10 May 2019

A remote setting for a global workforce?

Improvements in technology mean companies have the ability to set up global teams that work closely together but never (or rarely) physically meet. Carey Olsen counsel Carly Parrott, a specialist in employment law, considers the pros and cons for individuals and employers using technology to work remotely.

Like it or not, technology is revolutionising the way not only that we do business, but the way we service that business.

Technology is an enabler – its constant development fosters and supports remote and flexible working focused on output and productivity. Teams can now be virtual; employers can radically increase their talent pool by recruiting globally and ensuring their teams have the right skilled people in the right jobs, irrespective of location. This is particularly relevant to Guernsey where local skills can be restricted and the possibility of recruiting and bringing in skilled workers is often difficult.

Studies suggest that flexibility is more highly sought after than salary – it is all about freedom of choice. Choice leads to empowerment and that in turn leads to engagement. Retention levels are higher and morale is more positive. Budgets are happy (less physical office space needed) and employee costs are down (since related travel and working costs are reduced) – it’s a win-win. Declines in stress levels have also been shown, and in turn a dramatic drop in mental health issues and absenteeism.

However, remote and flexible working only works if an organisation has three key ingredients – trust, mutual purpose and connectivity. It takes effort to ensure that those three components exist and that everyone invests in them. Remote working is not for everyone; some need human interaction, and the accountability that follows. Some flourish in the ability to 'bounce' ideas around the water cooler and engage with their colleagues. Employees must take charge of their own productivity and in turn their employer needs to set meaningful and realistic KPIs tailored for them and trust that they will be getting the job done.

Key considerations

Of course, technology can be a double-edged sword. It can connect people from around the world in an instant, with virtual communication tools allowing them the freedom to work as and when, but it can also be very isolating being alone for most of the day without interaction or support. It can lead to employees being 'on' 24/7 and never able to properly switch off. Written communication can be easily misconstrued so the human element of operative management and leadership should not be undervalued. However, with a bit of thought, and a lot of buy-in, both can be achieved thanks to developments in technology.

There are legal and personnel management implications too. The contract of employment and having appropriate policies in place is fundamental in not only defining rights and obligations but in having clear remote and flexible working policies, personalised KPIs and periodic performance reviews. These are critical in ensuring expectations are set and managed, and everyone is working from the same page.

Indeed, the atypical worker brings about a number of prevalent issues for employers to consider, including:

  • Where do an employee's employment rights subsist?
  • How do those rights correlate with an employee’s statutory rights in their place of residence?
  • Which rights are more relevant and can you apply global policies to local employees?
  • What health and safety risks arise from remote working?
  • How do you manage sickness and absenteeism; discipline an absent employee?
  • What happens in a redundancy situation?

Appropriate contractual drafting is imperative on top of forward thinking about the likely nexus of jurisdictional applicability of your remote workers, particularly when based overseas.

Conclusion

Remote and flexible working is often credited with fostering a positive and creative environment that allows employees to prosper and to perform their work at a time and place that suits them. Guernsey currently trails behind other locations when it comes to this area of employment mainly because, in the author's view, of our great work-life balance and quick commute times, but with the island's world-renowned digital capabilities and need to attract skilled workers it might not stay that way for long.

 

An original version of this article was published in En Voyage, May 2019.

© Carey Olsen 2019.