Working remotely abroad: policy and talent implications

Since the pandemic when working from home, working remotely and working from anywhere became normalised due to the inability to travel internationally to the employment location, employees have embraced the possibilities of remote work as part of a work-life balance strategy. Dr Sue Shortland explains the policy and talent implications of supporting employee-requested international remote working.

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This article is taken from the Winter 2023/24 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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View your copy of the Winter 2023 issue of Think Global People magazine.


During the pandemic, employees and their families found themselves unable to accept international assignments based in other countries due to travel restrictions imposed. This meant that international assignments had to be conducted virtually. Individuals and their families also found themselves unable to leave assignment locations due to Covid restrictions once their tour of duty ended, and some ended up living in a third country which was neither their home or host location, for example caught up when travelling on vacation.This situation resulted in organisations having to manage individuals living in locations while their job roles continued elsewhere.  This set the trend for requests by employees to work remotely while undertaking international duties. International remote work has now become a feature of international mobility and refers to employee requests to perform their duties in a different country from where their job role is formally based.During the pandemic, compliance authorities understood that individuals were unable to relocate as necessary and a more lenient approach was taken to the treatment of immigration and tax implications. Now, however, with freedom of movement back in play, compliance has become a key issue in employers’ decisions allow employees to live and work in different places.


Employers need to consider a number of factors when deciding whether to facilitate international remote working and the policies that they devise to support employees and their families. Typically employers wish to have an entity in the country in which the employee proposes to work remotely for compliance reasons. Yet, according to a recent survey by Air Inc., this is not always the case. It found that 30% of the firms that it surveyed allow international remote work in countries where the company did not have an entity compared to 29% which did not allow international remote work in such circumstances. Interestingly, 39% of those surveyed handled remote work requests on a case-bycase basis. These data indicate a mixed picture with no clear trend as to where remote working is allowed.A further issue that needs to be taken into account is how long international remote working is allowed. Air Inc. found there were two main approaches to setting time limits on international remote work. These were the use of a cumulative day cap and/or a consecutive day cap. The use of a cumulative day cap refers to a maximum number of days of remote work allowed during a year but these days do not have to be taken in one block, for example a maximum of 30 days taken during a year but not necessarily taken as a consecutive period of one month. A consecutive day cap refers to a number of days allowed within a defined period, taken as one block, for example a maximum of 10 days in a month.Air Inc. found that 34% of organisations applied a cumulative day cap, 9% applied a consecutive day cap, 12% applied a consecutive and cumulative day cap thereby combining these two measures, and 29% used a case-by-case approach. In terms of the length of the cumulative day cap, it found that 28% applied a maximum of 20 days, 26% a maximum of 30 days, 20% a maximum of 10 days, with the remainder some other length of time. So once again, the picture here is very mixed in terms of what organisations do with respect to time limits placed on international remote work.
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If organisations allow international remote working, this normally falls under the remit of the Global Mobility function. A question then arises as to whether an organisation should have a formal global mobility policy to underpin this form of international working. To manage it effectively, it is important to have technology that can track days spent in the international remote work location.Air Inc.’s research finds that company support for international remote work is often quite limited. The main focus reported is on providing some guidance on income tax and immigration issues (although the percentage of firms providing this support is limited to 27% and 18% respectively). Air Inc. finds that 44% of firms state that the employee is responsible for paying any additional tax costs and 40% say similarly for immigration costs/documentation. It is also very clear from the survey that very few companies meet any other costs associated with remote working internationally – for example 79% do not pay for flights, 89% do not pay per diems, 85% do not pay for housing, and 76% do not pay for medical costs.


These statistics are somewhat surprising. Organisations appear to be saying that they wish to encourage the attraction, retention and motivation of talent and know that this can be achieved through providing international remote work opportunities and yet very little support is given in policy for those who do wish to undertake international remote working. There is also a very mixed picture with regard to when and where remote working is supported.International experience is highly valued by employees. It is seen as a tool to achieve career development as well as broadening professional and personal skills. Gaining international experience is therefore a key motivator for the most talented individuals. If organisations are able to offer international remote work or facilitate those volunteering for international experience, it is likely to improve employee engagement and act as an attractive prospect for employees looking to join an organisation by offering career growth.Organisations therefore need to balance out employee requests to live in locations that differ from their employment base and the compliance ramifications that flow from this with their desire to offer a  competitive talent strategy to attract and retain skilled individuals.Looking ahead, this raises a conundrum for organisations. On the one hand, organisations wish to grow and develop career opportunities for their employees and they want to be seen as an employer of choice to attract the best talent from across the world.  On the other hand, there appears currently to be very little in the way of a trend developing as to how organisations can best facilitate this talent strategy.


The Global Mobility function lies at the heart of international working. It stands to reason that Global Mobility needs to consider how best to devise policies that provide the best balance between supporting employees’ desire to benefit from international remote work and meeting business needs in a cost effective and compliant manner.In order to consider how best to do this, Global Mobility might turn to its existing international assignment policy suite to decide if anything that it currently holds on the stocks is suitable to support international remote working. Options might include using the volunteer assignment policy or potentially elements from the international one way move policy. Such approaches though are likely to present only a piecemeal approach which might not provide equity among the group of individuals wishing to take part in international remote work. A better solution is to devise a formal policy for international remote work, reflecting voluntary nature of such requests.In any such policy, it makes sense to ensure that compliance issues are covered and, if employees are to be productive and successful in their assignments, consideration might also be given to appropriate training as well as health and wellbeing issues. Consideration should also be given to other aspects of the assignment policy including travel and housing. Care needs to be taken to ensure that any benefits given reflect the fact that such international remote work is undertaken on a voluntary basis.Organisations tend to view volunteers undertaking international assignments as having less bargaining power to demand full relocation packages. This is likely to be the approach taken in devising any policy to support voluntary international remote work. Notwithstanding this, if organisations wish to use international remote working as a means to attract, retain and motivate, some employer support will be necessary, formalised via policy provision, to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to providing career opportunities via this form of international experience.

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