As companies deployed technology at speed to enable remote work on a massive scale in response to COVID-19, employees not only met the moment but, adapted and even transformed their professional working arrangements.
With forecasted office closures of a year or more, many employees relocated, either temporally or long-term, to take advantage of lower costs of living, be near family and friends or to explore a location that aligns with their lifestyle.
Now, with lockdowns beginning to lift and organizations rethinking how to best balance in-office with remote work, also known as “hybrid work environments,” leaders are contending with a new mobile-talent landscape; one that addresses the employee demand for the flexibility with newly increased scrutiny from government across the tax and immigration front.
EY’s 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey found that nine out of 10 employees value the increased level of flexibility they were offered during the pandemic; further, 53% of employees are prepared to quit if that flexibility isn’t sustained in the future.
It’s clear employees believe a large portion of their work can be completed from any location and it seems most employers would agree. In fact, 79% of employers are looking to extensively/moderately change digital workforce tools in order to enable hybrid working and work-from-anywhere strategies.
Organizations must continue to build and nurture trust as they leverage technologies which can address increased compliance and employee-location reporting requirements; failure to do so could pose significant risk. Employees may shun technology solutions that enable location reporting if they have poor data protection standards or simply feel too invasive.
Government intervention on the rise
Whether to protect their domestic talent pools or to address deficits in tax revenue due to COVID-19, governments are stepping up corporate tax and immigration enforcement, with corporate remote and mobile talent caught in the crosshairs.
Governments are keenly aware that employees, now free from the constraints of being located near a corporate HQ or office, are crossing borders with ease. The increased government attention being placed on talent who are working remotely is only expected to rise.
Governments are also cognizant of interplay between remote work and permanent establishment. In an era of increased government assistance via such schemes as wage-protection and unemployment insurance (UI), companies may inadvertently find themselves liable for corporate taxes.
Employees may be working under the assumption that where they are physically located is irrelevant in the era of Zoom meetings and MS Teams Chats.
Throughout the pandemic, many line managers and business unit leaders have taken a hands-off approach; allowing employees to work from anywhere so long as they continued to perform.
Such a scenario often leaves HR or Mobility professionals scrambling. They may encounter perilous pitfalls of data as they undertake tax/payroll reporting and immigration compliance activities for the organization.
In order to overcome such information gaps, organizations need to collect basic location data from their workforce. However, they must do this in a way that balances the organization’s need for information with an employee’s desire for data privacy.
Luckily, a desire to enable flexible and work-from-anywhere strategies and increased tax and immigration reporting requirements from governments are not mutually exclusive. The secret lies in the effective use of technology which helps employers comply as well as ensure that leaders are connected with future leaders to help employees thrive.
HR must put its people at the center of their efforts, ensuring that employee data is used first and foremost to enable wellbeing, safety, and security efforts. They must communicate how data will be used for compliance and reporting requirements and outline steps they will take to protect employee data.
When the priority is shifted from the perception of “tracking employees” to “protecting people” organizations can likely expect their workforce to either self-report or share location data. This nascent trend is manifesting as companies roll-out “safe return” and contact-tracing apps.
Employers who keep their people’s best interests top of mind will build and nurture trust with their people. Such trust is a critical component in the exchange of information between employees and their employers.
What began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic has since evolved into sustainable ways of working that enable employees and their organization to benefit. With work-from-anywhere in place, an organization can offer the flexibility its workforce demands.
Built on a foundation of trust, technology can play a critical role in addressing the related tax, immigration compliance, and safety and security concerns that employers must now address.