Remote work 2.0 - when WFH really means 'work from anywhere'

Remote work 2.0 - when WFH really means 'work from anywhere'

Many companies have embraced a work-from-home model, but most aren’t prepared for what comes next. Here’s what to expect and how to get ready

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On top of what stays the same, a host of legal issues arise for remote workers. For example, reasonable accommodations in the employee’s home to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act fall on the employer.

And if employees are working in other cities, states, or countries, the laws in their locations normally have to be adhered to as well. Wait, cities? That’s right. Some large cities have unique legal requirements for hiring, leave, and other issues.

Employee handbooks, privacy policies, and other documents need addenda taking local requirements and laws into account.

Some national governments assert primacy in labor and employment law, even for US residents living in that country and working for a US company. Germany, for example, may require approval by a local works council (a kind of small-scale, company-specific alternative to a labor union) for any changes to your company’s employment policy.

Significant tax implications. As with hiring and employment law, the new world of extremely remote work comes with major tax implications, according to Nelson. Employing workers in different states could require state tax withholdings in those states.

Data privacy considerations. Employees abroad will be generating, storing and transmitting data, and that data may come under the jurisdiction of the country or zone where the employee is living and working.

Potential costs for office space and equipment. You’ll need to revisit expense reimbursement for office supplies, office equipment, etc., which (depending on location) may even be required by law — California Labor Code Section 2802 is one major example.

New categories of employees going remote. We tend to think of certain classes of employees or executives staying in the office while others work remotely. But in the new world of remote work, all assumptions are off the table. IT staff, HR leaders, executives, and others may be working from home along with everyone else.

Security. Here’s the big one. Remote employee security is a much bigger deal when more people are working from home and many are in other states and countries. Left on their own, employees may abandon best security practices. Physical security to company computers and data can’t be assumed. Cybercriminals are actively targeting the new opportunity of the mass migration to remote work.

Communication. The LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report found that the biggest challenges with remote work are team bonding, collaboration, and work oversight.

Casual, spontaneous face-to-face “water cooler” conversations may appear needless and frivolous but in fact help employees bond, make work more enjoyable, lead to valuable work ideas, prevent loneliness, and contribute to understanding management’s objectives.

The widespread impulse to embrace videoconferencing as the solution to the loss of in-person interaction turned out to be problematic. Video-chat exhaustion (“Zoom fatigue”) is very real, and it’s not sustainable to keep employees on video calls for hours each day. Having employees scattered around the world in multiple time zones also forces a reconsideration of how meetings work.

Without in-person communication, managers and co-workers alike need to embrace a new style of communication, one that’s more explicit and specific, and simultaneously more flexible and compassionate.

Direction from managers to employees may look more like specifying a job for a consultant, with detailed, measurable outcomes, deadlines, and expectations spelled out. At the same time, it may look more like a negotiation, to make sure employees are not made to feel pressured to do more than they can. And frequent quick check-ins from managers and among co-workers can help workers feel connected and keep projects on track.

The new imperative to focus on employee health. While some employees automatically thrive in a remote work scenario, others suffer. Loneliness, a sense of isolation, and insecurity plague many employees thrust into a remote role. It’s important for all companies to accept and take action on this new reality in a variety of ways — everything from informal check-ins and virtual coffee klatches to employee resource groups and well-being programs.

How to get started preparing for the new remote work

Allowing employees to work remotely used to be optional. Now, it’s far less so for most organisations. Just as employers felt compelled to embrace the flex-work movement in order to hire and retain the best employees, successful companies will embrace remote work and extremely remote work for the same reason. Now is the time to lay the groundwork.

  • Assemble a team of leaders (employees, consultants, or both) that includes experts in remote work and international work matters, accounting, and tax law. If you have large numbers of employees moving abroad, consider bringing in an expert in outbound immigration matters. Focus on the creation or re-creation of policies and practices that lower your tax burden and tackle the complexities of employing people in other states and countries and that enable your company to comply with all the necessary laws and regulations.
  • Assume that you will be changing literally every policy, including your employee handbook, remote work policy, security policies, and others.
  • Revisit your compensation policy and standards. You may need to pay people less or more based on location, changing roles, and other factors, and shift around budgets to match the new reality.
  • Reconsider cloud solutions where in the past you may not have. With a hybrid employee model (with in-house, remote, extremely remote, and flex employees across most divisions of the company) you’ll be more likely to benefit from a hybrid cloud model, cloud applications, and other tools that will enable the flexibility and security for the new era.
  • Revisit the efficacy of your communication tools. Business communication is a fast-moving sector, and the ideal tools for gluing together a large hybrid organisation do not yet exist. Look for new and emerging approaches to communication and collaboration over the coming year or two.
  • Reconsider your budgeting assumptions as spending shifts from office infrastructure and business travel to home infrastructure, training, security, and other IT. Bake in flexibility everywhere you can.
  • Focus on a new management style within the organisation that favours over-communication, employee wellbeing, and flexibility.

Years ago, I managed to continue work in multiple locations in an extremely remote Central American jungle, connecting through whatever random network I could find, and my employers had no idea where I was. That’s the future for all of us: Assume your employees could be literally anywhere.

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