Rethinking the Modern Accumulation of Technology

In an article from, Natalie Kroc addresses how technology is impacting security measures.

Original post from on June 16, 2016.

It wasn’t the latest gadget or platform or program that the speakers discussed at a recent conference session on how to keep teleworkers and remote workers connected. Instead, it was the most basic of modern technologies that kept being stressed:

E-mail. An Internet connection. Maybe a webcam (though this proved controversial).

“I am a Millennial, and I … primarily communicate through e-mail,” said Greg Caplan, founder and CEO of Remote Year, a year-old startup that has brought together a group of 75 people to travel the world while holding down various remote jobs. Caplan believes that, for work purposes, e-mail is still king.

The other panelists at the Telecommuting, Remote and Distributed (TRaD) Works Forum, held June 9-10 in Washington, D.C., agreed that the simplest of technologies can successfully keep offsite employees connected. TRaD refers to the different kinds of offsite employees: Telecommuters are those who work from home sometimes, remote workers do their entire jobs from home and a distributed workforce is when an organization doesn’t have a physical location so its employees all work remotely.

Employees who work offsite only need “an Internet connection. Anything else we can work around,” said Carol Cochran, director of people and culture for Boulder, Colo.-based FlexJobs, a job search site that focuses on telecommuting, part-time and other flexible work opportunities. FlexJobs was a co-host of the forum.

Organizations may want to consider providing their remote workers a cellphone with Internet capabilities as a backup. This all but guarantees that employees will be able to work—even if they are having difficulties with their home Internet connection.

A chat function can be useful as well, if the work that employees are doing would benefit from the ability to reach out and have real-time conversations.

Many organizations that employ remote workers have the routine of a “daily huddle” or something similar, wherein employees are expected to check in at the start of the day, whether in a brief meeting or by writing their day’s plans in a shared document.

When an organization’s workforce is made up of remote or teleworking employees, or a mix of offsite and onsite workers, it’s especially important to use the time when everyone gets together effectively. Meetings should be “30 minutes, if not 15 minutes, instead of an hour,” Cochran said. If certain employees are inclined to speak for long periods of time, establish a time limit—and then stick to it.

Video: Love It or Hate It

“I hate video,” Cochran said. “I’m really reluctant to put it on, it’s so awkward.” FlexJobs uses it only rarely, and even then it’s often for social occasions. Cochran said she has found that workers become preoccupied knowing they are being viewed on screen, and worry about their hair and clothes and background surroundings.

This was a point of fierce contention among the panelists and forum attendees alike, though. Some organizations believe that video is essential, and that any initial awkwardness that employees may feel will disappear with habitual use.

Alex Konanykhin, CEO of Transparent Business, a platform that aims to help companies that employ teleworkers and freelancers, offered a solution: Get the organization’s leaders to work from home—and to exercise right before the meeting. When they dial in, they should be in full post-workout gear, including messy hair or a baseball cap. “All it takes is one time” of seeing that, he said, to have a workforce that can be comfortable with being on screen.

Video is a way of giving voice to remote workers and “making them feel part of the organization,” he added.

For those organizations that decide to incorporate webcams into the remote-worker experience, the panelists had some advice:

  • Don’t keep the webcams on all day—turn them on at specific times, such as for meetings or training sessions.
  • Suggest to employees who express reluctance that they may want to purchase a simple screen or backdrop to place behind them so that their home surroundings will not be visible on screen. This also may help to convey a more-businesslike feel.
  • Consider making video an option, not a requirement, for meetings.
  • Finally, if the organization’s video capabilities prove to be less than ideal—and repeatedly involve technical snafus such as the video shutting off or freezing, then stop trying to make video happen.

Adopt New Tools Cautiously

The speakers had their individual favorites among newer technologies, such as messaging app Slack, electronic signature platform DocuSign, Google Drawings for collaborating on charts and diagrams, and Zoom for streamlining remote communications. However, the panelists also derided many new offerings as being unnecessarily confusing and others for seeming to be more about entertainment than practical application.

Tools that are adopted by an organization need to be fully embraced by both remote and onsite workers, the speakers agreed. “When you take on a tool, you have to have a very clear expectation of how it is to be used,” Caplan said. “And that’s just culture.”

That said, it’s important for organizations to pick their tools wisely. Each new tool should represent an improvement from whatever employees were using before to accomplish a particular task. And while entertainment shouldn’t be a priority, each new tool should make employees’ jobs easier, the panelists said.

“Why do people love Facebook?” asked Konanykhin. “It’s instant gratification.” Employees expect the same ease of use and sense of satisfaction with the tools they use for work.

Natalie Kroc is a staff writer for SHRM.

See the original article here.


Kroc, N. (2016, June 16). Rethinking the modern accumulation of techonology [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Protect trade secrets, avoid the burn

Original story posted by Roy Maurer on Society for Human Resources Management website. 

An appellate court recently struck down a company’s trade secrets misappropriation claims because the company failed to protect its intellectual property (IP) as confidential or proprietary.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled in Head Over Heels Gymnastics Inc. v. Ware that defendant Harriet Ware did not steal her former employer’s trade secrets because the information at issue was never identified as such.

Ware was hired as an at-will employee in 2006 to work with gymnasts at Head Over Heels gymnastics academy in Norwell, Mass. When she accepted the position, Ware acknowledged that she had received and understood the employee handbook, which failed to include a noncompetition covenant or any mention of trade secrets.

Head Over Heels maintained a list of the people who trained at the school, including their names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. The information was available to all employees and was never identified as confidential or proprietary.

When Ware was terminated in 2012, she opened an academy of her own, taking approximately 30 Head Over Heels gymnasts with her.

The company sued, alleging that Ware misappropriated its trade secrets, violated her duty of loyalty by contacting its customers and unfairly competed with it.

The court held that because Ware was an at-will employee, she owed Head Over Heels no particular duty of loyalty and was free to “plan to go into competition with ... her employer and take active steps to do so even while still employed.” Further, absent a noncompetition agreement, Ware’s ability to compete with Head Over Heels was not constrained. Lastly, the court determined that Ware did not misappropriate her employer’s trade secrets because the school’s customer list was not legally considered a trade secret.

The court said that in determining whether information is proprietary to a business, “we look to the conduct of the parties and the nature of the information.” A determination about confidentiality is based on several factors, “including the extent to which the information is known outside of the business, the extent of measures taken by the employer to guard the secrecy of the information and the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired.”

Head Over Heels argued that everyone at the company understood that its customer list was intended solely for the purpose of the business and was neither publicly known nor available.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that, “as a matter of law, the [customer lists] are not trade secrets or confidential proprietary information. It is undisputed that the [customer lists] were available to all staff and employees and were distributed to Head Over Heels’ gymnasts and their families. The broad dissemination and availability of the [customer lists] indicates that Head Over Heels was not trying to guard the secrecy of the information. Importantly, much of the information found in the [customer lists] was readily available in the public domain and could have been easily obtained.”

The court therefore deemed Head Over Heels’ trade secret claims “unrealistic.”

Employer Takeaways

What can employers do to protect against confidential information being used by a former employee? “For starters, if you have confidential information, let everyone with access to it know that it is confidential, either through a designation in the company handbook, when they are given access to the information for the first time or any other obvious way,” said Shepard Davidson, a partner at Burns & Levinson LLP based in Boston.

Limiting access to the information and keeping it secure are additional ways to preserve confidentiality, he said. Training and reminding departing employees about their confidentiality obligations during exit interviews are also good ideas.

“The good news is that a company’s efforts in this regard are measured by a standard of reasonableness, not perfection. So if you have information that you believe is important, confidential or propriety, take some time to set up reasonable systems to protect that information,” Davidson said.

Follow Roy Maurer on Twitter at @SHRMRoy

Undercover investigators score PPACA subsidies

Originally posted July 23, 2014 by Kathryn Mayer on

Undercover investigators using fake identities were able to get health insurance and tax subsidies through the federal exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, underscoring ongoing problems and security issues plaguing the health care law, officials said Wednesday.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said they created 12 identities with fake citizenship and immigration statuses and phony income documents to test how easy (or difficult) it would be to get coverage and subsidies under the law.

The agency said 11 of the fake applicants were accepted, and the HHS-run exchanges rejected just one applicant because it lacked a Social Security number.

Though flagged some attempts as problematic, the fake applicants found more success on phone calls to call centers handling applications.

“For its 11 approved applications, GAO was directed to submit supporting documents, such as proof of income or citizenship; but, GAO found the document submission and review process to be inconsistent among these applications,” the agency said. “As of July 2014, GAO had received notification that portions of the fake documentation sent for two enrollees had been verified.”

Republicans jumped on the latest news, saying it was yet one more flaw in the faulty law.

“Ironically, the GAO has found Obamacare is working really well — for those who don’t exist,” said Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The Obama administration said it was taking the report seriously and would work to strengthen the law’s verification process.

The GAO remarked that findings were “preliminary” and they weren’t jumping to any conclusions yet. The agency said it would release a more detailed report in the coming months.

Eight million people signed up for health plans using the exchanges under PPACA.

The GAO report follows PPACA’s latest hurdle: two conflicting court rulings out Tuesday regarding the legality of PPACA subsidies issued to enrollees in the federal exchange.

Gadgets Stir Security Worries for HR

While advances in technology can spawn increased productivity and lower costs for a company, security concerns about the use of mobile devices and social media remain a hot-button issue for employers and HR professionals.

A recent poll by My Sammy and Holos Research found that security concerns rank as the top reason that employers block employee access to social media sites in the office, according to a report by Human Resource Executive Online. Of the respondents whose companies blocked access, 77 percent cited security as the primary reason, followed by productivity concerns at 67 percent.

Facebook and Twitter aren't the only tech trends that keep HR leaders up at night. The hardware that employees use to access these and other Internet sites can open the door to serious security breaches, as well, a report by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted.

As the sophistication of mobile devices has advanced in the last few years, so have malware, viruses and other threats that specifically target these devices. "The bad guys are getting better at making their apps look legitimate," Bob Hansmann, senior product marketing manager for Websense Security Labs, said in the SHRM report.

Bad apps can steal passwords and credit card numbers and can track website visits and text messages, said Robert Siciliano of antivirus software firm McAfee.

The problem is compounded when employees use their personal tablets and phones for work purposes.

Employers need to keep their policies and technologies sharp to avoid these security threats, experts say.  For instance, employers can limit the amount and types of information that employees can access on these devices, Hansmann suggests.

Siciliano recommends that employees be educated about the risks and be encouraged to be vigilant when shopping for mobile apps -- whether they be for personal or professional use. The company, however, should always take the lead when enforcing security policies, he said.

"Lock, locate and wipe is fundamental to any bring-your-own-device policy," Siciliano said in the SHRM report. "Not having some control over that device . . . is irresponsible today."