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Managing remote work when employees become hermits or nomads  

On New Year’s Day 2022, Rachel, a former New Yorker, moved all her possessions to a storage unit and started a year-long nomadic trek around the southern United States.  

At about the same time, Patrick sold his flat in London and moved to a remote bungalow in the Cayman Islands as part of that country’s Global Citizen Concierge Program.

Rachel and Patrick are not on a gap year, a work hiatus or taking early retirement, they are full-time remote employees of their respective organisations.

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Rachel and Patrick are like many. According to Gartner, there has been 18% increase of remote workers globally from pre-pandemic to today. Without a work commute to tether them to a location, remote employees are pushing some extremes and relocating with freedom to live where they want.   

Bloomberg reported that in 2021 Londoners spent more money than ever before on housing outside the city, moving to their more desired locations. At the extremes, hermits, like Patrick, are relocating to remote locations, such as country or beach homes, while nomads, like Rachel, are using remote work as an opportunity for travel. 

Many countries are facilitating extreme remote work. For example, the UAE offers a one-year virtual working programme; Estonia announced a new Digital Nomad Visa, and Spain created a National Network of Welcoming Villages for remote workers. Both Madeira, Portugal and Zadar, Croatia have created entire nomad villages to attract remote workers. 

Service and hotel companies are also getting into this game by catering to remote workers. Firms such as Remote Year and Working Without Borders, offer organised travel, accommodations, remote work facilities for participants.   

Three leading multinational hotel companies now offer their guests remote work options across their properties globally. Hyatt introduced Work from Hyatt, Marriott launched their New Day Pass, and Hilton developed WorkSpaces by Hilton.  

Does HR have any reason to be concerned about where employees – especially hermits and nomads – conduct their work? The answer is a resounding 'yes', based on legal implications, the nature of the work, and wider implications for attracting, developing, and retaining talent with critical skills.   

Here are seven considerations for HR managers:   

Create a user-friendly way for employees to report and update locations

Make it easy for employees to update the location where they are living and working as often as they would like and provide the option to state location preferences for greater planning efforts.    

Partner with mobility experts to ensure compliance with tax and labour laws

There are many legal implications for employment connected to where employees live and work. Some tax and labour laws are based on where an employee resides, and others are based on where the employees’ work is performed. To remain compliant, we encourage HR leaders to speak with mobility experts who understand the legal implications associated with location, duration in each location, etc.   

Understand licensure requirements

Are there location-specific licensure problems created when your employees work remotely from a different location? In many countries, some professional roles require location-specific licenses (e.g. healthcare workers, therapists, teachers).    

Tighten data security and remain compliant with data privacy laws

When working from home, a coffee shop, or a local Airbnb, data security will require additional technical solutions to secure data. This issue is exacerbated when considering countries have specific compliance requirements for data security.   

Provide infrastructure for remote work

Investment in collaboration tools, cloud computing, systems integration and wider IT services is critical to ensure business continuity in a  remote work setting. Clarity around reporting lines and performance management is also needed. 

Manage the corporate image

Are your employees’ remote locations representing your company image, culture, and reputation? If you would be concerned for your clients or fellow employees see a beach as a backdrop, set a policy for virtual backgrounds and have a dress code for video calls.    

Maximise flexibility where possible

One of the few universal motivators is the desire to control one’s destiny. Giving employees the ability to live where they want could be the glue that binds employees to your company, even during the Great Resignation. However, this is a double-edged sword: If a primary career motivator is location flexibility, you might be unable to retain some employees if the policy changes later.  

The goal of HR is to manage their employees – whether hermits, nomads or somewhere in between – in a way that will balance the needs to be legally compliant, to strategically deploy employees’ skills in an agile way, and to attract and retain those who have the most critical skills for your company.   

Paula Caligiuri is DMSB distinguished professor at international business at Northeastern University and Stefan Jooss is programme director for the higher diploma in HRM at Cork University Business School