Managing workforce risk during COVID-19: The risks of remote working

The risks of remote working, weighed up against working from home, present multiple new categories of risk considerations for organisations.

Our annual Emerging Workforce Summit was moved online this year, due to the COVID crisis. So now, as we’re hosting webinars and delegate engagement events online, we’re bringing you the best of these right here.

Our first online event focused on managing workforce risk and legislative change during the COVID era. We heard from three of the industry’s greatest minds when it comes to workforce risk:

Natalie James

Natalie James: Partner, Deloitte and Former Fair Work Ombudsman

Nick Duggal

Nick Duggal: Partner, Moray & Agnew and legal expert on workplace legislation

Charles Cameron

Charles Cameron: CEO of the RCSA, the recruitment industry body

This week, we’re delving into the next series of questions posed to the expert panel from our recent webinar, with a particular focus on the risks of working from home, returning to work, and the key factors organisations need to be aware of.


In this pandemic what are the risks of remote working? And are there risks regarding obligations and potential deemed employment for contractors?

One of the potentially positive impacts of the pandemic is that workers are unlikely to go back to the way of working, pre-COVID. Working from home isn’t going to stop all of a sudden. That’s pretty clear, right now.

Lawyers, professional services workers, for example, are going to want to work from home more regularly.

Working from home has the potential to blur the lines in relation to issues such as whether you’re in control of your workers, are they taking the right direction in their work?

In the medium term, what’s likely to be seen is a recalibration of the independent contractor/employee distinction, in the context of people working from home.

This will need to be factored in. This scenario of working from home, won’t actually change the core test of the employee vs contractor classification, but it will be one of the issues coming from this pandemic, that will need to be regularised.


What are the risks of a staged return to work?

As a member of industry group comprising 50 staffing and recruitment firms from across the globe, three members – Randstad, Adecco Group and Manpower Group – worked with McKinsey recently (about a month ago), to come up with a program called ‘Returning Back to Work Safely, The New Normal’.

The project is focused on how the corporate world shares the experience of how they will return to work. Sounds complex? It is.

Many organisations are looking at other countries – especially New Zealand given the success they’ve achieved with containing diagnoses and deaths – for guidance on the next steps, especially the return of workers to the office. The key element here, when it comes to people going back to work, is the element of sharing. Sharing experiences, insights, learnings, mistakes, new directions for getting the workforce and the economy back into action. This needs to weighed up against the risks of remote working.

One of the key insights from the current state of play in the workforce, is the respect organisations have for workers that choose not to return to the office in the immediate term. This is a guiding principle right now and will be key to maintaining worker engagement and productivity.

Going back to looking at the inherent requirements of the role is key. If workers can perform the inherent requirements of the job from home, without undermining their safety, we’re seeing more and more businesses opting to agree that workers can remain working at home.

Work health and safety is a factor for consideration, of course. The current PCUB model – a person conducting a business or undertaking – is inherent in work health and safety. With remote workers, there’s a greater obligation for organisations to communicate, to consult with workers, to be accessible. This is a scenario that is going to be tested in this next phase of work, especially as much of the workforce will opt to remain working from home.

Some of the bigger issues here are going to be around the pressure that may be applied (or not) around ‘if others are going back to work, I actually have to return to work’.

In a white-collar corporate environment, the risks of workers staying at home are minimal.


Are businesses seeing the risks on health and well-being of returning to work and able to weigh up this risk against people working from home, where possible?

There are the fortunate people in the corporate world, who don’t have to return to the office. In terms of these people, it’s hard to fathom that they will be directed to return to work as we look to come out the other side of this pandemic.

To take a couple of practical examples: think about the lifts in office buildings that perform poorly. Which is not an uncommon scenario. The concept of workers, returning to work only to get stuck in a lift in close proximity with colleagues or strangers is an obvious deal-breaker. Or, where only two people per lift are acceptable to maintain social distancing. So the lift is unreliable, and say, the workers can’t use the stairs – this again, is a major factor to deter workers from coming back to the office.

Why would they?

The health risks are obvious, outside of the productivity impacts.

Another example. Once the workers come back to the office, there are other risks like the risk of contamination from surfaces, adequate sanitising, maintaining social distancing protocols. And until a vaccine is achieved, or we’re at the stage of complete elimination of the virus, we’re likely a way off from returning to the office as per the pre-COVID state.

At this stage of organisations considering a return to normal, there’s a freedom of choice in place for many of these aforementioned fortunate workers. But that freedom is dependent upon not many workers choosing to be back in an office environment.

Conversely, what about the risks of remote working?

Think about the ergonomics of working from home. A laptop set up on the kitchen bench, no proper back support. Not sit-stand desk.

The personal risks of working from home are actually very real.

And they can’t be underestimated.

The other risk of working from home is the well-documented mental health risks. As we discussed in the first issue of this blog series, people are under unprecedented pressure and strain, like they’ve never been before. These strains are largely financial, health and isolation. Compounded, and this working from home scenario can create a greater risk than the organisation may have factored in.


As one of the world’s leading providers of contingent worker management solutions, CXC is well positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across five continents and decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help please contact us here.