How organizations can promote employee safety abroad with mobile technology

By Jonathan Crowl

Travel is an integral part of many professional jobs, and increased globalization is bringing more of those workers to international destinations. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), US residents logged 457.4 million business trips in 2016, showing that even with video conferencing and other digital forms of communication, face-to-face interaction remains a hallmark of conducting business.

This travel is rewarded with strong ROI: the USTA notes that every dollar invested into business travel brings in $9.50 in increased revenue and $2.90 in new profits. However, the benefits of international business travel are complicated by added challenges regarding employee safety in foreign countries. Not only does employee well-being demand greater planning and preparation by the organization, but mobile technology brings its own security risks companies must consider.

At the same time, mobile technology can be a critical lifeline for employees in foreign countries, and thoughtful device policies and procedures can help minimize fallout and even prevent bad situations from arising. Here is a quick guide to using mobile technology to ensure employee safety in the field:

Access to mobile intelligence resources

When used properly, mobile devices can be incredibly helpful resources for employees traveling overseas, with the potential to even save their lives if unexpected security threats arise. A mobile app designed to provide information and support to international travelers can help employees monitor a range of potential hazards and complications that could affect their travel plans.

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The intelligence offered through these apps can range from on-the-ground security threats to real-time diplomatic developments to news about communicable diseases and other risks that are subject to develop or change during the course of their travels. This information is especially important while traveling in developing nations and/or countries with a risk of political instability. A free solution from the US Department of State is the Smart Traveler app, which delivers warnings and alerts for countries all around the world, as well as information such as embassy phone numbers and physical addresses.

Large enterprises may even consider creating their own mobile resources to consolidate information and push out alerts and other resources to workers overseas.

Locate, communicate and support procedures

When an emergency situation arises, companies need to be able to use mobile technology to locate and communicate with their workers. While employees on the ground need access to real-time, actionable information they can use to protect themselves from harm, employers also need a streamlined protocol for locating their workers. According to a LinkedIn article from Tim Crockett, vice president of Healix International and HX Global, this includes mobile technology enabled to automatically collect employee travel data in real-time, providing the employer with automatic updates on location and other essential travel data.

With this information, IT dashboard managers can review individual information and quickly determine the levels of threats they might face. From there, they can enact one of several different procedures designed to handle specific threats. With so much one-to-one communication, Crockett notes that it’s often helpful for the company’s travel dashboard to offer a check-in feature that lets workers mark themselves as safe, automatically allowing the company to divert resources to other personnel who may face immediate danger.

Companies may also want to consider how a mass notification system can quickly and efficiently communicate with global employees. When managing a large overseas workforce, this is often much more effective than attempting to manage workers on a case-by-case basis. It guarantees faster support to all workers and a better real-time response to potential threats.

Strict data management policies

Employee safety is always the top priority, but there are other risks enterprises should plan for when dealing with overseas workers. International travel almost always puts sensitive company data at risk of being breached. In addition to cyberattacks and the threat of poorly secured networks, employees also face an increased risk of having their devices and data inspected, impounded and/or outright stolen.

ComputerWeekly suggests that companies operate with the assumption that device data can and will be breached at some point. Given that likelihood, the best strategy is to minimize the amount of sensitive data on a given device and to ideally eliminate any sensitive data from devices going overseas.

This isn’t always practical if employees need data for presentations, meetings or to exchange with business partners. When devices carry sensitive data, they should be encrypted to add a layer of robust protection. Another option is to store sensitive data in a cloud-based solution and for international workers to access that data only when it’s necessary to their work. This adds another layer of security that can protect the data in the event of a device theft or breach.

For businesses with significant investments overseas, refusing to visit those markets is rarely an option. Companies with regular employee travel to international destinations should instead invest time into building a robust policy that provides optimal employee safety and support while also ensuring company data is heavily protected by multiple layers of security.