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Essential remote worker background screening

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Background screening is essential for the workforce, remote workers and those who work from home included.

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With increased opportunities for working remotely, working from home and basically anywhere in the world, global employers are relying upon background screening now more than ever before.

Human resources professionals have traditionally used the pre-hire background check to verify that a candidate is who he says he is and to verify his employment history and education.  They often expand the screening to include criminal history and credit worthiness.   Background screening has become the essential aspect of human resource policies and procedures in almost every employer organization.

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What does this mean for the jobseeker interested in obtaining remote work?

Remote Work Background Screen Elements

To obtain a remote job, human resources professionals employed by global conglomerates are expanding the scope of the traditional background screen to include:

  • professional license verification,
  • social media searches, and
  • reference checks.

Do All Employers Screen Backgrounds ?

According to the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), almost 100%, or 94% actually, conduct at least one type of background screen. Of the participants of the survey,  63% screen potential employees for their US work locations, 28% conduct background checks for employees who will work inside the US as well as other global locations, 5% screen potential employees outside of the US only. The remaining 5% did not respond.

Even though less than one-third of the respondents indicated that they screen globally, 84% of the participants in a 2020 survey by PBSA wanted the capability to conduct global background screens. Fifty-seven percent reported that international background screening was vital to their operations.

Why Background Screens are Important

In 2022, a separate report jointly produced by PBSA and the HR Institute,  it was determined that global employers conduct background checks on new hires for these reasons:

  • to protect the company’s key stakeholders (employees and customers),
  • to consistently upgrade its personnel pool,
  • to guard the company’s reputation and goodwill build over the years.

The Realities of Remote Work and Background Screens

These are the realities of remote work and the need for background screening. Prior to COVID-19, remote work by many estimates increased by 159% in the U.S. As there are less opportunities to physically gather and congregate in person and at the office, one would think that the risks of experiencing harassment and a hostile work environment by work colleagues would lessen with remote work. Right? What about unintentional data breaches or the exposure of confidential information or corporate patents? Wouldn’t these threats reduce with remote work also.

That’s a big NO. There’s padding time sheets, faking production reports of output, billing for nonbillable hours and expenses. The list goes on.

Furthermore, HR Daily Advisor posits that harassment doesn’t go away, it is transformed into cyberbullying and online stalking. It cites a recent survey showing that about 38% of employees have been harassed virtually (email, video, phone, chats, and forums).  At the start of COVID-19 there was a period in which increased levels of virtual monitoring did not take place.  NY Times indicated that virtual work lacks frequent monitoring and may occur outside of employer platforms.

When people work from home, they tend to forget that their time is not their own and their house is no longer their safe haven to do what they want. They let their guard down and totally forget that professionalism. Remember the CNN Tobin fiasco where he exposed himself to his co-workers while working from home.  

What they do, say, hear and see can be recordable. They may become more relaxed, fail to groom or take a shower. Who cares, right? It makes one wonder about working less, slacking off, or giving in to the temptation of acting irresponsibly and unethically. This is why background screening is so important; especially for the remote workforce. Background screen can help to uncover when a job seeker:

  • Misstates his professional experience,
  • Claims a degree he did not earn, and
  • Boasts about accomplishments that were not his own.

Challenges of Managing Remote Workers

Managing a dispersed, distributed work force consisting of workers working remotely can be challenging. Research at Columbia University recognized that the lack of in person supervision of remote workers, make accountability, oversight and employee performance harder to track and monitor. Further, in the absence of a physical presence, the maintenance of employee morale and motivation becomes more difficult also.

Dispersed employees, remote workers and workers working from anywhere can present a host of problems to their employers. Namely, misconduct.  Why is this important? Experts estimate that employee misconduct as the potential to cost US companies upwards of $600 billion each year. And, this was before the widespread use of remote  and hybrid work policies. Recent findings suggest that when employees unconstrained by place (traditional office location), rules, and greater autonomy (outside of the view of their supervisor individuals may generally have a tendency to act unethically.

Examples of Gig Worker Misconduct

So what are some of the ways companies can use to reduce the likelihood of misconduct?  Well, I guess one way would be to effectively screen their candidate pool to verify the candidate’s identity, work experience, credit worthiness, criminal record, work reference and social media (the purpose of this article). In fact, data show that there is a wide variance in the probability of anyone behaving unethically. The researchers at Columbia University cited a MTurk study showing that those who have:

  • lower approval ratings (hence a greater incentive to cheat),
  • higher levels of education (perhaps due to heightened competitiveness and a need to feel worthy of wage level),
  • a greater reliance upon MTurk as a source of income (hence a lack of other viable financial options), and
  • a competitive nature (those who report higher levels of volunteerism and donations than actual).

Background Screens Mitigate Remote Worker Misconduct

Beyond a robust background investigation to weed out those most likely to cause the most harm to their work colleagues, customers and their employer’ reputation; the researchers uncovered something more.

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They found that companies can effectively reduce the likelihood of employee with one critical initiative:

  • the consistent and constant communication to gig and remote workers of the corporation’s value (through its ethics statement for instance and/or its social and/or environmental responsibility).

But the verbal and written emphasis on corporate values can only go so far.

Direct supervisory monitoring of remote workers has been proven effective. Researchers uncovered that the threat of monitoring can be equally productive in the reduction of potential misconduct. 

One caveat though is that when the threat of increased monitoring is made, it can erode the trust held by the remote worker for his employer.  To help reduce the slope of the decline, they found that the use of motivators aligned to the interest of the remote worker were helpful.

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