How the Pandemic Has Changed Compliance for Good

by Francine Breckenridge, Chief Compliance Officer, U.S. Money Reserve

While we went into the pandemic thinking that it would only last a short time, it’s clear we are certainly not out of the woods. Compliance leaders must adapt to this new landscape.

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into its tenth month, and curfews, lockdowns, and various closures begin to roll out across the country, business leaders need to take a hard look at how we are managing this pandemic for our employees and our businesses. Compliance leaders are continually reassessing their tools and techniques as the world of regulations, rules, and laws continuously changes. The advent of COVID-19 makes this work even more vital to the safety of both our businesses and those we employ.

With more than 250,000 people dead from the virus and more than 11.6 million people infected in the U.S. alone, it’s clear that going back to “business as usual” isn’t realistic. Compliance leaders need to adapt and learn from the events as they unfold around us. Here’s how the pandemic has changed compliance for good and the steps you should take to ensure that you and your team are safe, healthy, and in a position to sustain your business safely into the future.

The Challenge of Remote Workers

Managing a remote workforce is tricky enough. It is has been so difficult that traditionally most businesses have opted to keep people in the office as much as possible. This made it easier for managers to keep an eye on employees and ensure that work was getting done in a timely manner, and it also ensured that employees were behaving in ethical ways in the office. With the arrival of the pandemic, we’ve all been forced into the new remote working paradigm, and businesses and compliance leaders must adapt. Compliance officers and leaders are left with a new challenge to meet. How do you ensure that employees are doing what they are supposed to when logging in from home while not violating their privacy rights? It’s a tricky question that compliance officers need to face and address before another potential wave of full lockdown occurs.

The sudden shift to a predominantly remote work model has highlighted the shortcomings of existing compliance strategies. In many cases, it has shown said policies to be out of date, static, and overly reliant on human beings and manual oversight. To effectively maintain compliance, leaders need to continually monitor and evaluate company data and content. That means you will need to significantly beef up your automatic monitoring services and leverage technology to ensure automatic oversight instead. I’ve written a lot about the value of leveraging technology to help improve your compliance program.

Compliance leaders also need to ensure that they do not violate employees’ privacy while keeping systems and data secure. It’s essential that employees know their rights and that you have a clear policy in place as we all adapt to this new world. Most company policies err on the side of the company and not the employee. It is the compliance and HR teams’ responsibility to ensure that employees are well-versed in what they should and shouldn’t do during working hours or on company equipment they have at home. It’s best to be utterly transparent about the policies because if you’re not, you risk alienating skilled workers. LegalZoom has an excellent primer on what employees should know about their privacy rights when working from home.

The Device Challenge

There are plenty of discussions about the pros and cons of working from home, both for the employee and for management teams. However, the central pain point for compliance teams comes into play with the administration of networks and connections — especially for personal devices that employees may need to use to get their remote work done.

Since the advent of the internet, access to your network is a question that compliance and legal management teams have struggled with. Hacking scams, phishing scams, personal device usage, and outside access to business networks have all been on the rise since we’ve had to send employees home to work. Again the question of how to safely monitor activity on the network while maintaining a modicum of privacy for employees is at the heart of the challenge.

The best way to address this issue is to get clear guidelines in place that all employees know and can follow. It’s also best to get employees to access the network and the tools they need via business rather than personal devices. At this point, 10 months into the pandemic, most companies should have rolled out a comprehensive technology plan that helps make working remotely more comfortable for employees but also makes it easier to monitor any unauthorized access. It also pays to educate your employees on setting up a more secure home network so that they can get their work done and ensure that they are not vulnerable to outside attacks. I’ve also written quite extensively on how best to secure your virtual workplace using the right technology. You can find that story here.

Rapid Response Challenge

One thing is certain about the current pandemic: It has continued to change at a rapid pace. That means compliance leaders have to keep up with the pace of change and ensure that they are doing everything by the book to keep employees and the business safe.

If you have employees who are necessary workers, and they need to be in the office with others, you’ll need to be ready to manage any COVID exposure or outbreak — and you may even need to perform contact tracing as outlined by the federal and state governments. You do not want to end up on the wrong side of compliance regarding this virus, which means having the right protocols in place for testing, managing, and mitigating the virus should it get into your workplace. With the virus is spreading at its current rate, it’s highly likely that you will have to deal with the virus in your workplace. This means it’s vital to have a clear action plan in place in order to mitigate the spread and keep your employees safe. The plan must also be easy to activate very quickly because this bug spreads rapidly, is highly contagious, and is deadly.

In addition to dealing with potentially sick employees, you’ll also need to consider how to manage any additional shutdown orders that may come as the pandemic rages on. Each state and locality is responsible for managing their response to the pandemic. Each one has different rules and regulations that you and your company (and your employees) will all need to comply with. If and when additional restrictions are put on your business, you’ll need to be ready to adapt as quickly as possible to minimize any potential business loss you might experience as a result. This means having a plan in place for a potential complete shutdown like the one in March of this year. Also, plans should be ready for a potential partial shutdown, curfews, or other restrictions that could impact your business’s ability to continue to operate.

When planning for a rapid response, compliance teams need to focus on core business needs and keeping employees safe. Once you know what the priorities are, you can focus on the best ways to support those sectors when and if you need to make quick changes. When planning for any course of action, it’s vital to take both the 50,000-foot view and the one-foot view. This is needed so that your team can address any potential issues that might come up both as the pandemic evolves and as your business changes to meet the needs of clients, customers, and employees.

The Bottom Line

Now is not the time for compliance to be staid, static, and stuck in the old ways. The pandemic has changed so many things in our lives, including how we work and how we conduct business. Compliance managers and officers must remain flexible, adaptable, and aware of the trends and events happening in the outside world. These events have such a tremendous impact on how we conduct our business. There’s no question about it: Compliance has been changed for good by COVID-19. Business leaders must stay on top of new trends. How businesses cope with the new compliance rules and hurdles will be the true hallmark of a successful company. Managing compliance through the pandemic in a way that both benefits the business and protects your employees will help sustain it well into the future.

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