Use This Home Office Audit for Remote Workers

It's a valuable risk management tool.

Working remotely – whether part-time, full-time or a mixture of the two – is the new normal for law firms.

But if you don’t take the time to install some risk management guardrails for remote workers, you could be courting disaster.

One solution is to develop a Home Office Audit that covers everything from internet speed to email protocols. The idea is to guide employees in setting up their individual workstations safely and securely.

“Don’t underestimate the impact working from home has on your home life,” writes Emily Heaslip for CO. “You need to audit your home situation to ensure it’s an environment conducive to working productively.”

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More than two out of three companies (of all types, not just law firms) have implemented remote work policies. Many of them – led by behemoths like Twitter and Square – are allowing employees to work from home permanently.

Maybe you already have a comprehensive remote work policy. If so, congratulations. If not, here are some points to consider including in your Home Office Audit to make sure remote workplaces are safe, secure and sustainable.

  • Is your home conducive to a remote office? “Whether you’re single, married with kids, or living with a roommate or your parents, you have to consider the impact your schedule will have on those around you,” says Heaslip. “Are your hours going to clash with your partners? Is there child care available if you’re required to be online from 9 to 5? Will your roommate’s loud chewing be a constant distraction?”
  • Is there a private workspace within the home? Kitchen counters, backyard decks and Barcaloungers are fine for browsing the internet, scanning social media or playing video games. Not so much for legal work, which requires undivided concentration and uncompromised confidentiality. Not to mention the fact that working from your bedroom has been shown to disrupt your sleep cycle and hurt your productivity. Better options: a spare bedroom, garage apartment or coworking space in a nearby building.
  • Is the site secure from unwanted eyes? Can family members access your work materials? Are guests able to see your computer screen? Can confidentiality be protected?
  • Are you using only approved computers and devices? Some firms are buying laptops for their remote workers to use in order to ensure accountability and control.
  • Is the internet connection reliable? You might also want to require remote workers to maintain access to a VPN or other security tools.
  • Is your internet speed fast enough? “Even if you have a basic package set up, consider what you’ll need to do work as seamlessly as you do in the office,” writes Heaslip. “Find out what your existing internet speeds are with a website like Speedtest.net or Netflix’s Fast.com. The speed you need depends largely on what you’re using the internet for (e.g., sending emails vs. spending the day on video calls) as well as how many people or devices are using the connection at the same time.”
  • Has your IT professional inspected and approved the remote setup? Create a checklist of minimal standards for home offices.
  • Are there ways to stay socially connected? “A survey by Buffer found that 20 percent of full-time remote workers struggle with feeling isolated, which can lead to burnout and fatigue,” says Heaslip.
  • How will the firm monitor remote work performance? Options range from apps that track when remote workers log on and off to simply requiring them to check in via email or phone at scheduled times.
  • What communication channels will be used? Whether its Slack, cellphone or social media, specify the primary methods for staying in touch.
  • What are the expectations for working remotely? Make sure both sides are on the same page as to accountability, goals and targets.
  • Will there be any changes in compensation or benefits? Confirm all changes in writing.
  • Are there opportunities for professional growth? Just because an employee is working from home doesn’t mean they can’t develop new skills. Come up with ways – virtual staff meetings, online CLE courses – to keep learning and growing.

If you practice in Wisconsin, Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan, you can stay on top of ethics and risk management news by being a member of Alta Pro Lawyers RPG. You’ll get access to free webinars, the Pro Practice Playbook, Reminger ProLink, Ask the Risk Pro and more. Here’s how to join.

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