2020 has thrust upon the corporate world the challenges of a globally distributed workforce. From duty of care, employment law, global taxation and immigration risk, to the emotional health of employees working alone from coffee tables in tiny New York apartments for months on end, this year has seen HR and Mobility teams using all of the tools in their professional toolboxes to adapt to a new world of work.
How we function and come together as employees, teams, managers and leaders without the enforced structures of offices, desks, cubicles, meeting rooms and common areas has been completely reshaped. Some employees love it, and pray it will stay this way forever. Others can’t wait for the pain to end.
But rather than merely riding out the challenging circumstances thrust upon them, companies with progressive talent strategies are forming global working policies – capitalizing on the opportunity to source talent from entirely fresh markets and present their employees with flexible global working options that would significantly differentiate them as an employer.
More than just the ability to work from home – imagine presenting your employees with a policy outlining a global ‘heat map’ of permitted working locations and time limits. Fast, easy processes for employees to register their working locations, provide work permit details and get information about access to healthcare and local services. Hot desks in offices or co-working spaces in cities around the world.
Employees themselves could drive their own global personal and professional experiences – the opportunity to live in a new country or culture, spend time with family internationally, respond to personal emergencies or simply get a change of scenery.
Equally, imagine presenting your recruiting teams with the ability to source talent from markets previously out of reach – where the boundaries of commuting radiuses turn into entire timezones, and ‘must be willing to relocate to Tokyo’ becomes ‘must be willing to be on zoom calls at 7am GMT… (video optional)’.
There will obviously be challenges – creating such a policy will require talent organizations to delicately balance and seek deep expert advice on:
- Legal requirements, such as where the employee can legally be employed from
- Employment law restrictions such as minimum salary requirements or mandatory social benefits
- Personal and corporate tax regulations – such as tax withholding obligations, permanent establishment risks or liability to local taxes (such as NY UBT)
- The ability to work with teams and support customers – based on timezones, ability to travel and access to technology
- Data security and other contractual requirements employers may have with their customers and partners – such as ensuring data is not accessed outside of the US, or the inability to accessing data or systems from locations such as China
- The ability to deliver benefits to the employee – for example medical and pension plans
- Organizational overhead of managing regular processes such as monthly payroll, benefit enrollment or compensation reviews
- Personal safety and security of the employee – particularly challenging given the fast moving COVID-19 risks and restrictions.
By creating a formal policy, companies not only stop ‘informal’ and potentially risky arrangements employees are already putting in place themselves but also control potential discrimination between employees. If the ability to benefit from preferential global working arrangements come down to factors such as the employee’s relationship with their manager or how the employee is personally perceived by their team, this has the potential to create inequality between employees.
Whilst some companies will determine that the challenge is too great – such as Google, who have asked their employees to return to their country of employment from 1 Jan 2021 – it’s also interesting to see the rise of companies (such as GitLab) hiring a ‘Head of Remote Work’ as a core part of their HR function. This, paired with countries increasingly offering global nomad visas (such as Estonia) or the ability to work remotely (such as Barbados or Bermuda) will offer the global talent market with new options for greater balance between professional and personal ambitions.
Technology, such as Topia Manage, Plan and Compass which helps manage the support, safety and compliance of global workers, will obviously play a significant role in enabling working arrangements with these complexities:
- Providing the data needed to create and monitor the success of policies – understanding where and how employees across the organization are working
- Empowering HR teams and managers to assess the viability of and plan for global working arrangements
- Tracking employees who are working globally (in secure, non-invasive ways), ensuring compliance thresholds are monitored and companies are able to quickly react to security situations.
At Topia, our 2021 product roadmap focuses on how we can further support a new definition of enabling work everywhere.
So, how are you thinking about the future of your global workforce in 2021?