COVID-19 has had a transformative effect on the way we work. When travel across, and even within, borders became more difficult, companies adapted. As the crisis continues and the world continues to change, the next challenge is dealing with the ongoing impact of having a mostly remote workforce.
Simply reacting is no longer enough. Companies need to start planning for how they will manage their workforce for the foreseeable future. Already, conservative estimates suggest that we could be dealing with the current state of affairs for at least another year. For companies looking to thrive, rather than survive, a plan for a dispersed global workforce is vital.
Whether the aim is to maintain your current workforce or you need to attract new talent, several issues need to be considered. Having plans and policies surrounding the following areas will help to smooth problems and keep your teams and your company working.
Working Across Time Zones
There is a surprisingly large number of companies that have suddenly found their local teams split across time zones. When offices closed, people dispersed. Many people decided to travel back home, to visit family, or to work from somewhere safe, comfortable and productive.
In some cases, working across time zones wasn’t a choice people made, but a necessity. Our clients have told us stories about recruiting individuals across the world and come to their starting date; they were unable to travel. Instead, they have had to begin a new job remotely.
Before the pandemic, a talented individual received a promotion to become Regional Manager. The move would see the individual move from Australia to Russia. However, when the pandemic began, they were unable to travel.
Instead, he began his new role remotely, but because of the time difference, meant he was keeping different hours to his family, friends and everyone around him.
While this type of arrangement for a short time can be beneficial to both the employer and employee, it is not a sustainable choice. Employees and businesses need to accept that disruption and a dispersed workforce may be necessary for many months to come. While we can admire the individuals who have upended their lives to meet the demands of their work, prioritising employee wellbeing is paramount for a dispersed global workforce.
Core Hour Balance
For employee wellbeing, it is essential that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. This is not easy to achieve when someone is operating in a completely different time zone to their family and when they live. Furthermore, it can lead to burnout.
With this in mind, a critical consideration for businesses is the concept of core hours. Having a policy about core hours not only sets a standard for the organisation to ensure critical business needs are met, but also offers employees flexibility too.
To achieve this, it might be necessary to change the way your teams work. You need to move from an always-available system to one with scheduled check-ins and some compromise around meeting times.
When your workforce is spread around the world, this can bring up a lot of money issues. Some will impact directly on the company while others will fall on your employees. Knowing about the potential pitfalls can help everyone make informed decisions.
If your employees are working in countries where you do not operate, then your company may be liable for taxes in that country. Companies must keep close tabs on the number of hours your workers are completing in different locations, so you know where you stand.
It might be a good idea for organisations to investigate the cost implications of allowing workers to reside in different companies. There may be some places that are less of an issue than others. Taking time to analyse your workforce and their countries of residence is important. This is the only way to create a policy that is clear and protects everyone involved.
In most parts of the world, you can complete an amount of work for an overseas company without having to worry about tax. However, once you are working in a location for a more extended period, you can be required to pay local taxes. For your employees, this could mean that they are paying tax twice, once in the country where you employ them and again in the country where they are living.
Companies that have international employees may already have policies in place surrounding this issue. They just need to ensure that they are applied to newly remote workers as well. The very least a business should be doing in warning its people of the potential for taxation.
Once things start to open up again, it might be tempting to return to business as usual. However, before you start flying your teams around the world again, or even asking them to come to the office, you need to be aware that the world has changed.
Not everyone will be comfortable travelling. It may take longer for one person over another to feel safe. Pushing before your workers are ready will harm morale and productivity.
There will be two crucial consideration to ensure that once travel starts again, everyone feels as safe as possible. The first consideration is clear policies and expectations. It would help if you had guidelines that focus on safety and are unambiguous. It needs to be clear when a quarantine period should be followed, what social distancing expectations are, as well as cleanliness and contact policies.
The second, easier to miss aspect, is education. Not only for those travelling. Workers at the locations you are sending people also need to feel comfortable; this could be other teams, suppliers or clients. Making sure everyone has the correct information and knows the policies will be vital in the success of establishing successful relationships around the world.
When working conditions change, it always has an impact on home life. Corporations have a responsibility to help their workers maintain the balance in their lives. Companies that are inflexible in the face of this change may find that they are losing employees due to burnout and stress.
An expat regional manager, with a spouse also operating across a multinational area, both made a schedule to alternate weeks at home and at work to allow both of them to travel as necessary while having one of them at home for the family. However, when the pandemic hit, the manager was trapped away from his home and family. However, his company accepted the strain that it would be for their employee, his wife’s work commitments and his family. Consequently, they allowed him to work solely from home.
While travel was stressful (including a cross-country motorcycle ride), the end result was worth it. The organisation still receives the same high-quality work and they have a happy, healthy and loyal regional manager working for them.
Being flexible and compassionate is often the best business decision an organisation can make. However, it does require an organisation to think carefully about what level of support they can feasibly offer to their employees to support their work-life balance.
For example, some businesses may support with travel costs so that employees can reunite with their family. Another example may be offering tuition assistance for employees with children, to allow their employees to focus on work, knowing that children are able to learn while they are at home.
Whatever policy a business implements to help its employees achieve a work-life balance as a dispersed global team, it needs to be clear, consistent and accessible. Another consideration is how long-term and viable the solution is. When you consider that a dispersed global workforce may be a long term prospect, the sustainability of your work-life balance benefits must be carefully considered and managed for the long-term.