Is remote work policy new to your Global Mobility team?

You probably have more remote work policy experience than you think!

If you have experience with employee flexibility and employee requested move policy, that can inform your approach to international or domestic remote work opportunities.

It would be safe to assume that your company is at some stage of putting parameters around the remote work options that emerged from the pandemic. Some companies are way ahead of the game because their business models and corporate cultures allowed for remote work options before Covid. However, most companies are still in the early stages of developing actual remote work policy. They’re still working out the details of a strategy that will fit their company’s culture and people, and developing guidelines to support new ways of working. And because of their experience with mobile workers and policy design, Global Mobility leaders often find themselves at the center of these discussions and decision making.

When we talk about remote work, not everyone is saying the same thing. There will be companies that add temporary remote work options for existing employees. Some are focused more on flexible work options, like a hybrid model combining onsite and offsite work. While others are adding permanent remote work as a recruiting option to expand the talent pool. No matter the outcome, it would be rare to find a company that is not expanding existing flexibility options into their workplace after Covid. As many are saying, “the genie is out of the bottle.”

For anyone focused on remote work, the more you consider the details, the clearer it is that the concept is not a simple one. As you get started you will be asking a lot of questions. Many of these are similar to questions Global Mobility professionals ask as they design any policy.

Remote work policy questions include:

  • What is the objective of this policy? Why does our company want to provide this type of support? And what is the business purpose?
  • What are the eligibility criteria (roles, tenure, etc.)?
  • Is it only for domestic or also international scenarios?
  • How are you defining remote? Can remote work be anywhere or only in countries where your company already has offices? Or does the employee need to be local, within a certain distance from an existing office?
  • Will it be a temporary or permanent status?
  • What support will be offered (onboarding, policy counselling, relocation support, medical benefits, cross-cultural or language training, flexibility in work hours, office equipment, etc.)?
  • What is the compensation strategy? Local vs. global? Based on location or role?
  • What are the considerations for your company’s Duty of Care support and obligations?
  • How will you assess and communicate the company’s and employee’s compliance risks like Permanent Establishment (PE), tax and immigration?

On top of these, many countries have their own laws around remote work status. As a result, local HR expertise is going to be important for the locations where you implement this policy.

Are you running in the other direction yet?

Before you decide that these details are too daunting, it is useful to consider some of your past experiences. These experiences might apply or at least help in defining new ways of working. So what about the concept of flexibility? One good place to look back to is the shift that occurred in the employee-initiated move concept.

Prior to 2020, the Global Mobility industry was showing a steady increase in companies adding employee-focused flexibility to their programs. And that included the addition of an employee-initiated move policy into their Talent Mobility strategy. According to a Crown World Mobility study of 127 Global Mobility professionals, more than half (56%) of companies were already offering employee-initiated move options in 2018. Employee-initiated move policy wasn’t a new concept. What was new, was recognizing this approach as a way to expand opportunities for career development. This is especially true for companies where more of a career jungle gym approach has replaced the traditional vertical career paths. As companies expanded geographically, career growth opportunities weren’t always in an employee’s home location.

From a HR perspective, if the company can afford it, offering employee-initiated moves is a great approach to retain, develop and engage talent. We see this same view expand to the remote work concept. But what’s the difference? Today’s employee request to move may result in a remote work situation.

Whatever the move type, employee-requested moves differ from company-requested moves in four ways:

  1. The employee wants the change. Therefore, the policy is not a tool to convince them to take the assignment or transfer.
  2. The employee’s expectation of company-provided assistance is simpler for a self-requested move. This may be because granting the request itself is a benefit. Or because the employee is receiving moving assistance indirectly (i.e., another company is moving their partner).
  3. The company is more focused on compliance-related elements to protect itself. Closely followed by considering duty of care components that meet its standards.
  4. Meeting a move request is essentially a retention tool. Whether it has other benefits for the company (for example, filling a role) is secondary.

What are a few other considerations for companies as they develop guidelines for remote work policy?

  • Taxes, taxes, taxes. It doesn’t hurt to reiterate one of the biggest risks. Companies must consider the tax implications of an employee working in another location. And the employee should sign off that the move may result in increased taxation that the company will not assist with.
  • Set a start date. The employee cannot move until the company is set up for the employee to do so legally. Whether this is tax or immigration based.
  • Offer a toolkit. The remote work approach that emerged overnight has created the illusion that it is a simple strategy. In response, leading-edge companies are designing toolkits to support this new strategy. These include:
    • Decision trees
    • Discussion guides and FAQ lists
    • Sign off sheets and authorization forms for managers, HR and employees

What about relocation support for remote work policy?

Policy for employee-requested relocation (or any relocation for that matter) does not have a lot in common with policy for remote workers in terms of the relocation provisions included. The most common issues to address in employee-requested relocation policy are taxes (advisory and tax return preparation), immigration, final move trip, household goods shipment (limited) and perhaps a miscellaneous allowance. ­For remote workers, policy will depend on the company’s parameters in terms of what “remote work” includes. A standard remote work policy may address equipment and furnishings, location, telecommunication parameters and costs, and working hours.

Further, it is not uncommon for companies to state that they will NOT provide assistance with these remote work elements. Rather, they are terms the employee must meet in order for their request to be considered. This is very different from any type of relocation policy, where assistance is provided.

Let’s keep talking about this!

At Crown we know that for many companies this is just the beginning of formalizing new ways of working. Above all, finding safe, reasonable and realistic ways to support business and employee needs driven by the pandemic’s jolt on expectations for the workplace. In short, let’s continue to look at how industries and companies respond in ways that meet their corporate cultures and employee needs. Global Mobility will be leading many of these discussions, and we can continue to tap into our knowledge and experiences to contribute to the solutions.

This article was authored by Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader, Consulting Services, to support you and the Global Mobility industry in considering new and improved ways to meet business needs, manage costs and enhance the employee experience. If you have any questions about this article, please contact Lisa at ljohnson@crownww.com or contact us here for more information on our services.

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