Should you let your employees work from abroad?

According to lawyer Marcin Durlak, being more flexible about employees’ desire to perform their jobs while living abroad might just be a good way to ensure your company can retain people.

The UK is facing a talent drain. Recent figures from the Totaljobs Hiring Trends Index reveal that over 4.5 million UK workers are considering moving overseas for a better quality of life. Factors such as the recent pandemic and the rising cost of living have prompted more people than ever to consider leaving the UK.

This also comes against the backdrop of the ‘big quit’ which has seen large numbers of people either quit their jobs or consider new roles, since the pandemic. All this presents a real recruitment crisis for companies. So, to attract and retain talent, should employees be allowed to work abroad?

Some jobs are simply not suitable for overseas-based workers because they require a high volume of in-person meetings or visits. But after the pandemic, it is likely that more companies could welcome foreign workers. And if you fail to implement a proper policy for foreign workers, could they leave anyway?

Interestingly, there have been a growing number of stories of ‘secret’ digital nomads – people who asked their employer if they could work abroad and the request was denied but they moved anyway, or those who just decided to get up between lockdowns and didn’t come back.

These people use fake backdrops or turn off their cameras during meetings and are adept at navigating time zones and contrasting weather conditions to ensure they are not discovered by their UK-based bosses. Although undoubtedly in the minority, this shows some people’s desire to leave the UK, but staying with their employer is so strong that they resort to a life of deception!

My company is a law firm supporting international businesses and families in the UK and our client base is 95% non-UK clients living and working in the UK.

Although we have a very multicultural team, our lawyers were based in offices in Manchester and London before the Covid pandemic. However, last year we made the decision to offer all team members the option to work from home on a permanent basis. While we’ve always had flexible work options, we’ve recognized the value of offering our diverse team the ability to work from home, anywhere in the world.

Our hybrid model has allowed team members to work in a way that suits them and in some cases relocate, with three team members now working permanently from Wales, Romania and Poland. It has also broadened our talent pool and we are no longer limited to hiring lawyers based near our physical offices.

However, there are a number of issues to consider if you are going to allow employees to work for you overseas.

Tax Considerations How you calculate both PAYE tax and National Insurance contributions depends on where your employee is based and how long you expect them to work there. Employees who spend the majority of their time overseas during the year may be able to get full UK tax relief on their earnings.

Allowing people to work overseas has expanded our talent pool and we are no longer limited to hiring lawyers based near our physical offices”

Legal rights Again, this depends on the country, but an employee working overseas may or may not be subject to local employment laws, so issues such as paid vacation and contract termination need to be addressed. Many countries offer digital nomad visas which spell out rights and obligations. Barbados provides an example, which stipulates that workers must earn more than $50,000 to obtain a visa. In some countries, the rights will be strengthened compared to English and Welsh law. Of course, immigration laws should be carefully considered and it is advisable to undertake a ‘right to work’ audit.

cyber security With the massive shift to working from home at the start of the pandemic, many companies will already have taken a magnifying glass to their cybersecurity to ensure that employees working from home are not inadvertently putting company data at risk. An additional consideration is if an employee starts working from another country and processes personal data.

Support employees and make them feel part of the team Of course, there are a myriad of issues to consider when an employee is moving overseas or you are recruiting overseas. However, one important thing to consider is how to onboard and support these employees. For us, we knew that a strong company culture was essential and we took a number of steps to ensure that the whole team felt united, wherever they worked. For example, we have invested in the YourFlock platform, which uses a team survey and feedback.

The YourFlock platform has helped us stay engaged while working remotely and quickly identify people who need our support to stay happy and motivated. Regular contact – both formal and informal – is also important, as is the focus on mental health, especially when the team is so physically disparate. Creating bespoke mental health policies and a relentless focus on staff well-being are key to ensuring that all team members feel supported.

Finally, one of the most important steps you can take is to make sure your rules about working abroad are clear. It’s probably unlikely that one of your employees will secretly run away and become a digital nomad without telling you, but as the numbers reveal, many employees are considering moving overseas for a host of different reasons. Knowing that their employer would support a move could mean you’ll retain valuable talent.

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