By now, we’re all well aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work. Travelling to an office is no longer the norm, and while the term ‘remote work’ feels like a buzzword, it’s actually not a new concept. For years, people have had the ability to work remotely while travelling for work when they checked and responded to emails. If you had a mobile phone or laptop and an internet connection, you were able to work.
Remote working: not so new
Whilst there have always been challenges related to working remotely, particularly around international remote work, the pandemic showed the world that companies are capable of shifting and facilitating rapid change for their employees in large numbers. What the COVID-19 era did was effectively accelerate remote working and make it commonplace.
Before the pandemic, tech organisations had started to allow people to work offsite and had begun to put structures in place to facilitate this shift. Most companies only occasionally employed remote workers, but this was not the norm, and there was no existing framework to follow. As we now know, global remote working is no longer the exception to the rule.
The concept has gained popularity with employees, but has left employers to wade through the difficulties of offering remote working from anywhere to their staff. Finding people is not the challenge, but finding the right match can be.
Not all remote workers are created equal
Global remote working does carry risks. Variables such as country of origin, the individual’s role, the level of security, and logistical framework for remote access can vary drastically from worker to worker. At a high-level overview, the risks fall into a number of buckets: tax and social security, legal, and compliance issues such as data protection and cybersecurity, around not only personal data but company data.
An individual’s role can have a large impact on issues such as tax. For example, an employee might have a UK employment contract, but physically work in the Netherlands. That can create additional administration and tax headaches for the home employer. Depending on the geographic location, a senior employee negotiating and concluding contracts can trigger a multitude of tax, social security, legal and other consequences which need to be managed.
Corporate multinationals that are facing these challenges often have the benefit of an existing global footprint and a presence in many countries and jurisdictions. This allows them to put processes in place to mitigate the risks.
Smaller organisations are less likely to have a global footprint, increasing the risks they face because they are starting from scratch, and there are costs associated with managing remote working. Additionally, smaller companies do not have the support of a larger global entity in country. They may feel the cultural pressure to offer remote working, but may not understand all of the logistical pressures associated with mitigating the risk. For smaller companies, it can be a case of resourcing from both the human side and the digital side. In any case, smaller companies will also need to find away to manage their cross-border compliance obligations.
Remote working is still the future
Ultimately, remote working is a good thing. It gives both employers and employees flexibility that neither had enjoyed in the past. However, there are considerable improvements that need to be made to the existing framework, most notably in the arena of tax implications, data protection regulations and cybersecurity. In the long run, overcoming these hurdles and challenges will improve an organisation’s bottom line because it will allow them to attract talent from a larger, more expansive pool. Everybody wins when everybody can work.