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With the recent COVID-19 guidance from the U.S. government (and other governments around the world) it appears that the period of office lockdowns – leading to the necessity to work at home—is going to last for at least another month, if not more.
Obviously, given the speed with which the virus hit and the number of people affected there was not a lot of time for companies to put together a work from home plan.
While these circumstances are unusual, they are not unique. In lower Manhattan, following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, there was a huge disruption to businesses in the area around and below Wall Street. At the time, businesses had to quickly find space, and often found it in buildings in New Jersey. In many cases we saw clients forced to accept warehouse space or raw office areas. Those moving into warehouses quickly learned that they could only so many folding tables and chairs at department or office stores. But what was really striking was that many firms forgot that warehouse space is often lacking in basics like enough bathrooms for workers, and during the disruptions following 9/11, truckloads of portable toilets had to come from as far away as Texas to meet the sudden demand.
Working from home is unlikely to result in a need for portable toilets, but there were a few lessons learned after 9/11 that are directly applicable to today’s situation. They demonstrate that in a high-tech world, it is important to consider low-tech problems.
Below is a video highlighting basic cyber security tips to make working from home more secure:
Computer printers have two basic necessities (other than power and connectivity). First, they need ink or toner to operate. Without the proper ink or toner, a printer is nothing more than a useless hunk of plastic and metal. So the first question to ask you staff is whether they have enough ink or toner cartridges at home. Given the pressure on delivery services, an order that should be delivered in two days may be delayed by a week or more, and for some types of cartridges, there may be shortages. Remind your people of the need to maintain spare cartridges and to order replacements before the need for them becomes critical.
The other important requirement for successful printing is paper. Working at home can mean that the amount of printing that must be done on a home printer can multiply by a substantial amount. Paper is not particularly expensive, but it is easy to run out. You may want to arrange for your company’s supplier to send a few reams to employees’ homes and to have a mechanism for ordering additional paper as needed. Common sources of paper, like office supply stores, may be closed as they are likely to be classified as non-essential businesses. An additional consideration comes into play for workers who have to print various kinds of official documents that may be required to be printed on special paper or special forms. Make sure there are enough of these special supplies so that they don’t run out.
When confidential material is printed for at-home use, don’t forget that it is very likely that those pages will still be confidential after they are used. You don’t want your company’s confidential material simply thrown into recycling bins where you lose control of who might see them. Clearly, thinking in advance about the need for home shredders is important. While some employees might already have shredders at home, don’t assume that everyone has them, or that they are sufficiently secure. You want cross-cut shredding rather than long strips that can be (with sufficient effort) be reconstructed. Our suggestion is to quickly survey your work from home population to find out who has shredders, and to remind people that if they don’t have a shredder, they should be holding on to confidential printed material and not discarding them. You can then consider either centrally purchasing home shredders and shipping them to your people, or to provide a budget amount that people can use to buy a shredder locally and expense it.
If printed material is highly confidential—for example, health care material printed out by a remote physician or nurse—and it has to be retained, where can it be stored securely? Answers range from locked drawers to locking file cabinets to small safes. Whatever solution is right for a particular company should be thought out, and any necessary equipment should be provided to those who need it.
Some organizations are dependent on having documents notarized. Remember that a notary can’t notarize their own signatures, so working with counsel, it may be important to think through how, in the period of work-from-home, you can arrange for necessary notarizations.
For organizations where employees who are suddenly working at home require various state licensing or specific certifications, it’s crucial that both the organization and the individuals are sensitive to expiration dates. In some cases, government agencies or certification organizations may opt to extend license/certification periods during the COVID-19 crisis (since their offices may be closed as well) but it is vital to check. Whether you do this centrally or delegate it to groups or individuals, allowing a license or certification to expire could place your organization at risk of litigation or reputational damage.
Thinking about low-tech issues may seem to be a low priority given the challenges that we face, but the issues discussed here can bring operations to a halt or result in risk as important as any high-tech issue. Responding to low-tech challenges can require the collective work of your technology, office services, procurement, human resources, finance, legal services and management teams.
Remember, while the natural tendency is to think of the COVID-19 disruptions as temporary, we see many businesses recognizing that they could operate more efficiently by moving at least some of their people from an in-office to remote working environment. So, investments in what might seem to be short-term fixes may pay dividends when we think about what the longer-term “new normal” turns out to be for our organizations.
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