Associate Director of HR - Head of Reward & Wellbeing Brunel University London
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Where on earth is everyone? Three global mobility factors you cannot ignore in a remote working world

The events of the past year have shown us how effectively we can work from anywhere in the world. But from a global mobility perspective, this doesn’t mean employees can dash off to any corner of the globe to work without the right paperwork. If you haven’t already, it’s time to ask the question: Where on earth are my employees?

23rd Mar 2021
Associate Director of HR - Head of Reward & Wellbeing Brunel University London
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Remote working has become the new ubiquitous term to describe our workplace – and is one of the huge positives to take away from all we have faced in the last year. There is no doubt that our future in the workplace will include a greater reliance on flexibility and remote working, with many employers developing their policies with the aim of offering this as a benefit – to both the employee and the business.

This should work well as there are many activities that can be successfully accomplished in employees’ own time and space. One of the dilemmas employee engagement professionals are reflecting on is how to encourage managers to trust their team members.

How can help them better understand that managing based on outcomes is not only possible but empowering? The mutuality of confidence it can achieve offers the employee the opportunity to show their commitment and prove they can succeed without the dreaded micromanagement. More importantly, it is a form of recognition that you can ‘let them get on with it’.

Finding out where on earth your employees are located is the new HR lottery

Where in the world are your workers?

However, there is a rather drastic challenge associated with the opportunity to offer remote working that has nothing to do with the obstacles many practitioners are encountering around, for example, team building, inductions or performance management. I’m referring to the matter of where in the world your employees are remotely working. Or, indeed, where is home?

We have an incredibly diverse workforce at Brunel University London, which is something we are proud of and something that is a substantial benefit to our culture and our student and employee experience.

This does mean that for many of our colleagues we have a more fluid perception of home as a concept, it may be the house we live in or the country we were born in, or even the country of our nationality. With the benefit of technology and a good wifi signal, you could be absolutely anywhere – down the road or in a different hemisphere – as long as the job is being delivered. So does the geography matter?

The answer is yes and no. From an employee engagement perspective, it is fantastic – it offers flexibility that enables employees to be where they need to be, perhaps to support or care for loved ones, or to avoid being isolated from family, whilst still able to meet all the expectations of the manager.

From a global mobility perspective, this is a new and somewhat scary challenge that brings our need for compliance to a very stark stage in full spotlight. With the scariest of it all being that many employees are completely unaware that their working outside the UK presents any issues whatsoever. 

The new HR lottery

Global mobility practitioners are well prepared for the needs around growing business internationally. They are equipped to anticipate the needs of secondments and assignments to far flung places, and the associated planning around visa needs, tax obligations and ensuring social security is all in place.

However, in the remote working universe, which carries all the same factors, these requirements are often identified when the employee has already been out of the UK for many weeks or months. This is due to many employees believing they didn’t need any kind of visa as they are a national of that country, or their employer is paying their tax and national insurance in the UK, so that’s all okay… isn’t it? No, sorry, it is not!

Finding out where on earth your employees are located is the new HR lottery. Engaging in conversations around their obligations in respect to both the UK and their remote location is essential. This is not optional, it is not something that you cannot afford to ignore. Line managers, whilst loving the benefit flexibility affords, do need to take responsibility for being assured they know where their people are.

What key factors do they need to consider?

It is critical that you open the door to explore where your employees have elected to work remotely.

1. Visa compliance

This is probably the most important factor. Are they ‘allowed’ to work in that country? This may seem obvious – and in many cases it will be a simple question – but it does need to be checked. This is especially important where an employee is working in the country where they are not a national, even if their spouse is.

Do still ensure that the legalities are in place in the remote working location, and also make sure there are no potential impacts to UK residency, especially for employees that may be finalising their right to remain in the UK.

2. HMRC compliance 

This relates to PAYE tax and national insurance obligations in the UK, and potentially tax and social security obligations in the country the employee is working in. They could also be creating a ‘presence’ in the country, opening up the potential for VAT obligations for the employer.

This is probably the most complex area of global mobility, as there is no one size fits all formula to calculate obligations, with it being dependent on both the individual’s nationality and the country they are working in. Further, since the 1st of January 2021 these questions arise for those working in Europe too, where many people may have travelled before Christmas, and are now, in effect, stuck due to travel restrictions.

3. Care and wellbeing

This is always an important area for managers to consider, but when team members are working outside the UK wellbeing issues are paramount. The manager faces all the normal challenges of remote working, but these are further exacerbated by factors such as time zones and different rules and obligations in respect of Covid management.

We are also alive to potential issues around work product and intellectual property ownership in some countries, as well as wanting to be assured of the health and safety of our employees.

The added responsibility of a caring employer

If you’ve not already done so, it is critical that you open the door to explore where your employees have elected to work remotely – it is both imperative for your compliance as an employer and for your employees’ benefit in respect of tax residency, social security and visa obligations. Essentially, in this new era of remote working your responsibilities as a caring employer are extending – no matter where on earth your employees are.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Can our employees work remotely overseas?'

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