31Dec

Most financial firms have been forced to adapt to remote working this year. Regardless of the personal feelings of firms’ senior managers about how practical it might be, it isn’t really something about which they have had much choice. Aside from the natural instinct to minimise the Covid risk to staff and customers, the Government and Financial Conduct Authority have both said that staff should only be working in business premises where it is not possible for them to work from home.

In the longer term, even if the wider world returns to normal, there are indications that more firms will choose to offer home working to their staff, at least for part of their working week.

With the increase in home working though comes an increase in various risks. The FCA expects all authorised firms to manage risks on a continuous basis, which means thinking about the adverse events that could occur, how likely these events are to occur, how significant an impact the event would have, and how the risks can be mitigated.

Are the external devices staff are using at home protected to the same extent as the PCs they might use in the office?

Firms should emphasise to their staff the importance of keeping company information secure when at home. This means that they should lock their screens when they leave them, so that people they live with can’t see them. If they are in a video conference or similar, ideally they should go somewhere quiet where they are less likely to be disturbed and where someone is less likely to walk in and hear what is being discussed. Any device issued to staff for home working should not be used for personal matters, for example social chats, watching TV and video content, web surfing, personal Office files.

Remember that firms are still required to monitor their staff while they work from home. The rules remain unchanged and several FCA speakers have stressed this point recently. Senior managers need to have systems in place to ensure performance monitoring continues. For example, many firms have put in place arrangements to allow call centres to operate from employees’ personal phones, but are these calls still being recorded and listened to?

Also don’t forget the physical security of office premises, especially if there’s no one working there for long periods at a time. In these circumstances, is there any need for any valuable items to be left there?

Finally, to get the best out of staff, firms need to remain mindful of their welfare. At the time of writing, 99% of people in England cannot socialise indoors with people outside their household or support bubble, as a result of Tier 2 and 3 restrictions. If firms have asked staff to work from home, then by definition they won’t be meeting their colleagues either. Are there ways firms can maintain virtual social contact between employees?