We all recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on almost every aspect of life and the way we work has been one of the area’s most significantly affected.
After decades of commuting, multitudes of employees are now permanently working from home or are embracing hybrid working.
New communication technology which has enabled almost everyone to access video conferencing from their PC, laptop or mobile phone has meant that even employees working from multiple locations can see and talk to each other using just a few “clicks” – it has even introduced new phrases into our everyday language; did we ever say “you’re on mute” before March 2020 and how many time a week do we say it now!
For most of us remote working is just another term for working from home, but for some it could conjure up more exotic locations, after all, provided you have internet connectivity, why not work in a more pleasant climate than winter in the UK?
The idea of working remotely in a sun-kissed location will appeal to most of us. Indeed, during the initial lockdown of 2020 we heard of number of situations where employees were “trapped” overseas by the travel restrictions, and we were rather envious of the idea of having to work remotely from a beachfront “office” in Marbella!
In addition, there is the potential for HR to use remote working as a retention and recruitment tool. In the post-Covid world, why not have your talented software developer based in Nice for eight months a year if it means she remains engaged and productive; why not widen the talent pool by recruiting your new investment analyst in Bermuda?
Remote working however, like most things in life, is not just all positives. From an employer’s point of view, duty of care applies to remote workplaces, meaning that employers may have to carry out remote workplace assessments and, if required, provide home workers with suitable equipment. For the employee, there is the danger of overworking to compensate for not being in the office and the prospect of loneliness and mental health issues. I am sure many of us can cope with these issues when the balancing factor is working in a beautiful environment. But what if remote working from an idyllic island was illegal?
Working from outside the UK brings with it considerable amounts of legal red tape. Most countries allow easy access for visiting or holidays, however working, even if it is just replying to work emails, will usually require visas and work permits. This applies even if you are working remotely for a UK employer. Luckily several desirable locations have already put in place regulations for “digital nomads” – these include places such as Dubai, Croatia, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Antigua and Australia. Regulations differ from location to location but often require proof of income and that you are working remotely for a non-local company. Health insurance must also be in place and a processing fee is usually required. The maximum visa length is often up to 12 months.
So exotic remote working is possible, but from an employer’s perspective several issues must be taken into consideration:
- Time-zones and working times. Many job-roles, despite working remotely, will require collaboration. Will this really be possible if the UK working day only overlaps with the remote employee for one or two hours per day?
Also bear in mind potential issues around weekends. Many Muslim countries have Friday/Saturday weekends rather than the Saturday/Sunday used in the West.
Do not neglect public holidays either – will your remote employee be entitled to local holidays (Cambodia has 28!) or UK? It is worthwhile setting out the expectations from the start to avoid any difficult conversations later down the line. The UK only has eight recognised public holidays and even the hardworking Japanese have 16.
- Reporting and management. Remote workers will often be operating outside standard line-management structures. Set out clear goals and expectations in terms of productivity, objectives, and reporting. This applies equally to the remote worker and their manager. It is important everyone is on the same page.
- Pay and conditions. Are remote workers being paid from UK payroll? Can they remain in UK benefits? If not, what arrangements are being put in place? It could prove costly to have to put in place international payroll and benefits for just one employee.
- Check and double-check the legalities. Do not rely solely on feedback from the remote worker. Take independent advice on all the legal aspects of remote employment in that specific location. Be aware that employing a remote worker in some locations could mean you have a legal entity in that country by default.
There may also be additional cost implications in relation to mandatory insurances – for example Workers’ Compensation, health insurance etc.
These are just some of the matters that need to be taken into consideration.
Ed Watling, Senior Employee Benefits Consultant at Mattioli Woods, commented “It is clear that remote working opens up some exciting opportunities for both employees and employers, but there are also significant challenges. Obtaining independent employment and legal advice before allowing employees to work remotely outside the UK is essential. At Mattioli Woods, we can assist our clients by drawing on resources from our membership of the Worldwide Broker Network, providing access to local expertise in relation to employment practice and benefits.”