The financial services sector, in which surveillance software is often used to track employee behaviour and spot market abuse, has uncovered a spike in misconduct and misbehaviour during lockdown.

The suggestion is that lockdown and mass remote working is allowing behaviour to develop that would come under more obvious scrutiny in an office environment. For many of us the lines between personal and work life are becoming blurred, professional communications are becoming more casual, working hours are less concrete, our work wardrobes are gathering dust and our work and home environments are largely the same.  

What the data in the financial services sector shows from monitoring employee phone calls, texts, trading activity and behaviour is that an alarming unintended consequence of these blurred boundaries is an increase in inappropriate and discriminatory language and behaviour that could be deemed as harassment. The month following lockdown also saw a large increase in alerts flagging possible insider dealing and market abuse according to a Financial News article published at the beginning of this month, and the sector is bracing itself for that increase to continue. The Financial Times this month similarly reported that the pandemic has multiplied the amount of confidential and insider information floating around and the opportunities for stealing it.

Whilst other sectors may not commonly use the same surveillance techniques, the blurring of boundaries exists across the board and so to, we must assume, is the perception by employees that if they are out of sight then their behaviour is more likely to go unchecked. It is undoubtedly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate a controlled office or trading floor environment when employees are suddenly scattered all over the country. However, now that the initial lockdown panic has subsided and it is becoming clear that many of us will be working from home for the foreseeable future, employers need to put some serious thought into how they can effectively communicate and implement their professional standards, and their values, so as not to see a continuation of this trend. This is not just an employee relations problem, but a huge reputational problem, particularly for those operating in a regulated environment.

Ultimately, remote working employees are bound by exactly the same standards and policies as they would be if they were working in the office. Whilst this does not mean that we should all sit at home in our suits, many businesses’ policies will not have been drafted with mass remote working in mind so now is a good time for employers to check that their policies are fit for purpose and take action to ensure that they are understood and implemented in practice. Particularly so now many of us are in this for the long haul.