Tesco announced last week that they are trialling in-store office space providing desks, co-working areas and meeting rooms in an aim to allow workers access to local working spaces rather than having to commute to city centre offices. This novel scheme is in response to research conducted by Tesco, which found that 72% of workers prefer flexible working.
Whilst innovative schemes such as this provide greater flexibility to employees, employers should be aware of potential issues which could arise and how these can be mitigated.
Employers should be alive to potential confidentiality risks which could arise when allowing employees to work in public places. All employees have an implied duty not to disclose confidential information, but where employees work remotely it can be harder for employers to ensure that confidential information is being appropriately safeguarded.
In addition to confidentiality clauses in contracts of employment, practical measures should be implemented to protect confidential information such as the use of passwords and encryption, computer privacy screens and equipment for transporting and storing hardcopy confidential documents, such as a lockable briefcase. Employers may also want to consider implementing a policy that any phone calls discussing confidential matters can only be taken in private spaces.
Equipment and data protection
When implementing flexible working, employers may agree to supply computer equipment or require employees to use their own personal equipment. In both cases, employers should ensure that all electronic devices used for business purposes have appropriate technology and effective systems in place to reduce the risk of a data security breach. Employers should consider carrying out a data privacy impact assessment to assess any potential risks and implement protective measures accordingly, which may include virus protection and anti-malware software.
There are a range of measures and policies which employers can introduce to help reduce the risk of data security breaches, including:
- VPNs and multi-factor authentication to access company systems
- Ensuring employees regularly update security software
- Ensuring employees regularly change security passwords
- Requiring employees to lock electronic devices when not in use
- Requiring employees to store confidential documents securely and to dispose of them securely when no longer required
- Requiring employees to share data through a secure messaging application or online document sharing system
- Requiring employees to make calls through secure video-conferencing software
Allowing employees to work in public places grants greater work flexibility. Whilst this may lead to improved employee satisfaction and increased productivity, clearly there are a number of issues for employers to consider. Employers will need to ensure confidentiality and data protection risks are assessed and mitigated. Setting clear rules and boundaries will be key and employers should ensure that any flexible working policies are comprehensive and up to date. Training will also help employees adapt to new working practices to minimise the risk of confidentiality and data security breaches.
For more information on flexible or hybrid working, please contact a member of the Employment Team.