Council Post: Three Mistakes CEOs Make Letting Their Employees Work From Anywhere

CEO at Topia, the leader in Global Talent Mobility.

After more than a year of remote work, it’s becoming clear that some of us may have over-promised when we told employees they could “work from anywhere.” 

In theory, it’s an ideal situation for employees and employers. We have the technology to accommodate employees who want to work from their apartment in Manhattan, a lake house in Minnesota or an Airbnb in London. We’ve adapted to video calls and collaboration platforms and even discovered that productivity is higher among remote workers. 

Not to mention, employees are demanding it. According to my company’s recent Adapt survey, more than 90% of employees think they should be able to work from anywhere, and nearly 40% say the flexibility to work from anywhere ranks in the top three factors that create an exceptional employee experience — second only to “high pay” in the attributes they’re looking for in a job. Already some 12% of workers have taken advantage of the flexibility to work anywhere by relocating during the pandemic, according to PwC’s Workforce Pulse survey, and nearly a quarter are considering or planning a temporary or permanent move more than 50 miles from their core office location.

Even HR is embracing “work from anywhere” for the ability to tap into a broader set of skills; it’s allowing them to build more diverse teams — a critical component in employee experience, innovation and profitability. 

But in practical application, “work from anywhere” can be a nightmare, opening up a Pandora’s box of logistical and compliance challenges on a massive scale. Before the pandemic, companies had to only worry about a small percentage of “road warriors” who traveled around frequently. Now, it could be half or three-fourths of your employee population on the move. 

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Before committing to allowing your employees to “work from anywhere,” CEOs should consider these top three mistakes when setting policies and how to avoid them. 

1. Not Setting Geographical Parameters 

This sounds counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out. While “work from anywhere” sounds ideal, the reality is that some locations simply aren’t conducive to it, even if technology permits it. Safety and geo-political stability aside, there could be locales that require companies to register as a business or obtain licensing or other clearance in order to have a single employee work remotely there. This could be a cumbersome, costly process, which means it may not be economically feasible. On the other hand, time zone issues can get in the way of progress and productivity. If you have employees scattered around the globe, all working on “normal” daytime business hours for their time zones, that could mean there’s very little overlapping time when they can collaborate and interact. 

To mitigate this mistake, set some reasonable boundaries that allow employees to “work from anywhere” within specific areas or time zones. It may be prudent to exclude certain geographic regions for compliance purposes or establish longitudinal guidelines — employees can work anywhere in North or South America because the time zones more closely align with North America, or a similar north/south matchup for Europe and Africa, for example. 

2. Not Planning For Tax And Immigration Compliance 

Allowing employees to work from anywhere exposes your company to serious compliance risks. When employees cross state and national borders, the rules may quickly change with regard to tax requirements and immigration requirements. Under most circumstances, employees will likely need a work permit for cross-border remote work, and in some cases, length-of-stay thresholds apply to both business and leisure travel. That means an employee’s two-week vacation could put them on the brink of violation if they return for business travel. 

Failure to account for employees’ locations in real time can result in the risk of underpaying taxes, incurring fines or immigration penalties, or overpaying taxes when people are working outside their office’s jurisdiction. Companies must know and maintain accurate information about employees’ locations at all times (at the country, state or city level, depending on the location) in order to reduce tax and immigration risk and avoid penalties. 

3. Relying On Employees To Self-Report 

Even if you establish a policy requiring employees to report their locations, there’s no guarantee they’ll do it. According to the Adapt survey, while 90% of HR professionals said they were confident they knew where employees were and over 75% were confident their employees would self-report, the data proves otherwise. Nearly a third of employees have worked outside their home states or countries during the pandemic, but only one-third reported all their out-of-country or –state days to HR and 24% reported none at all. 

While there’s little evidence that employees intentionally exposed their companies to risk, the reality is that it doesn’t matter — failure to self-report equals risk you don’t want to take. The majority of employees are fine with employers tracking their location at the country, state and city level, so there’s no reason to fear that implementing this kind of solution will negatively impact employee experience. In fact, it could help it, giving employees the freedom to move about as they like without the worries of having to report it. My company, as a supplier of automated tracking technology, has seen that the benefits of keeping tabs on employees’ whereabouts are twofold: 1) they don’t have to worry about self-reporting, and 2) companies don’t have to worry about them not. 

Work From Anywhere* — With Some Planning And Preparation 

In order to support “work from anywhere,” companies must plan, prepare and communicate effectively, and for many, that starts with adding an asterisk to their “work from anywhere” policy. Set some guidelines and expectations, not just for the work to be done, but also for how employees will work with the company to ensure compliance on tax and immigration issues. By communicating the importance of employee location tracking, companies can support a flexible, employee-centric policy that also fits the corporate culture and business bottom line, with a focus on mitigating compliance concerns.


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