For some organizations and industries, allowing contingent workers to work remotely during the Covid-19 shutdown can help keep productivity, continuity and worker morale intact. But for many companies, certain functions — filled by contingents — have not traditionally been working-from-home roles. The pandemic, however, is forcing organizations to rethink work-from-home policies — including contingents.

“I would say that for those that can do it, they absolutely are doing it — especially for the safety of the contingent workers as well as the employees,” said Dawn McCartney, VP of SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council.

But having contingents working from home does bring challenges, from engagement to H-1Bs to security.

Engagement. Keeping workers engaged, which is already more challenging with remote working situations, can be even more important during challenging times such as these. With remote workers, barriers to engagement can include:

  • Changes to the status quo
  • Impact on team culture and cohesiveness
  • Tracking worker productivity
  • Isolation
  • Time zone constraints
  • IP protection and confidentiality
  • Information security

But on the flip side, possible solutions to these barriers can include:

  • Identifying appropriate tools to increase communication
  • Leveraging video conferencing
  • Consistent meeting cadence
  • Weekly team meetings and one-on-ones
  • Standardized systems access protocols

Visa workers. Unique challenges are also posed by workers on H-1B visas when they shift from in-office to work-from-home situations.

Be particularly careful with workers — including contingents — who are here on “H” visa status, especially H-1B visas, advises Eric H. Rumbaugh, a partner with the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, headquartered in Milwaukee. Employers with substantial H-1B or other visa worker populations should talk to counsel immediately, he advises.

H-1B visa holders cannot always be relocated, even to their homes, without additional paperwork. “When you apply [for the H-1B], you specify a work location,” Rumbaugh says. “And if they are going to be working at another location, you are going to have some compliance steps to take.”

Keep contact information updated. Staffing firms, as the employer of record, are typically responsible for keeping and updating contact information for contingent workers; however, it is important for the buyer organization to be able to reach the workers when they are located remotely. Make sure to have updated and accurate personal email addresses, phone numbers, etc. on your contingents — as well as your employees — so you can reach them quickly. In addition, keep in regular contact with the staffing provider as to the status of the contingent worker.

Remote work and your business continuity plan. Remote work capabilities should be core components of your organization’s business continuity plan, which SIA discussed in a webinar last week. And contingent workers should be included in that plan.

“If you rely on [contingent workers] for mission-critical functions, you need to account for how you are going to work with them in a situation in which you have to enact your BCP,” said webinar speaker Autumn Labadie Vaupel, COO at Beeline. “How are you going to communicate with them? How are you going to ensure that they have the equipment that they need to be able to be productive during these times?”

When structuring your work-from-home policy, take into account the different living and family situations of your workers, which may include school or childcare shutdowns. Provide as much flexibility as possible so that they feel they “can give their best at work, while also supporting their family at the same time,” Vaupel suggested. This will “provide peace of mind and enable them to deliver for you.”

Vaupel also advises building extra time into some projects to allow for the fact that people may not be able to be as productive as they usually are in the office. And be sure to build in capabilities, such as video chats, to keep in touch with your workforce and bolster connections.

Cyber safety. The World Economic Forum reported that cybercriminals are taking advantage of the fact that many people who are working from home have not applied the same security on their networks that would be in place in a corporate environment. In addition, enterprises haven’t always deployed the right technologies or corporate security policies to ensure that all corporate-owned or corporate-managed devices have the exact same security protections, regardless of whether they’re connected to an enterprise network or an open home Wi-Fi network.

Recommendations for business leaders include:

Understand the threats to your organization. Business leaders should work with their security teams to identify likely attack vectors as a result of more employees working from home and prioritize the protection of their most sensitive information and business-critical applications.

Provide clear guidance and encourage communication. They must ensure that home-working policies are clear and include easy-to-follow steps that empower employees to make their home-working environment secure. This should include instructing employees to communicate with internal security teams about any suspicious activities.

Provide the right security capabilities. Leaders should ensure all corporate-owned or -managed devices are equipped with essential security capabilities, extending the same network security best practices that exist within the enterprise to all remote environments.

In addition, individuals must be empowered to follow the guidance provided to them by organizations and take preventative measures. These include maintaining good password hygiene, updating systems and software, securing Wi-Fi access points, using a virtual private network (VPN) and more.

“Taking these relatively straightforward steps at both an enterprise and individual level should help address some of the most common security risks facing our home-working environments,” the WEC stated. “We should also recognize that our threat environment is not static, which means it’s important to keep a close eye on evolving threats to avoid unnecessary additional costs and disruptions in a time when we can least afford them.”