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Keeping the home office safe in the post-COVID world

Hybrid working is here to stay. But how do you protect your business and employees in this new home-based world?

One thing we’ve discovered in the last 18 months is that it’s anyone’s guess what might happen next in the pandemic. However, it seems that homeworking – for at least part of the working week and for many workers – is here to stay. 

HireRight’s 2021 Global Benchmark Report suggests that while 21% of respondents from EMEA plan to bring everyone back to the office when it’s safe to do so, a further 53% see a move towards more flexible working as the future.

The report also found that there appears to be good news on the hiring front, with 57% of EMEA respondents saying that they expected their workforce to grow this year.

Many of those new employees, particularly those working in regulated industries such as finance and healthcare, may have their backgrounds verified as part of the onboarding process, however, while COVID has impacted the way we work, it doesn’t seem to have had as much impact on the way many businesses check the credentials of new employees as they onboard them.

This is clearly a worry, not least because only three per cent of EMEA-based businesses in our survey said they’d introduced new checks to help mitigate the risks of home working.

So why – unless you’re already part of the three per cent - should you be concerned about this?


Keeping home offices safe and secure

The office environment, by its very nature, is one where we are conscious of security. From the photographic ID pass you need to get through reception to accessing and protecting sensitive information held within the building, an office is full of reminders that we all have a part to play in making sure that sensitive and confidential data remains inside the business.

Even if we’re not consciously aware of it being all around us, the fact that we are ‘in the office’ means we behave in a different way, which is not the same way we behave at home.

At home we are in a totally different environment. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we don’t still understand the need for security of both the data and equipment we may be using at home, but the feeling of difference is there all the same – we act differently.

Perhaps we’re less likely to shut down a programme while we go to make a cup of coffee or put away important documents when we head outside for a break. This might not matter so much if the ‘home office’ space has its own security, but many are not so lucky as to have a dedicated ‘home office’ space in their homes.

For many, working at home means sharing a space with others, whether that be your family, friends or perhaps even relative strangers in a flatshare.

Businesses may be already screening their employees, but what about the people they live with, who may have access to the same spaces as their employees? This is why it’s so surprising to find that, despite the rise of remote working, a huge 79% of our survey respondents from EMEA said they’d not made any changes to the checks they run to mitigate the risks that remote working can potentially create.


Assessing the risk

If you’re part of that 79%, you may want to think about making some changes to your background screening programme. Nobody wants to think they can’t trust their employees – after all, that is part of the reason businesses screen.

But if you’ve not made simple changes to take into account hybrid working patterns, such as adjusting the levels of security access provided when employees take work home, then you may leave yourself open to the risk of customer data or significant business information falling into the wrong hands.

This could lead to embarrassing headlines in the press and online, with all the ramifications that could bring. Even worse, it could be extremely costly if you’re found to be in breach of data protection guidelines.


Final thoughts

Of all the post-pandemic predictions, the one most likely to remain is that working from home is here to stay for a significant number of employees. With that in mind, it may be wise to review your screening programme, or perhaps even introduce one, to see if additional measures are required to keep the people risk within your organisation to a minimum while managing a new mobile or hybrid workforce.

Caroline Smith is VP deputy general counsel at HireRight

To download your free copy of HireRight’s 2021 Global Benchmark Report now click here.