How job-juggling remote workers can threaten your company
Although some businesses now require employees to work full-time in the office, many others allow employees to work remotely one or more days a week. The popularity of remote positions can make attracting and retaining employees easier.
However, some workers may be tempted to take on multiple remote jobs without informing their employers. In addition to affecting employee productivity, this can lead to leaks of intellectual property (IP) and proprietary knowledge to competitors. Or employees may use what they’ve learned working for you to run side businesses that directly compete with yours. Here’s how to minimize such risks.
Provide solid oversight
The same technology that makes it easy for companies to offer remote positions can also enable workers to juggle multiple jobs simultaneously. Some employees may feel they can handle the extra work. But that doesn’t change the fact that it may threaten your business’s IP or that workers may use your business’s time and resources to provide services to another employer. You could also lose out if remote employees are unengaged and unproductive when they’re supposed to be working for you.
To prevent such threats, provide adequate oversight. Implement regular check-ins and reviews to open the lines of communication with remote workers. Also ensure that your employee handbook spells out prohibited activities. Include a discussion of the legal and ethical challenges that could result from holding multiple positions. And if you do allow employees to perform consulting, freelance or “gig” work, be specific about what that may and may not entail.
Background checks and monitoring software
Many employers perform background checks on job applicants to uncover fabricated credentials or potential criminal records. Sometimes, these checks simply suggest the need to investigate a candidate further. For example, if a potential employee appears to have had two jobs at the same time, you’ll probably want to question the applicant about it. However, a background check won’t tell you in real time if an individual accepts two or more positions on the same day. So you shouldn’t rely exclusively on background checks.
Another option for reducing remote-worker-related risk is to install monitoring software on work laptops. Such software can detect computer access outside normal business hours or inaction during regular business hours. Both types of activity could indicate an employee is working another job.
But be careful. Before installing software, consult an employment attorney to help ensure it won’t violate employee privacy rights or raise other legal or ethical concerns. You’ll also need to notify employees that monitoring software is in use. And even if you clear these hurdles, understand that, unless your software uncovers a clear policy violation (such as emailing proprietary information to a competitor), you’ll likely need additional evidence before coming to any conclusions.
Protecting IP and trade secrets
IP and trade secrets must be protected from inadvertent or intentional release to the public and use by competitors. Remote employees who leak secrets to a second employer may not intend fraud. For example, responding to a request for proposal, an employee might use knowledge of one employer’s pricing policies to complete the other employer’s proposal.
To safeguard your business’s IP, identify and classify every asset and evaluate protections in place to prevent disclosure. For example, are your manufacturing processes — including those in development — stored securely and accessible to only those with a defined business purpose?
Enabling employees to skip the commute and work from the comfort of their own homes can promote a healthier work/life balance. However, the flexibility of remote work may entice some misguided employees to accept more than one job. Make sure these employees’ decisions don’t violate your company’s policies or put your proprietary information or valuable resources at risk.