As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on businesses, employers are turning to remote work to slow the spread of the virus while meeting customer needs. In fact, Forbes last month described the novel coronavirus as history’s “biggest experiment in working from home.”

“The benefit [of remote work] for employers for right now is just to make sure that they can continue to operate under a crisis situation where it’s disrupting the way that we congregate as human beings,” telework expert Michael Gutman said.

“But beyond that, there are many other benefits: being able to expand your talent pool beyond where your physical office is located; … there are real estate savings, where you don’t leave as large of a footprint; there’s environmental savings where you’re no longer asking people to take those long commutes into work. There’s social benefits of people being able to spend more time in their communities with their family, more time for exercise and for better diets. And then, of course, there’s employee happiness, which leads to overall increased retention and less turnover.”

Gutman formerly served as the marketing director for the remote-work screening company FlexJobs and recently collaborated with the Northwest Colorado Small Business Development Center on tips for businesses to successfully add telework practices into their existing operations (see sidebar).

But allowing employees to work remotely is not without drawbacks, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity.

“What’s most important from a security standpoint is that setting up remote access is easy — setting up secure remote access, however, is not,” said Trevor Dierdorff, founder and CEO of IT company Amnet.

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“I’m afraid there’s a lot of people out there who are responding to one threat and opening themselves up to another by making it easy for hackers to get into their network. If it’s easy for somebody to get remote access, they’re probably doing it wrong.”

To ensure system security, Dierdorff said companies that allow remote network access should establish a multi-factor authentication system over a Virtual Private Network before establishing a remote desktop connection.

“That’s something that’s critical,” he said. “Any computer hack can get you into your network remotely, but to do those things to make it hard for someone else to do the same, takes a lot more effort and know-how.”

In terms of implementing remote work for his own company, Dierdorff sees a lack of company culture and community as another pitfall.

“I think that, while there are some great online collaboration tools out there these days, you can’t beat faceto-face collaboration,” he said. “People who do telework are often very isolated from their coworkers — and even if they’re regularly doing video chats with people, it’s just not the same as sharing oxygen and breaking bread. “We don’t want to share oxygen right now because there could be coronavirus in the oxygen. But I don’t like it as a long-term solution for my team.”

While there’s currently no way to tell how long COVID-19 will continue to impact the country and its businesses, Gutman said the incident gives employers a unique opportunity to explore strategies they can keep using when the crisis is over.

“I imagine there are many managers or employees who have never been taught how effective remote work strategies can be,” Gutman said.

“And this is an opportunity for employers to embrace it and set some policies and guidelines around it so that when this virus and pandemic end, they’re set up for success and able to leverage remote work as a viable business strategy and not just something they need to take a look at in light of emergencies.”

Disclosure: Amnet is a vendor for Colorado Publishing House, which publishes the Colorado Springs Business Journal.