cases, it can add risk as it gets more difficult to keep all copies of the data secure.”
On the employer side, law firms can use cloud services to keep sensitive documents secure on a private hosted server, says Blair. “The telecommuters connect through a secure link and access a virtual workspace where they work with client data. The confidential data never leaves the secure environment. Staff can use any of their own personal devices to access the data through an encrypted secure connection.”
According to Cantelon, secure authentication is also critical. “[It] means more than just a PIN code,” she says. “It should require additional authentication factors to access servers or view confidential information. Organizations can require two-step authentication, a PIN and tokens that change each time one requests access to a VPN, which will keep data secure if a device is stolen or if the firm is hacked by a third party.”
Even if the law firms do everything right, employees may still make some missteps. Heinan Landa, Chief Executive Officer of Optimal Networks, says workers need to be trained on safety matters. “No matter what technical approach is used for remote access to sensitive information, employee security awareness training is imperative. People are your weakest link when it comes to security.”
To ensure this training actually occurs, law firms need to require that workers look over and sign agreements before they begin telecommuting.
“No matter what technical approach is used for remote access to sensitive information, employee security awareness training is imperative. People are your weakest link when it comes to security.”
WRITING A TELECOMMUTING POLICY FOR EMPLOYEES
A telecommuting policy will inform employees about how to keep data protected, even when they are on the go. It will outline how they can secure their devices wherever they choose to work.
“When creating a policy, firms should consider all aspects of the telecommuting process, including: How will employees access files? Will there be protocols for paper copies of files? Will employees be able to store paper files in their home or remote offices? What processes should be put in place for file sharing and reviewing?” notes Cantelon.
Ostroff wrote a sample agreement that employers can use when realizing their own plans. He suggests some guidelines that law firms can lay out before implementing telecommuting:
- Employees must consent in writing to electronic monitoring of their devices.
- Employees must install firewalls and security software on their home computers.
- Employees must ensure the purchase of software licenses for remote locations.
Firewalls are important, Cantelon explains, because they act as barriers and prevent unwanted visitors from accessing networks. They also add a layer of security in case the private network is a target for hacking or a computer is stolen outside of the office. The cloud is another safe solution, since it grants individuals access to services, documents, applications and resources via a secure internet connection.
“Cloud services allow employees to maintain a high level of efficiency and security while working outside of the office and away from colleagues,” says Cantelon. “Before implementing any cloud solutions, law firms must review the service’s security protocols to be sure that their sensitive data will be protected.”
“Before implementing any cloud solutions, law firms must review the service’s security protocols to be sure that their sensitive data will be protected.”
Once it is agreed that employees will work with firewalls and the cloud — and they are willing to follow telecommuting policies — Ostroff says employers need to determine exactly whom they will allow to telecommute.
For instance, law firms may require that employees effectively “self-manage” before they are permitted to work from home. They might also only let the top-performing employees or those who have been at the company the longest to telecommute. Practically speaking, workers need to have the appropriate equipment to telecommute, including computers, furniture and supplies, according to Ostroff.
SETTING UP A TELECOMMUTING PROGRAM
Law firms that want to start their own telecommuting programs should begin by further educating themselves on security risks, assessing said risks, coming up with policies and deciding who they will allow to work from home.
After weighing the pros and cons, law firms can determine if telecommuting is going to work to their advantage and contribute to their overall success.
About the Author
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers legal issues, blogs about content marketing, and reports on Jewish topics. She’s been published in Tablet Magazine, NewsCred, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and CMO.com.