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There are a lot of things about the past year that workers won’t miss when mass vaccination brings a gradual end to the COVID-19 pandemic. But flexible working arrangements won’t be one of them.
While big banks and other businesses have said they expect their employees to return to the office once it is safe to do so, global technology leaders including Spotify, Twitter, Salesforce and others said their employees will be encouraged to work from anywhere for the foreseeable future.
These tech brands are culturally influential and are known for hiring the best and brightest. As these leaders pioneer increasingly flexible working arrangements, companies of all sizes can be expected to follow their lead.
According to a recent survey from Joblist, 68% of remote workers believe their productivity has increased while working from home. Companies are beginning to see the advantages of giving up expensive real estate and hiring outside of their immediate geographic areas.
The benefits of a remote or hybrid workforce are clear. But how many of these businesses have the resources of a Spotify or a Salesforce? How many HR departments can easily implement sweeping changes to hiring, onboarding, employee engagement and other mission-critical functions?
These are questions worth asking before following the lead of these tech giants and jumping on the work-from-anywhere bandwagon. It’s up to HR leaders to assess whether they have the right technology and resources in place to not just make it happen, but to make the workplace thrive.
A Series of Challenges
HR professionals have responsibilities that vary company by company, but the commonalities include hiring and recruiting, training and development, compensation and benefits, employee relations and legal compliance. It’s a lot to juggle, even in normal times. And these are anything but normal times.
Work from anywhere means culture and team building are a very different challenge. Conversations by the coffee machine can no longer happen which means employees do not get to know their peers as well. This can make it harder to communicate in tough situations when you don’t have a relationship with others in the office.
It’s important to remember that work from anywhere also means hire from anywhere. As companies increasingly hire across state lines and international borders, they are fishing from a much larger talent pool. That means every HR function stands to change dramatically.
A business practice that is perfectly acceptable in one country could be against the law or a social taboo in another. A procedure that is simple in the U.S. might be a complex, multi-step process elsewhere.
Many countries have city, regional and national regulators and government agencies imposing statutory or regulatory filing requirements, which can make compliance in overseas locations a daunting task.
Social taxes and benefits entitlement also differ significantly country by country, as do requirements for opening bank accounts. This can quickly complicate payroll. Which country to bill from — the home country or overseas office — in what currency, and who bills whom are just a few of the hurdles to surmount.
Employment in the U.S. is typically “at-will,” but in nearly every other country employment is “by-contract,” and every contract must reflect a thorough understanding of local laws.
It’s a lot to unpack. But these are some of the considerations HR departments need to take into account before embracing a work-from-anywhere policy.
HR teams of different sizes can effectively manage employees based all over the world. But they need to be realistic about the challenges, and they need the right tools and guidance to help them do the job.
The Right Tools
A proliferation of new technologies is making it easier to manage a remote workforce, or even a global workforce.
These include communication tools like Zoom and Slack, as well as task-management programs like Monday and Trello. But the most important tool in the HR department’s kit is a human capital management (HCM) system.
The migration to cloud-based systems has been underway for years, but the pandemic and work from anywhere should be a wake-up call to any HR team that has not yet made the move. The time is now, because only cloud-based, automated HCM systems can manage the workplaces of the future, which will be increasingly international, dispersed and remote.
Successfully navigating a changing landscape comes down to avoiding missteps that cost companies time and money. Automating many HR tasks helps eliminate errors that result from manual processes and clerical work.
The end of every pay cycle is a time when clerical work and errors tend to pile up. Automation offers quick verification of all hours worked, and the ability to consolidate data entry to prevent errors when entering data into multiple systems.
The other immediate benefit of automation is time savings. Automated HCM software can save significant time in generating reports, sending notifications and allowing employees to update their personal information without needing to consult HR.
Then there is the matter of compliance regulations, which vary widely from country to country, and which can quickly overwhelm HR teams. Human error results in delays when doing manual processing and non-compliance with overseas laws and regulations. Some cloud-based HCM systems even come with GDPR compliance features built in, which shields companies from these costly, time-consuming risks.
But with business becoming increasingly global, and with work from anywhere taking root as a viable new work style, the time has come to pare back loss from human error. Shoring up every function of HR is critical to stay on the leading edge.
Fortunately, the technology exists today to help HR departments not just keep pace but stay ahead of the fast-changing times. As long as HR directors are realistic about the challenges —and have the right tools for the job — they will find the future workplace fascinating and invigorating.
The old mantra “remotely global” can now become “globally remote.”