Executive Perspectives: Mobile Employee Experience – The Risk & Compliance Imperatives
Richard D. Ballot
Rich leads the BGRS Legal team, supporting the company’s global operations in the areas of business development, service delivery, supply chain, litigation and claims, mortgage joint ventures, commercial real estate, transactional guidance, compliance programs, corporate governance matters, intellectual property, and procurement regulations involving the United States and Canadian government accounts. He has nearly 30 years’ experience in the legal profession, both as a legal counsel for organizations in the mobility industry and in private practice with expertise in commercial litigation and franchise law. The guiding principle of Rich’s team is to work seamlessly across the organization to ensure we successfully navigate BGRS and our clients through differing and complex challenges in all jurisdictions where we operate.
The events of 2020 have created an array of challenges for the legal profession, including judges and attorneys struggling to operate remotely, and the delays in court systems that were already overburdened prior to the pandemic. It has also required legal and other professionals across industry sectors to understand a variety of short-term legislative initiatives, on topics ranging from lock-down orders, enhanced unemployment benefits, job protection measures, and government subsidies to the private sector. In many instances, these laws, regulations, or executive orders may have been hastily enacted or ambiguously drafted. The economic impact of COVID-19 has also resulted in a cascade of financial difficulties for different elements within the supply chain of many organizations, particularly those suppliers who are more connected to, or dependent on, the commercial real estate sector.
Our clients entrust BGRS with not just their employees’ and their dependents’ personal information, but also with an expectation that we will maintain service continuity through a mobility journey.
BGRS strives, at all levels of the organization, to maintain and promote a culture of compliance and risk management, with a primary emphasis on safeguarding personal data. With opportunities stemming from accelerated digitization, data security and safeguards against business disruption are increasingly viewed as key deliverables by our clients. Our clients entrust BGRS with not just their employees’ and their dependents’ personal information, but also with an expectation that we will maintain service continuity through a mobility journey that can last several years from an assignment initiation to a successful repatriation.
The pandemic has certainly reinforced or accelerated existing risk and compliance considerations and created new potential areas of exposure. For example, the benefits of a robust business continuity plan may not have been fully appreciated until a crisis of this magnitude struck. This also applies to the demand of maintaining data security and overall labor law compliance in the context of remote working, a challenge heightened this year by the compressed timeline in which organizations had to implement telecommuting on a scale never contemplated.
The Legal function is a key business partner in these critical areas at BGRS, given that our core client segment includes leading global organizations, often in highly regulated industries. Within BGRS, or within any organization of sufficient scale, legal professionals can act as a key business partner, especially when decision-making and the weighing of risk is unfolding against the backdrop of disruptive or unprecedented events and where management is operating within a context of great uncertainty. More than ever, it requires a corporate legal department to apply legal guidance in a pragmatic manner, tailored to the operational realities faced by different functional areas and clients.
In the area of business continuity planning, for example, it can be advantageous for a company to have its legal department assume a key role. For BGRS, it was fortuitous that we conducted a full-scale test of our business continuity plan in December 2019. In that exercise, we simulated a building fire that rendered one of our North American offices non-functional for an indefinite time period. The exercise included a simulated transition to a fully remote workforce. The value of the lessons learned, particularly the rapid configuration and deployment of end-user technology, became apparent a few months later as COVID-19 first emerged as a threat to BGRS’s operations in East Asia, before progressing globally.
This underscores the value for all corporations to regularly test policies across a spectrum of different compliance risks. The discipline of regular testing for BGRS significantly reinforced our agility in making decisions, forged trust in the process, the people who designed it, and the incident response teams on the frontline carrying-out the plan. We were able, in March 2020, to marshal these compliance elements, for the benefit of our clients and their mobile employees, by deftly transitioning almost the entirety of our employee population to remote working across 12 customer experience centers, in seven different jurisdictions, in just under 2 weeks.
As a long-standing service partner to various government agencies, BGRS maintains compliance with some of the strictest security protocols in the mobility industry. The resulting framework has served BGRS in recent years by making it easier to adapt to the emerging regulatory and data privacy challenges, such as the EU’s GDPR, Hong Kong’s PDPO, China’s Cybersecurity Law, or Brazil’s LGPD. Notwithstanding the pandemic and the shift to remote work, BGRS’s years of institutional experience and a robust compliance program allowed us to maintain an unflinching commitment to safeguarding personal data. As we continue to innovate and digitize our customer experience delivery, our data protection and security protocols evolved concurrently.
The importance of rigorous supplier screening, thorough due diligence, and continuous monitoring on the back end through a periodic audit process, cannot be overstated.
Another key aspect of delivering a seamless mobility experience globally is a well-integrated supply chain network. The importance of rigorous supplier screening, thorough due diligence, and continuous monitoring on the back end through a periodic audit process, cannot be overstated. This year, in particular, the Legal team partnered extensively with our colleagues in the Supply Chain Management function to rapidly adapt our compliance framework to the requirements of the pandemic. Partnering with hundreds of suppliers under pressure from COVID-19 related disruptions, in dozens of countries, to address these new threats was no small feat. However, in line with our business philosophy to develop and leverage collaborative partnerships, we were able to understand and address potential new risks.
A final consideration arising from the pandemic is the ability of companies across industry sectors to leverage telecommuting on an unprecedented scale. Many companies are now exploring the viability of making telecommuting a more prominent feature of their workforce strategy, even after the pandemic recedes. This raises several legal considerations in terms of designing remote work policies and ensuring that remote work remains consistent with legal and contractual requirements for service delivery, in addition to local labor laws, tax residency considerations, and traditional workers’ compensation concerns.
We proactively collaborate across the business and our client base to address the new demands of organizational resiliency, remote working, digitization and data security, guided by our corporate vision, by your side, looking ahead®. We see our clients facing similar challenges and seeking solutions as we collectively adapt to the initial shock of the pandemic and to the proverbial new or next normal.