This article was originally posted on November 25, 2021 on Click here to read the original post.

It seems that some companies’ promises about remote work may have been a bit premature. Whether they came out early offering work-from-home forever, forced employees back to the office amid protest, or delayed their return-to-the-office plans, one thing is certain: it’s still a very fluid situation and it feels a bit too early to take a definitive stance.

Sure, the big investment banks can afford to mandate a return to office, largely because their brands are strong and if a portion of their employees opt out, there are plenty of candidates waiting in the wings to fill the ranks.

But for the rest of us, it’s a very slippery slope. There’s still a lot of health risk and uncertainty, and employees are right to be concerned. It’s not that all people who don’t want to return to the office yet are anti-office; they simply may not feel safe commuting or gathering with co-workers.

Not to mention, their lifestyles have completely changed over the course of the last 18 months. According to PwC, almost one-fourth of workers were considering or planning to move 50+ miles from their employers’ offices and 12% have already done so, counting on the flexibility their employers had promised them.

All the uncertainty has many companies ready to throw in the towel, to just say no to remote work, period. And we get it—we’re exhausted. We’re tired of dealing with COVID, and we just want to be back to normal already. But much of the flip-flopping is because 1) the situation changes daily; and 2) companies were woefully unprepared to deal with the realities of the compliance and tax risk of remote work.

While it’s understandable to want to change gears mid-stream, it’s also extremely risky. Reneging on remote work promises erodes employees’ trust. They feel stabbed in the back, especially considering that most worked harder during lockdown than they did before.

Productivity was up, but now their employer suggests they’re not productive enough or can’t be trusted if they’re not physically in the office. And like it or not, most employees don’t buy the claim that remote work is damaging corporate culture.

As a result, more than half of employees say they’ll simply quit after the pandemic if they don’t get the flexibility to work where and when they want. And given the talent shortage we’re already facing, no company can afford a mass exodus.

So how can your company say “yes” to remote work to keep both your employees and your compliance teams happy?

Here are some tips:

  1.  Define the terms. One of the biggest issues is a disconnect between what companies are saying and what employees are hearing. No one has yet landed on a common terminology and “remote work” means very different things for different people. For some, it means working from home at a location in or nearby the same location/tax jurisdiction as the home office; for others, like Spotify and Salesforce, it means fewer restrictions and more flexibility for employees to choose their location. Is “remote work” the same as “work from home?” Clarifying the terms can reduce the risk of misunderstanding.
  2. Establish parameters. Not every role can be done remotely, and even with the best video conferencing technology, collaboration just works better when the collaborators are all in the same room. Establish clear policy parameters around for whom, when and under what circumstances remote work is an option. If a hybrid model is available, what does that look like? Is it three days in-office and two at home, or vice versa? Are there jurisdictional or geographic limitations to help the company avoid permanent establishment risk? Can employees switch from fully remote to in-office to hybrid and if so, how often and what’s the process? Answering these questions up front will help reduce miscommunication—and the risk of mutiny and bad press. It will also help with talent acquisition. Since the remote policy will be a factor in every new applicant’s decision going forward, you can’t afford to be unclear.
  3. Implement the right technology. As many companies have discovered, managing the compliance and tax implications of remote work can be a huge and complex minefield. Add in immigration issues, especially in the context of Brexit, and remote work takes on a much larger and more expensive risk. Spreadsheets are not going to do the job. Instead, implement HR and mobility management tools that can track employees’ location (while balancing the right to privacy), manage legal and tax compliance and help your team stay on top of the fast-evolving situation in real time.
  4. Consider PEO/EOR services. To give your employees maximum flexibility, especially for those who want to live and work internationally, one option is to employ them through a Permanent Employment Organization (PEO) or Employer of Record (EOR) such as, Papaya Global or Global PEO Services. These companies hire the employee locally and contract them out to you, which means they assume the responsibility for compliance, tax liability and risk.

By all accounts, offering your employees flexibility in where and how they work will be essential when it comes to retaining and attracting talent going forward. But in addition to flexibility, they also need the security of clear policies and procedures to ensure they understand the expectations and any limitations.

And above all, communication and transparency are key. Even if the news is not great, being upfront and honest with employees goes a long way toward winning their respect and loyalty, which right now are extremely valuable assets for any company.

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