How to Securely Build a Remote Team in The Era of COVID-19

by | Jun 12, 2020 | Safeguard your business, Trends of working remotely

Growing your business in the modern digital economy is an exciting task. You have a lot of freedom to select from a vast pool of talent offering their expertise on remote work platforms or through your network.

With effective and established onboard and offboarding best practices, these freelancers make a significant contribution to the success of your business. Onboarding is not solely about getting a freelancer started on a project. It’s also about connecting freelancers with your brand, culture, and connecting them with the team which helps them feel valued from the beginning. 

Freelancers face a challenging balance of delivering a valuable work product, while working independently as an outsider. When they get out of sync, errors may increase and project results may suffer. A strong onboarding process, an understanding of your company values, and clear guidelines helps keep them in sync from day one.

Secure Digital Onboarding

Making the collaboration a success requires you to have an understanding of the components that make up your interaction with the freelancer. On a general level, these could be categorised under: your business, your project and your cybercapacity.

Your business

This category entails providing a comprehensive introduction  to your brand and company culture. Taking the time to connect the freelancer with the team ensures that they are prepared to work in sync and feel like they are providing value within a larger collective, despite the physical distance.  

Ensure that the freelancers you hire do not put your valuable client data at risk. Especially as you have worked hard to build and radiate digital trust – to win clients and develop a competitive advantage. One way to do that is through the establishment of a privacy-first culture, which we go more in depth with in our previous article. 

Your project

Help the freelancer get up to speed faster and understand expectations by providing project documentation that shows the scope, research, and other relevant information. This aligns your visions and helps the freelancer ask clarifying questions before diving in. In addition to project background documentation, you may consider including:

  • Relevant internal documents the team currently uses
  • Related project samples
  • Project expectations, deliverables, timeline, and payment schedule as well as performance indicators. 

You may want to give the freelancer a list of programmes and applications, so they can make time to familiarise themselves. While considering access, ask yourself:

  • What systems, files, and applications will they need, if any?
  • What programmes do we use for communicating? Sharing documentation?
  • Which personal data will you need to share? Upon which lawful basis (GDPR)?

​Whilst independent professionals provide and use their own tools to do their work, they may need access to company systems for situations like delivering assignments or receiving project-related information. Ensure that you have checklists of any systems, applications, and programmes they may need to access like VPN or a company file sharing system. Use these to check how familiar the freelancer is with a programme and the connected compliance, also for applications used widely across industries. 

In addition, it is important to explain the offboarding process and connected responsibilities already in the onboarding process.

Your cybercapacity

Cybercapacity can be viewed as the umbrella covering all the components you need to safeguard your business in cyberspace. The capacity-building components underneath this umbrella can be divided into two: cybersecurity and privacy (which we go into greater depth here).

For now, when it comes specifically to your onboarding practices, ensure that you have the necessary Data Processing Agreements (DPAs) in place, updated, and signed.

DPAs in Your Digital Business

A data processing agreement is a legally binding contract that states the rights and obligations of each party concerning the protection of personal data. DPAs are required for GDPR compliance, but they also give you the assurance that the data processor is qualified and capable, platforms and freelancers alike.

A data processor is another company you use to help you store, analyse, or communicate personal information. For example, if you are a health insurance company and you share information about clients via encrypted email, then that encrypted email service is a data processor. Or if you use a platform, e.g. UpworkFiverr to hire talent, this platform would also be a data processor.

But what should be included in a data processing agreement? In summary, here’s what you need. For details see GDPR Article 28, Section 3. 

  • The processor agrees to process personal data only on written instructions of the controller.
  • Everyone who comes into contact with the data is sworn to confidentiality.
  • All appropriate technical and organisational measures are used to protect the security of the data.
  • The processor will not subcontract to another processor unless instructed to do so in writing by the controller.
  • The processor will help the controller uphold their obligations under the GDPR, particularly concerning data subjects’ rights.
  • The processor must allow the controller to conduct an audit and will provide whatever information necessary to demonstrate compliance.
  • The processor agrees to delete all personal data upon the termination of services or return the data to the controller.

These important points take us straight to the offboarding process.

Secure Digital Offboarding

A standardised offboarding process helps you leave a professional impression and creates a sense of completion once your collaboration with a freelancer is finished. The offboarding process is closely linked to onboarding and thereby also touches upon the three collaboration components outlined above: your business, your project and your cybercapacity.

Your business
A well-organised approach helps your business as a whole in several ways:

  • Positive and lasting impression
  • Positive working atmosphere and clarity of collaboration
  • No unnecessary litigation costs

In the hyperconnected world of today, the points above eventually impact any future collaboration you may have. Leaving a lasting impression to your freelancer means you are encouraging positive word to spread about your business. In order to achieve this, during the offboarding process, begin by focusing on the primary framework of interaction with the freelancer – your project. 

Your project
As we outlined above, the onboarding process is closely related to offboarding. It is therefore useful to revisit the onboarding activities and the initially provided project documentation. Did you meet the goals you established at the beginning of the project? What were the lessons learned? And what was the value produced? Listen attentively to the freelancer’s point of view, to understand what impressions they are walking away with.

In order to leave a lasting impression and effectively wrap up the project from beginning to end, it is important to approach the freelancer as a valued part of your core team at all stages of the collaboration.

Your Cybercapacity
Lastly, to finalise your collaboration from a technical point of view, revisit the checklist of systems, applications and third-party providers that you worked with in the beginning, in order to ensure that: 

  • Access to all the items on the checklist is effectively removed; 
  • Any personal data or materials that the freelancer no longer needs are returned and/or deleted. 

Furthermore, make sure that your offboarding process includes compliance steps in line with your country and industry. In case of COBRA non-compliance in the US, for example, the company and the employee/ independent contractor participating in the group health plan/ COBRA Administrator personally could be otherwise facing a cost up to $500,000. 

We went into greater detail with the technical elements of the onboarding and offboarding process in our recent webinar and Q&A on June 18. If you want to learn more, listen to the recording by clicking the button below.

The world of work is changing alongside the modes and formats of collaboration. In order to stay on top of these changes and effectively tap into the vast and increasingly more mobile pool of talent, invest time into establishing well-structured onboard and offboarding practices that make sense for your business.

About the author:  Priya E. Abraham

Priya E. Abraham is the founder of Cyberconnecting and author of ‘Your Cyberpower. How to Safeguard Your Remote Business’. She is a coach, digital transformation strategist and privacy advisor. Priya brings 20+ years of experience in global business across industries, working with established enterprises and start-ups. In addition to holding a PhD in Business Anthropology and an MBA, she is an accredited Data Protection Officer. Priya has lived and worked in Europe, Russia, the U.S. and MENA. Her experience in all things remote is brought to life in her products and services.

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