Data Security & Work from Home (WFH) – Time for Introspection for Both UK Recruitment Agencies and Their Offshore Partners

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I have just launched my website for beta testing three days back, and seldom did I know that I’d be publishing a blog on a topic this sensitive and controversial. Anyway, we are where we are, and someone needs to talk about the elephant in the house.

Amidst the pandemic over the last couple of weeks, many businesses globally have asked their teams to work from home. As the pandemic creates havoc, companies continue to face the task of protecting its squad and, at the same time, avert economic impact. This humanitarian crisis has the potential of creating an economic shock if businesses don’t act. 

It is about time to empower team members, as well as to adapt to existing global and local conditions. With harsh conditions such as travel restrictions and lockdown, businesses need to address short-and long-term consequences by developing new business processes and new ways of collaboration and business continuity plans.

With this situation at hand, there are still significant challenges involved to make the Work from Home (WfH) model workable. 

  1. Infra & Logistics
  2. Network resilience
  3. New work environment
  4. Data security

Many UK recruitment businesses also have remote offshore partners who are viewed as saviours in this time of the day. These teams work on the breadth of functions, both front and back-office, such as Sourcing, Candidate Generation, Recruiting, Compliance, Reference Chasing, Payroll, and Accounting, respectively.  

The agencies have teams ranging from 1 to 400 members, depending on their requirement and size of the business. However, the thing about this pandemic is that it impacts everybody irrespective of the region, religion, caste, sex, etc. Remote offshore partners have to be prepared equally, instead of all the more to battle this pandemic, especially when they are looked upon as a back-up in these catastrophic times. It is not just about business continuity working protocols. Equally important is guidance for employees.

Some of the significant factors’ recruitment businesses consider when partnering with an offshore RPO are below. 

Flexibility: The outsourced model is designed based on flexibility. Hence the service providers are ready with required infra and resources to scale when required. This is one of the major reasons’ recruitment businesses partner with outsourced service providers as it provides flexibility and scalability in a short period.

Resources: Considering the volume of clients outsourced providers work for, they have an extensive database of candidates on their books and bench both. In dire situations like these, they dive into this pool to help their clients.

Security and Governance: Most centers are well equipped to meet all the compliance requirements ranging from basic security like CCTV, Access card-driven premises, No mobiles on the operations floor, No bags on the operations floor, limited printing rights, blocked USB/CD/DVD drives to GDPR, data security measures, etc. These standards increase client confidence assuring them that they are working with a legitimate partner who cares for their business as data is bread and butter for every company within the recruiting industry. 

However, no business (including outsourcing companies) is immune to a global pandemic like Coronavirus. In this case, one of the major steps in controlling the spread of this virus, as suggested by the governments across the world, is to stay indoors, i.e., work from home (WFH) as the only possible option to keep businesses running.

So, where is the problem? Outsourcing companies have infra and resources for them to have their teams work from home, just like any of their clients in the UK would have already taken this step. What is stopping them from executing this approach?

Having developed and led large scale offshore RPO projects in my previous lives, I can tell you how this works and to what extent transparent organisations involve clients in any changes.

Some of the critical instances where clients are involved religiously:

  • Performance evaluation, management, promotions, etc. 
  • The role/function change of their staff on the offshore team; i.e., they are either wanting to move this team member to a different team or a different client
  • Monthly/quarterly process and IT audits (from a data security perspective), etc. 
  • Anything to do with data security

Coming to the current situation where the outsourced service provider needs to enable their staff to work from home, the service provider needs to seek permission from the client, and this isn’t simple. The client’s just wouldn’t agree with this change straight away, unlike the decision they take back home for their teams. This is where the real introspection is required to resolve the situation with best possible risk mitigation systems and processes. 

One of the major reasons is “Data security.” Any business can vouch upon security when the staff is working within their premises and monitored with several measures in place. However, how can any business vouch upon data security when someone is not working from your offices?

Yes, one could set up webcams on the systems, track what one access’ etc. However, how full-proof are these measures when one is not in your offices?

If people want to breach the confidentiality and data, they can write it on a piece of paper, take a picture, etc. when working from home or remotely. How is this different from one of the agency team members doing this while they are working from home in the UK against someone working from home somewhere in Asia or Eastern Europe, and how would any business control this from happening?

How can business owners view and measure this unique situation with a different yardstick for their staff in the UK and remote team someplace else? 

Has there never been any case where the Recruiter has not taken any client/candidate data and set up their agencies? I am certain; several agencies in the market have set up based on this source and many agencies recruiting Recruiters who come handy with workable candidates, especially in the temporary/locum staffing markets. 

So, how can agencies and offshore partners deal with this situation?

While there is no full-proof solution in place yet, both the recruitment businesses(clients) and offshore partners will jointly need to review the best possible scenario to mitigate risks. If one wants to keep the business operating, certain risks will need to be taken, and a common view of evaluating the solution irrespective of onshore (UK) or offshore (someplace overseas) will need to be considered.

Trust is a critical element of any relationship, be it business or personal. Both the offshore service provider and the business agency will have to develop a mutually acceptable plan to protect the broader interests of people and avert an economic catastrophe. A leap of faith will need to be taken by both the businesses and a situation like this can be viewed as an experiment to operate the company in a novel way. Of course, there will be loopholes and failures. However, failures are how we learn and make the course correction in business and our lives. Let’s stand together to beat this pandemic. 

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