Being more flexible about employees’ desire to carry out their job while living abroad may well prove a good way of ensuring your company can retain people, writes lawyer Marcin Durlak
The UK is facing a talent drain. Recent figures from the Totaljobs Hiring Trends Index reveal that more than 4.5 million UK workers are considering moving overseas for a better quality of life. Factors such as the recent pandemic and the escalating cost of living has made more people than ever consider leaving the UK.
This is also against the background of the “great resignation” which has seen high numbers of people either leave their jobs, or consider new roles, since the pandemic. All of this presents a very real recruitment crisis for businesses. So, in order to attract and retain talent, should you let employees work abroad?
Some jobs just aren’t suitable for workers based overseas, as they require a high volume of in-person meetings or visits. But post-pandemic, it’s likely more businesses could accommodate overseas workers. And if you fail to implement a proper policy for overseas workers, might they just go anyway?
Interestingly, there has been a growing number of stories of “secret” digital nomads – people who either asked their employer if they could work abroad and the request was turned down but they moved anyway, or those who just decided to up-sticks between lockdowns and haven’t returned.
These people use fake backdrops or switch their cameras off during meetings and are adept at navigating time zones and contrasting weather conditions to ensure they aren’t found out by their UK-based bosses. While undoubtedly in the minority, this shows the desire among some people to leave the UK, but remain with their employer is so strong that they resort to a life of deception!
My business is a law firm, which supports international businesses and families in the UK and our client base is comprised of 95% non-British clients living and working in the UK.
Although we operate a very multicultural team, our lawyers were based in offices in Manchester and London before the Covid pandemic. However, last year we took the decision to offer all team members the option to work from home permanently. Although we have always had flexible working options, we recognised the value in offering our diverse team an option to work from their home, wherever that may be in the world.
Our hybrid model has allowed team members to work in a way which suits them and, in some cases, relocate, with three team members now working permanently from Wales, Romania and Poland. It’s also widened our talent pool and we’re no longer restricted 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 abroad.
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 be working there. Employees who spend most of their time abroad over the year may be able to obtain full UK tax relief on their earnings.
Allowing people to work abroad widened our talent pool and we’re no longer restricted to hiring lawyers based near our physical offices”
Legal rights Again, it is country-dependent, but an employee working abroad may or may not be subject to local employment laws, so issues such as holiday pay and contract termination need addressing. Many countries offer digital nomad visas that spell out rights and obligations. Barbados provides one example, which stipulates workers must earn more than $50k to gain a visa. In some countries, there will be enhanced rights compared with the England and Wales legislation. Of course, immigration laws need to be carefully considered and undertaking a ‘Right to Work’ check is advisable.
Cyber security With the mass switch to working from home at the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses will have already taken a magnifying glass to their cyber security to ensure any employees working from home were not inadvertently putting any of the company’s data at risk. An additional consideration is if an employee starts to work from another country and is processing personal data.
Supporting employees and making them feel part of the team Of course, there are myriad issues to consider when an employee moves abroad, or you recruit abroad. However, one important thing to consider is how to integrate and support these employees. For us, we knew a strong company culture was essential and we took a number of steps to ensure the whole team felt unified, wherever they were working from. For example, we invested in the YourFlock platform, which uses team survey and feedback.
The YourFlock platform has helped us stay engaged while working remotely and quickly identify individuals who need our support to stay happy and motivated. Regular contact – both formal and informal – is also important, as is a focus on mental health, especially when the team is so physically disparate. Creating bespoke mental health policies and having an unrelenting focus on staff wellbeing is crucial in ensuring all team members feel supported.
Finally, one of the most important steps you can take is to ensure your rules on working abroad are clear. It’s probably quite unlikely one of your employees will abscond secretly and become a digital nomad without telling you, but as the figures reveal – many employees are considering a move abroad for a whole host of different reasons. Knowing their employer would support a move, could mean you retain valuable talent.
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