Many people put the major shift to remote working down to the events of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but whilst this may have accelerated the trend, the foundations had been laid way before then. Contract working and digital nomadism meant that many people were already defining when and where they wanted to do their jobs and enjoying the freedom that getting to travel and work at the same time provided.
Whilst the necessity of working from home has ceased now, the number of workplaces that have transitioned to hybrid and flexible working models has grown significantly in the past few years. With this change has come many questions about the best approach to running a business and maintaining company culture when some or all of your workforce is remote, particularly when employees are further afield than the same city, region or country where your organisation is based.
The opportunity to work remotely from another country has a wealth of personal benefits, whether you’re just visiting for a holiday or relocating permanently. But what does this mean for employers that have to deal with staff that no longer live in the same country, and will it impact a business more than if all employees were living in the UK?
In this article, we discuss these questions and the pros and cons of having a remote workforce spread across the world, along with giving suggestions for how employers can handle employees living and working abroad.
First things first, it’s worth noting that there are many instances, especially in the engineering industry, where employees will be unable to work remotely at any point, let alone work from another country. In the electronics and embedded systems sector, roles such as software developer and firmware engineer can be easy to do remotely, whereas roles that require practical design and development or project management are often better suited to in-person working.
There are also many legal considerations connected with employees working abroad which means many employers prefer to have their workforce all based in the same country. As well as remote workers gaining the employment rights of the country they are currently living in, there are plenty of tax considerations that a business may have to deal with if their staff live abroad for a long period of time, including the worry of creating a ‘permanent establishment’ for the company in another location.
You can read the official UK government advice on employees working abroad here.
With these considerations in mind, it can be difficult to allow employees to relocate and work remotely from another country on a permanent or extended basis, along with making it harder to hire new employees based in other countries. There is a range of benefits of offering this kind of flexibility to your staff and widening your hiring pool however, which we will explore in more detail below.
The Benefits of UK-Based Employees
To begin with, let’s explore the benefits of having your employees based in the same country.
- If your company has a physical workplace then having your workforce based in the same location means that it is easy to offer flexible and hybrid working options that allow staff to use the space if and when they want to
- In instances where in-person work or discussion is required, it is easier to get staff to come into the office for these specific occasions
- Hiring candidates from the surrounding area/same country means that the recruitment process can take place in person, allowing for better candidate engagement and more seamless onboarding
- Having a workforce based in the same location can lead to a greater sense of community within a business and improve company culture
The Benefits of Overseas Employees
Following on from that, there is also a range of benefits from having employees working remotely from another country, whether that’s in Europe or further afield.
- Hiring from a global talent pool means that the range of candidates you have to choose from when filling your roles is much broader, increasing the talent in your company
- Having a more diverse workforce by having employees from different cultures and places has been found to have multiple benefits for business, including a 35% increase in financial returns over competitors with a less diverse workforce
- Offering the opportunity for current employees to work abroad, either full-time or just for an extended period, is a great benefit that will improve your image as an employer and potentially attract more candidates to your roles
- International businesses generally have better reputations, and having a workforce spread across several countries is a great first step to start building this kind of successful image
The Challenges of Employees Working Abroad
Whilst the benefits of overseas employees are appealing, it’s also worth noting that there are several significant challenges that businesses with a remote workforce face.
- As previously discussed, some legal setbacks can make it difficult and costly to have employees permanently working in a different country
- Depending on their location, having employees in different time zones can make it tricky to implement core working hours or organise meetings where everyone can attend
- If an employee is fully remote and working overseas, the hiring and onboarding process can be harder than if they were working in-person
- It can also be more difficult to communicate and work collaboratively with employees that are fully remote, especially during team projects or whilst sharing and developing ideas
- If only some of your workforce are working remotely, whether simply elsewhere in the UK or in another country, it can be difficult to help them feel fully part of the company, especially if other employees are regularly working together in the same place
Does it Matter?
Answering the question of whether location really makes a difference when you have employees working abroad is difficult. It ultimately comes down to the individual situation, as if the entire company is working remotely full time then their specific location matters less, whereas only having some of your staff working overseas presents more of a problem. It will also depend on the kind of product or service your company offers, and whether the work needed to produce this is better or easier when done in person.
If you’re growing your business then hiring employees from different locations can be a major benefit, especially if you eventually have plans to launch internationally. And as previously discussed, offering your employees the chance to live and work in another country makes you more desirable as an employer, improving your recruitment efforts and your brand image.
There are logistical and legal challenges to overcome when considering if remote workers live or decide to relocate to another country, but if you can manage these then there are plenty of benefits to be enjoyed. With the trend of remote and flexible workforces also showing no signs of slowing, refusing to adapt to or even be receptive to these new ways of working could ultimately leave your organisation behind, so it’s definitely worth considering strategies now and staying ahead of the curve.
Top Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce
Managing remote workers can be tricky. Here are some of the best pieces of advice to ensure cohesive working and employee satisfaction.
One of the most important things to implement when some or all of your employees are working remotely is a structure that gives the week a framework that everyone can plan around. Having weekly meetings at the same time or organising recurring catch-ups ensures that everyone will be ‘online’ and available at designated points, as well as providing fixed events that can then be individually planned around.
Aim for Core Hours
It’s not always possible, but the majority of organisations with flexible working options have core hours each day where team members are required to be available and meetings can take place. The length of your ‘core’ period of time can vary depending on how much flexibility you want to give your employees, but most companies tend to have at least four hours in the middle of the day when their staff are online or in the office.
Some time differences between countries will make implementing core hours tricky, and there may be some cases where certain employees can’t be available at designated times. In these cases, it is important to come to a conclusion that works for everyone, such as a remote employee taking an hour or so out of their evening to be able to work with the rest of their team, or a manager sending a summary of a meeting that a remote employee couldn’t attend.
Use Collaborative Software
Technology has made the transition from in-person to remote working much easier, from simple video conference platforms to project management software that allows for multiple users to track progress and share updates. No matter which app or platform you decide to use, having some kind of software that allows the whole workforce to communicate, collaborate and keep track of what other teams are up to is an essential part of removing any issues that remote working might create.
Feeling isolated and out-of-the-loop is one of the biggest issues caused by remote working, especially if you’re in a completely different location from the rest of your colleagues. The best way to overcome this is by creating systems that allow everyone to stay updated on everything from workloads to personal development and general wellbeing. These could be regular calls with other members of the team, keeping a shared to-do list updated, sending a message at the end of each day sharing what has been achieved, or just creating a workplace culture that allows for more transparency.
Create Social Opportunities
One of the key things that employees reported missing when working remotely was the small pieces of social interaction that being in an office allowed for. Whilst it’s very hard to recreate these digitally, especially when you have team members living all over the world, it is important to try and facilitate interaction between employees that isn’t solely focused on work.
From group chats based on mutual interests to regular virtual socials, there are plenty of ways to help improve how close your workforce feels to one another and ensure that remote workers aren’t isolated or lonely. This is especially important when you have employees starting the role remotely and potentially never meeting their colleagues in person, as feeling left out of company socialising can lead to new staff leaving their roles in a short space of time.
Trust Your Team
Finally, it’s important to have a sense of trust among team members when you don’t have the reassurance of seeing everyone at work every day and being able to check in on what they’re doing. Micromanaging and checking in every few hours can get very annoying, so once you have established a structure and a process for remote working, take a step back and let your employees do their work and feel empowered by the trust you are placing in them.
Whether you’re an employer looking to globally expand their workforce or a candidate seeking opportunities to work remotely or even abroad, KO2 is a specialist recruitment agency that can help find you the perfect role or new employee. Get in touch and speak to a member of our team about the work we do and how we can help.