3 minute read

We need to talk about your remote working policy

Is your remote working policy just a tickbox exercise? Your employees think so, with 48% feeling remote working policies are in place just to make requests easier to reject and 39% saying their company makes it too difficult to work away from the office. HR must stop saying no and start saying yes to remote working, says Jacky Cohen, chief people officer at global talent mobility company Topia

Remote working and HR

As the head of HR for a company that was founded to enable companies and people to work everywhere, you would be concerned if I said I wasn’t confident about our approach to remote and flexible working. Frankly, it is in our DNA. When I look at the broader HR community, though, I am not surprised to see a significant disconnect between employers and employees when it comes to satisfaction with remote working policies. Survey after survey suggests employees will leave unless their companies offer them greater flexibility, and yet there are growing demands from some, including the British Prime Minister and CEOS of Fortune 500 companies for employees to return to the office.

So how did we get to this point and what is the solution to satisfy both parties?

When COVID hit companies were thrust into remote working overnight – many against long standing beliefs that remote work would be a huge productivity hit.  On the contrary, while the evidence is not yet conclusive, academics like Nick Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University suggest hybrid working could add a 3–5% boost to productivity over time and it is clear employees love the flexibility they were granted.  The first year of COVID was very light on remote work policy as companies were focused on business continuity, productivity and employee safety. 

HR says ‘No’

As companies rolled into year two of COVID, it was clear remote work wasn’t going away and policies needed to be defined to manage risk, compliance and employee desires.  Initial policies were created based on the tools HR practitioners had to hand.  And, unfortunately, for far too many spreadsheets and emails were the only remote work compliance tools available in their organisations.  As a result, the first wave of policies were designed to manage corporate risk and create a manageable workload for HR.  The result?  Policies that were built to say ‘no’ to remote work requests.  And, unfortunately, this was the clear takeaway from nearly half of employees.

Unsurprisingly  our 2022 Adapt study suggests that although 80% of respondents confirm that their organisations have a remote working policy, 48% feel they are in place just to make requests easier to reject and 39% feel their company makes it too difficult to work away from the office.

So how does HR avoid being perceived as being put in place to say ‘No’ to requests?  Particularly when in the UK alone nearly half of HR professionals (48%) have detected someone in a country they are not allowed to work in and globally 66% of employees admit they failed to report  to HR every occasion on they worked remotely.

A problem: One person, one place HR systems

There is a practical challenge HR teams face – traditional HR systems have been set up to expect one person to be in one place – where they are employed. For an employee looking to register remote working patterns it isn’t possible to log work in another state or country. It also isn’t possible to ask the question: “Can I work remotely in Italy for two weeks?”

Consequently, you can start to see why a gap emerges between employer reality and employee demands. HR wants to trust employees to do the right thing when working remotely, but there is a risk and compliance challenge for the company due to system limitations. If HR has no way of understanding where it can advise employees to work remotely, then there is a real risk companies could fall foul of tax and employment law regulations.  And the result is often highly restrictive policies. 

As a result, we’re seeing rapid adoption of mobility solutions that can support, not replace, your core HR platforms – seamlessly integrating with your system of record to add on the functionality needed to manage and deliver remote work policies that employees are demanding.

Due to a high volume of calls you are being held in a queue

The second practical reason for mobility tools is the growing volume and complexity of requests. Some employees may want to flexiwork, two days in the office, three from home. Others may want to live in a different country and commute to the office for meetings once a quarter. Due to the talent shortages some companies may consider hiring abroad and keeping talent in that market. It is impossible for HR teams to handle such volumes without automating the end to end process. Failure to do so will lead to impatience among employees and burnout for HR – a dangerous combination.

Remote working is tied to talent development

The third, and equally important, strategic consideration is what your remote working policy says about your company. Your company needs to ask itself how the remote work policy reflects its attitude to work. This will impact the relationship with existing employees and ability to attract talent.

Take the examples of Goldman Sachs and AirBnB. David Solomons, CEO, Goldman Sachs, has come out strongly in favour of employees returning full-time to the office, suggesting it is because the Bank has an “innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture.” The suggestion being that employees, particularly the new intake, only learn in team environments.   For brands as strong as Goldman Sachs the strategy may work out, but for others it is a much riskier proposition.

In contrast, Brian Chesky, CEO, AirBnB has announced that employees “have the flexibility to live and work in 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location.” Perhaps it is an obvious reflection of the company’s business model, but it is a very clear statement of how AirBnB wants to be perceived in the talent marketplace.

Every company must find a way to accommodate remote and flexible working or face staff retention and recruitment challenges. Looking at it through the lens of Topia, we view this as a question of our approach to talent development and how our people learn. In the past companies looked to outsourcing to reduce costs, but now I would view cross border recruitment and mobility as a way to augment existing teams. Mobility gives us a creative way to answer the question: “Where can I find the talent? If I can’t find it in-country or region, where do I look next?”

Mobility is critical to recruitment strategies

Long-term we see our mobility policy as an asset to our recruitment and staff retention strategy. We integrate it into our recruitment strategy to evaluate the available talent pool: who could get a work visa for a particular location, the cost implications of such a process and pulling that data into a pre-offer analysis. For us, it makes such a difference in understanding who we should hire, whether it is a remote hire that we relocate or someone who we keep remote. By integrating mobility into our core HR strategy we are not only addressing practical demands but, more importantly, creating a culture where HR is set-up to say “yes” to requests and that can only be a good thing for any business looking to nurture and attract talent.

Jacky Cohen, pictured below, is chief people officer at global mobility platform Topia. With more than a decade of experience in HR and people management she guides Topia’s strategic emphasis on employee engagement, experience, and success. She is former head of people business partners at Lyft and HR business partner at Pandora

Jacky Cohen chief people officer at Topia

Published 15 June 2022
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