International remote work is now a real option for many employees. Davyd Fisher explains how developing a robust policy, identifying clear stakeholder responsibilities, and implementing technology solutions is vital for balancing flexibility with managing the legal, tax, and social security implications.

Enabling people to work outside of their country of residence isn't just a benefit for employees. It also offers real advantages for businesses, including access to a larger and more diverse talent pool, lower operational costs, increased flexibility and productivity, and improved work-life balance and employee retention.

Our latest Business Outlook Tracker research surveyed 602 mid-market business leaders, to find out how they're embedding international remote working into their operations. This means employees who are working in a different country, or countries, from their main residence by choice, not because their company has posted them there.

We found that almost 60% of respondents do have a formal remote working policy (rising to 80% in the next 24 months). 90% of businesses that do have a policy permit international remote work, with less than 10% prohibiting it.

As only a small number of companies surveyed prohibit international remote work as part of their policy, we can safely say that international remote work, mostly for limited durations, is here to stay.

Why are so many companies implementing international remote working policies?

The significant uptake of international remote working opportunities enables by these policies, driven by the normalisation of hybrid working for most desk-based roles, adds an extra layer of complexity for businesses to manage, in addition to longstanding considerations around business travellers and commuters.

When an employee works outside of their 'home' country, this can trigger tax, social security, legal, and immigration obligations for the employee and, by extension, the employer.

Therefore, it's important for businesses to have a clear policy on international remote working that defines the roles, responsibilities, expectations, and support for both the employer and the employees. While around two thirds of the businesses that we spoke to already have an international remote working policy, most of the remaining businesses are still playing catch up. 38% of respondents don't currently have a policy on international remote working in place, but half of these are planning on developing one over the next 12-24 months.

What does a good international remote working policy look like?

Strong international remote working policies should be comprehensive and clear. The primary goals are to ensure that employees clearly understand their own responsibilities, what international travel is likely to be permissible, the expectations of their employer, and the tools and resources available to support them.

Some of the key elements that the policy should address include:

Clarity and consistency

Clarity on the company’s expectations, rules, and guidance helps ensures that employees are treated fairly and consistency in how remote work is managed across the organisation.

Compliance and risk management

A policy that outlines the company’s compliance requirements can help to ensure that the company and its employees are operating within the law (while also considering wider risks such as data security).

Employee support and engagement

Employees understand the support and tools available to them and feel trusted and empowered to work remotely, helping motivate them to deliver on their job objectives.

Depending on the size and complexity of your workforce, the challenges in developing a policy and implementing it effectively can be wide-ranging and varied. This is something our global mobility services team works with businesses leaders to achieve, helping to review and analyse current state, agree the desired outcomes, and design a process to develop and implement an effective policy.

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Overseeing a global workforce

What's surprising, given the potential risks, is that 30% of employers who allow international remote working aren't tracking where or for how long their employees are working overseas. This could cause serious compliance issues, including costly penalties and filing obligations, if overseas authorities identify any errors.

Businesses with different profiles of globally mobile employees have traditionally tracked these travellers in a variety of ways, ranging from a manual office sign in process through reports from corporate travel providers and up to a comprehensive implementation of a technology tool. The more sophisticated a business's tracking processes are, the more likely the business is to be ahead of the game when dealing with travel related tax and legal risks.

In general, the major barriers to implementing a more sophisticated tracking method have been cost, ease of use for employees and engagement with the tool. Over recent years, to meet the growing needs of businesses with more remote workers, this technology has evolved at pace, and so the challenge we now help our clients with is to best understand which solution is right for their needs.

How we can help

Tracking mobile employees and complying with differing rules in each location are two of the big challenges that we work with businesses to address. Managing business travellers and remote working requires a tailored approach to fit different business needs and cultures, so we adapt our approach for each business we work with.

The Grant Thornton Global Mobility Services team works with stakeholders in organisations to understand their current business traveller patterns, processes, and policies alongside the desired outcomes. We then work with these stakeholders to advise on the most appropriate approach for their organisation – each approach is unique to the needs of the business.

Once the best approach for an organisation is identified and agreed upon, we help businesses to implement the updated policies or processes required. For many this is likely to include the implementation of a tracking and risk management technology tool.

For more insight and guidance including a demonstration of Grant Thornton’s technology solutions, get in touch with Davyd Fisher.


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