Technology has made it possible for people to work from home for many years, but most of us still left home to “go to work.” That changed in 2020 when working from home became the best way for many businesses to keep doing business. Now we’ve discovered that remote work has benefits, and it’s probably here to stay — at least in some form.
While it has benefits, remote work also poses some risks to businesses concerned about protecting trade secrets. Those risks can be managed, and the shift to remote work is a good reason to revisit your practices and policies around trade secrets. Before the pandemic, your business probably relied on confidentiality agreements or non-compete agreements to commit your employees or contractors to maintain your trade secrets. Those kinds of agreements are still key tools, though they may need updating for changed circumstances. You might also have kept any proprietary information physically restricted on-site, or limited who could access the information, and now you may need to think about how those kinds of restrictions will work. Let’s take a look at some simple tips that trade secret owners can take in order to maintain the confidentiality of their proprietary information in this era of the remote office.
Review and Revise Your Written Agreements
The first step your business should take is to review and update your existing confidentiality agreements. (Frankly, even if there were no pandemic it would be a good idea to regularly take another look at these agreements to be sure they still do what you need them to.) You should make sure any employee or business partner with access to sensitive information has signed a nondisclosure agreement. It’s also a good idea to revise the terms of remote work agreements so that you can clearly identify each employee’s obligation to maintain confidentiality. Consider, for example:
- Do your agreements address what steps remote workers need to take to maintain information confidentiality?
- Are they permitted to download information to a computer at home, or will you require them to work in a virtual environment?
- What kinds of security software do your employees have on their computers? How secure are their home networks?
- What limits should you set on employees’ ability to install software on computers they use to work from home?
Take this opportunity to stress the importance of keeping trade secrets private and secure, and to set boundaries whenever necessary. The more specific these written agreements are, the more informed your employees will be of their responsibilities, even while working from home.
Provide Additional Training to Employees
It’s important to schedule regular training sessions to remind employees of how important a role they play in protecting the confidentiality of sensitive information. Your employees are an integral part of the success of the business; the more they know that the more they will feel invested in keeping trade secrets safe, and the more precautions they will take to maintain confidentiality.
Keep a Record of Your Efforts
As businesses everywhere are adjusting to this “new normal,” it’s natural to feel uncertain and overwhelmed at times. You can feel a little less “whelmed” by keeping a written record of the steps you take to protect trade secrets. Document each employee training session, retain copies of all your revised written agreements and track any other actions you take to remind employees of their obligation to maintain confidentiality. This has a couple of benefits. First, you will be able to see what you’ve already done, review those steps, and revise them or replicate them when appropriate. And second, if someone does misappropriate your information, your lawyer will be able to show a court the steps you took to protect that information’s confidentiality.
If you need help ensuring that your trade secrets are protected, reach out to the friendly IP law attorneys at Legal Rubric LLC by calling our Minneapolis office today at (612) 465-0074.