Ready to ‘Just Say No’ to Remote Work? Here’s How to Say ‘Yes’ Instead

It seems that some companies’ promises about remote work may have been a bit premature.
Whether they came out early offering work-from-home forever, forced employees back to the office amid protest, or delayed their return-to-the-office plans, one thing is certain: it’s still a very
fluid situation and it feels a bit too early to take a definitive stance.

Sure, the big investment banks can afford to mandate a return to office, largely because their
brands are strong and if a portion of their employees opt out, there are plenty of candidates
waiting in the wings to fill the ranks.

But for the rest of us, it’s a very slippery slope. There’s still a lot of health risk and uncertainty,
and employees are right to be concerned. It’s not that all people who don’t want to return to the
office yet are anti-office; they simply may not feel safe commuting or gathering with co-workers.
Not to mention, their lifestyles have completely changed over the course of the last 18 months.
According to PwC, almost one-fourth of workers were considering or planning to move 50+
miles from their employers’ offices and 12% have already done so, counting on the flexibility
their employers had promised them.

All the uncertainty has many companies ready to throw in the towel, to just say no to remote
work, period. And we get it—we’re exhausted. We’re tired of dealing with COVID, and we just
want to be back to normal already. But much of the flip-flopping is because 1) the situation
changes daily; and 2) companies were woefully unprepared to deal with the realities of the
compliance and tax risk of remote work.

While it’s understandable to want to change gears mid-stream, it’s also extremely risky.
Reneging on remote work promises erodes employees’ trust. They feel stabbed in the back,
especially considering that most worked harder during lockdown than they did before.
Productivity was up, but now their employer suggests they’re not productive enough or can’t be
trusted if they’re not physically in the office. And like it or not, most employees don’t buy the
claim that remote work is damaging corporate culture.

As a result, more than half of employees say they’ll simply quit after the pandemic if they don’t
get the flexibility to work where and when they want. And given the talent shortage we’re
already facing, no company can afford a mass exodus.
So how can your company say “yes” to remote work to keep both your employees and your
compliance teams happy? Here are some tips:

  1.  Define the terms. One of the biggest issues is a disconnect between what companies
    are saying and what employees are hearing. No one has yet landed on a common
    terminology and “remote work” means very different things for different people. For
    some, it means working from home at a location in or nearby the same location/tax
    jurisdiction as the home office; for others, like Spotify and Salesforce, it means fewer
    restrictions and more flexibility for employees to choose their location. Is “remote work”
    the same as “work from home?” Clarifying the terms can reduce the risk of
    misunderstanding.
  2. Establish parameters. Not every role can be done remotely, and even with the best
    video conferencing technology, collaboration just works better when the collaborators are
    all in the same room. Establish clear policy parameters around for whom, when and
    under what circumstances remote work is an option. If a hybrid model is available, what
    does that look like? Is it three days in-office and two at home, or vice versa? Are there
    jurisdictional or geographic limitations to help the company avoid permanent
    establishment risk? Can employees switch from fully remote to in-office to hybrid and if
    so, how often and what’s the process? Answering these questions up front will help
    reduce miscommunication—and the risk of mutiny and bad press. It will also help with
    talent acquisition. Since the remote policy will be a factor in every new applicant’s
    decision going forward, you can’t afford to be unclear.
  3. Implement the right technology. As many companies have discovered, managing
    the compliance and tax implications of remote work can be a huge and complex
    minefield. Add in immigration issues, especially in the context of Brexit, and remote work
    takes on a much larger and more expensive risk. Spreadsheets are not going to do the
    job. Instead, implement HR and mobility management tools that can track employees’
    location (while balancing the right to privacy), manage legal and tax compliance and help
    your team stay on top of the fast-evolving situation in real time.
  4. Consider PEO/EOR services. To give your employees maximum flexibility, especially
    for those who want to live and work internationally, one option is to employ them through
    a Permanent Employment Organization (PEO) or Employer of Record (EOR) such as
    Remote.com, Papaya Global or Global PEO Services. These companies hire the
    employee locally and contract them out to you, which means they assume the
    responsibility for compliance, tax liability and risk.

By all accounts, offering your employees flexibility in where and how they work will be essential
when it comes to retaining and attracting talent going forward. But in addition to flexibility, they
also need the security of clear policies and procedures to ensure they understand the
expectations and any limitations.
And above all, communication and transparency are key. Even if the news is not great, being
upfront and honest with employees goes a long way toward winning their respect and loyalty,
which right now are extremely valuable assets for any company.

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