RIM implications of teleworking

Over the past weeks, more and more businesses, government agencies, educational facilities, and cultural heritage organizations have shuttered their physical locations — either in a proactive attempt to prevent community spread of the coronavirus or in response to local shelter in place/stay at home orders — and have stood up teleworking and online options.  As people involved with records and information management, we realize that the location at which folks are doing their work has no bearing on the record status of the files created.  But in recognition that good RIM practices may not be on the forefront of many people’s minds during this crisis, allow me to call attention to some things to consider (many of which were contributed through the SAA Records Management Section listserv).

  • Rather than trying to maintain paper records outside the office in non-secure locations, try to conduct as much business electronically and take as few paper files home as possible.  Also try to print as little as possible.  Obviously, any paper files that are needed during this time should be maintained appropriately and returned to the office as soon as practicable, either to be filed or shredded as appropriate.
  • For the purposes of records management, public records requests, audits, etc., to the greatest extent possible, employees should maintain files within agency-managed environments (e.g., SharePoint, OneDrive); if these resources are not available, files that are maintained on personal devices must be transferred to agency resources as soon as practicable.  In the meantime, auditors, general counsel, and public information officers should provide guidance about how records requests will be handled. 
  • Publicly available Wi-Fi systems are not secure, so data security protocols demand that any confidential agency documents should not be accessed while using public Wi-Fi.
  • If documents with personal identifying information or other confidential matters are handled in a home office, make sure they are not available to other parties.  If they need to be destroyed before you can return to your business office, they should be shredded rather than placed in the trash.

There are already some good resources available — although they predate this situation, they certainly address many of the issues of teleworking:

There are also questions that remain about the impacts of this situation:

  • Good Continuity Of Operations Plans should include information about essential records.  As early as 2015, the Alabama Department of Archives and History listed pandemic influenza training and exercises in its COOP template — I wonder if anyone had undertaken exercises before this current crisis that prepared your institution and employees?  If so, it’d be interesting to find out how effectively your training translated to actual deployment and what, if anything, you wish you’d done differently.
  • What happens when people need access to paper files that are in remote storage?  I haven’t seen these businesses specifically identified as essential in the various government orders, but can a legal argument be made that they are?
  • Does anyone already have procedures in place about how records requests will be handled when employees are working remotely and may or may not be capturing all records in agency platforms in real time?

For the longer term, it will also be interesting to see how this crisis affects people’s definitions of essential records and organizations’ procedures for guaranteeing access to essential records.  In a wider scope, is there a way for workers to identify the electronic version of a go-kit (i.e., the electronic files that need to be accessible remotely if teleworking is required, even if they are not technically essential)?

If anyone has any stories to share, please comment here or post to the listserv through SAA Connect.  And if you prefer not to share your comments publicly, you can always reach out to the Records Management Section directly, and we can anonymize/aggregate this information for the benefit of the whole community.

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