When concerns about COVID-19 reached a fever pitch in March, many companies sent employees home to work temporarily until concerns of infection subsided. Those concerns didn't subside as expected, though. In September, many employees continue to work from home with some major employers indicating that the situation may become permanent. Facebook, Google and Twitter, for instance, have all recently made announcements that they are extending their work-from-home policies—with Twitter indicating that remote work will be indefinite.
Exploring Distant Lands
As employees are adjusting to a new normal at work, some have identified an unexpected potential perk of the ability to work remotely—the opportunity to travel to distant locations for extended periods.
"I have a client in Turks and Caicos that is seeing an increased demand for extended stays and has introduced a special rate for those looking to take their work from home away from home," said Rosalie Hagel Martin, executive vice president and account director with Blue Whale Public Relations.
After all, it doesn't make a difference if they're working from a beach in Puerto Rico or a house in the suburbs. Or does it? Some companies are establishing policies that may restrict employee flexibility, such as requiring employees working remotely to be ready to come into a physical work location, if requested, within a two-hour time frame. Other employers, though, are viewing this flexibility as a way to offer an attractive perk to employees—with zero budget impact.
Not Just Working from Home, but Working from Anywhere
A number of younger workers were already working and traveling around the world before the coronavirus pandemic. These digital nomads think the work tourism model will become more popular.
"We have found that a majority of our professional service clients have really loosened the reins on work from home since mid-March," said Karen A. Young, SHRM-SCP, president of HR Resolutions. "Of the companies that are able to provide work from home, they generally do not care where the work is performed from, provided there is no need for someone to come into the office for any purpose."
While some employees may view this as an opportunity to explore vacation locales, others may approach it from a more practical standpoint—the ability to take care of family members in other locations who may need assistance or just companionship. Employers should consider some potential areas of concern as they contemplate whether to embrace this option.
Tax Liability, Time Zones and Expectations
According to Ilona A. Keilich, managing director of ExpatsGuide, a relocation agency that assists companies in Europe in relocating employees for work, having employees work in other countries may create tax considerations, depending on the length of stay and the locale. While most of her company's corporate clients don't mind remote workers working from wherever they are, she said that "residing in another country creates a new tax obligation."
Time zone differences may also create problems. "We had a European corporation that had an employee sitting in Brazil," Keilich recalled. "It was five hours' difference, and the employer wanted the employee to be available during German business hours." That didn't work well for the employee, though, who would have to be available during early-morning hours. Eventually, they reached a compromise, but it's an issue that others should consider.
Because of these and other potential issues that could negatively impact the business and the work the employee needs to do, employers need to establish and communicate clear expectations for employees working in remote settings.
Michael Alexis is CEO of TeamBuilding, a company that has been working remotely for more than seven years. "We allow this relocation. However, we have very clear expectations that performance must be maintained and that the employee must have a reliable work location. The work location requirement means working from a quiet desk with a strong Internet connection—not just checking in from a bed or the beach."
In addition to employer concerns about employees' ability to remain accessible and focused on their work, the potential of travel raises safety concerns as well.
As different areas experience outbreaks, employees may have to quarantine after traveling. "We're based in Pennsylvania, and a majority of our client base is in Pennsylvania," Young noted. In some cases, employers have concerns about employees who may travel to states listed as "must quarantine upon return," she said. "While we cannot deny an employee's ability to travel out of state, we are respectfully requesting they carefully consider where they are traveling to and discuss the repercussions about returning to work." And, she says, "in some circumstances, we have clients allowing work only within the state." Employees traveling outside the country will be subject to different levels of risk, depending on where they are and when they return.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.