Business Considerations with a Remote Workforce

May 27, 2020 | Article

Keeping Your Organization Strong and Secure

As businesses quickly moved workers out of the office to their homes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there wasn’t much time for deliberation. Sorting through all the logistics of a remote workforce can prove challenging to manage, especially amidst an unsettling atmosphere.

Even as shelter-in-place restrictions have begun to lift, many organizations continue to work remotely. In fact, many organizations are seeing telework as a likely and potentially viable long-term solution.

There are potential issues to be aware of with a remote workforce, however. From preventing cybersecurity and fraud to ensuring sales tax is properly calculated for NEXUS, staying informed and vigilant will go a long way in protecting your business during this unprecedented time. It will serve you well even after restrictions are eventually relaxed and having remote workers becomes the new normal.

Cybersecurity Issues with Remote Workers
It’s imperative to protect your data and infrastructure from attack as your employees work from home. Cybercriminals are using this turbulent time to prey on people who have their guard down. A cyberattack can be devasting to your organization but prevented with the right tools, systems and procedures in place.

A recent study found that one in three organizations have dealt with a security incident due to an unsecured remote worker. The same study found that 70 percent of IT professionals believe remote staff pose a greater risk than onsite employees.

Remember security basics to protect your systems and data. Everyone needs to remain vigilant with outside emails and text messages with links and attachments to prevent phishing attacks. It’s been estimated that there are more than 4,000 COVID-19 coronavirus websites on the internet.

In terms of cybersecurity, the important aspects are:

  • Company-issued computers – maintain updates
  • Email security – prevent phishing scams
  • Data security – protect your network
  • Website security – maintaining updates and security measures
  • Educating employees – reinforce protocols
  • Authenticating users – set up two-factor authentication
  • Technical support – have IT support accessible
  • System access – establish access parameters

Fraud Considerations with Remote Workers
Your organization is more at risk for fraud as we continue to navigate the pandemic. People aren’t necessarily behaving as they normally would and might neglect to take the necessary precautions to follow protocols. Some examples include:

  • Reconciliations - not being performed due to lack of access to records
  • Internal controls - lack of adherence to processes as urgency to complete a task
  • Payroll timesheet errors - limited review of work performed and hasty approvals

Taking the extra time and effort needed to conduct complete and precise work will pay off in the long run. It’s invaluable to develop a formal, written ethics policy establishing your stance on fraud and detailing what is expected from each employee and how fraudulent activity will be punished.

It’s also critical you look for areas where fraud could arise in your organization and ensure you have proper segregation of duties.

Here’s what to look for when it comes to fraud.
Fraud Prevention and Detection Checklist

Technology Considerations
When establishing your remote workforce, technology considerations are paramount. If you don’t have an IT department at your organization to manage and maintain technology, software, network security and support your employees, you will want to consider outsourcing your IT. Review your technology consulting options to make sure you’re adequately covered.

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to your technology needs.

Eide Bailly offers support to help.

Learn more about our IT Managed Service Support.

Protecting your people as well as your data in a remote work situation is crucial. Some organizations were better prepared for others to work remotely. However, there are key steps all organizations can take to ensure proper technology protocols when working out-of-the-office.

  • Move applications to the cloud including servers, email, phone system and business applications
  • Enable proper collaboration and sharing tools for easy file storage, project management and communication to boost your team’ efficiency and productivity
  • Ensure your compliance with any business/industry regulations
  • Enable two-factor authentication on all sensitive applications/data
  • Run a cybersecurity audit to determine how hackers might gain access
  • Invest in the highest level of security firewall with end-point protection, anti-malware and anti-viral software
  • Keep all security software updated
  • Establish company-wide password protocols
  • Safeguard sensitive data with encryption protocols
  • Educate everyone about cybersecurity prevention best practices

One area of particular concern with remote work is Zoom meetings. With everyone meeting virtually instead of in-person, Zoom has become the go-to platform for many organizations. The free version of Zoom has particular security concerns. There are issues to be aware of and additional measures you and your workforce should take when hosting a meeting on Zoom. There has been a lot of recent news coverage about Zoom’s security/privacy issues and subsequent security updates by the company, so we will continue to monitor the situation.

  • Prevent Zoombombing – an uninvited attendee enters and disrupts meeting
  • Use the paid version
  • Use the Waiting Room feature to screen participants before they join
  • Password protect your meetings
  • Authenticate users
  • Do not allow people to join before the host
  • Lock down your meeting after everyone has joined
  • Turn off participant screen sharing
  • Use a randomly-generated ID instead of your personal meeting ID
  • Avoid file sharing features
  • Remove nuisance attendees
  • Check for updates regularly

Nexus
With workers in various locations away from the physical office, making certain to file the necessary state and local taxes to be compliant is imperative. If your business sells to customers or operates in multiple jurisdictions, you may be required to file additional tax returns.

In regard to tax law, nexus occurs when a business has a connection to a state other than the one in which the business primarily resides. These connections can be created through an employee’s physical presence in a state performing services on behalf of a business, through the use of contractors, or via remote internet sales, including sales through marketplace facilitators. Depending on how you’re deriving revenue, your business could be subject to a variety of taxes such as income, franchise, gross receipts, and sales and use.

Conduct a nexus study to analyze your unique business practices. Analyzing your revenue stream(s) and use of people and property across the country can help you identify your potential state tax filing requirements.

Supplementing Your Workforce
As organizations run leaner with limited staff, they may need help maintaining necessary functions like accounting. If you don’t have teams of support staff in-house, consider outsourcing various services to manage your organization’s needs. Key areas to consider are IT, payroll and accounting, to name a few.

Issues to consider when researching outsourcing options: expertise, reputation, trust, value, accessibility, responsiveness and flexibility. Outsourcing might be ideal for you because you can determine the scalability that is ideal to your economic situation at any given time.

Outsourcing key functions can allow you to concentrate on what’s important.

HR/Internal Communications
It’s important to communicate with your remote workers and ensure they feel supported. Business leaders should regularly communicate, reinforcing their vision, goals and any short-term adjustments that are being made.

HR should make sure remote employees have what they need to conduct their work. Remind employees of benefits available to them to assist in addressing the new “norm” can go a long with reducing fear and/or stress. Managers should have regular meetings and informal checkups with their team. Make sure you stay in touch with your employees and are transparent with your organization’s response to new regulations, changes to business operations and the status of the organization. Doing so may eliminate the element of surprise and allow employees to feel more secure.

For people who are used to the more structured and social nature of an office setting, it can be a difficult transition to work from home. Schedule lunches or social gatherings via Zoom so employees can interact and connect with co-workers.

In a time of fear and uncertainty, any amount of reassurance and support you can provide goes a long way. How you communicate and care for employees during this crisis could have a lasting effect on the strength and stability of your organization.

Unique Industry Considerations
Business owners are coming up with strategic ways to safely conduct business while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Certain industries have unique considerations in this challenging new business environment, such as retail, restaurant, fitness and healthcare organizations.

Healthcare Industry Impacts
Healthcare organizations have specific issues to consider when it comes to remote working. Since this pandemic, telemedicine has expanded to allow a range of healthcare providers including doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers to offer telehealth services for routine office visits, mental health counseling and preventative health screenings. However, the regulations can be relatively complex.

As with any industry, your technology and tools to facilitate quality customer/patient care are paramount. Review all of your software and communication tools to make sure you have everything you need to serve your clientele, as well as remain compliant. You may also want to consider reviewing your insurance coverage to make sure you are fully covered and your payment structure to account for your new business reality.

Understanding the Impact of Remote Working
You need to keep your business top of mind, especially when it’s entirely remote. Following the guidance outlined will help strengthen and protect your business, allowing you to navigate through these challenging times, empowering you with a solid plan to move forward.

Remote working is a critical piece of the puzzle. It’s not the only one. We’ve developed COVID-19 resources to help you understand organizational impacts.

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