Co-founder of San Francisco-based HR tech firm discusses the challenges with allowing employees to work from anywhere
Major California corporations like Microsoft, Google and Apple have served as bellwethers, reopening their doors and welcoming staff back after two years of working from home. Although the decline in COVID-19 cases indicates that it’s safe to return to normal, the reality is there’s no turning back the clock. A hybrid work schedule should be part of your return-to-office strategy, as it is for the tech giants mentioned above.
But if you’re planning on bringing employees back to the office five days a week, don’t bother filling up the water cooler.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of employees forced to return to the office full-time say this makes them more likely to look for a new job, according to Topia’s 2022 “Adapt” study, which was released earlier this month. Of the nearly 1,500 office workers, evenly split between the United States and United Kingdom (and including 299 HR professionals), who responded to the survey, 41% said flexibility to work from home is or was a reason to change jobs.
“Our study suggests that if companies say no to flexible work arrangements, they will lose talented people and struggle to replace them,” says Steve Black, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Topia, a San Francisco-based HR tech firm specializing in global talent mobility. Since 2011, Topia has helped enterprises such as Dell and Under Armour manage large global workforces.
Since last year’s study, remote work has evolved from a semi-temporary COVID-19 safety measure to an employee’s expectation. Public health, originally the impetus for remote work, is no longer relevant due to widespread accessibility to vaccines and booster shots. Now that employees have proven over the past two years that they can be just as productive, if not more so, at home, they cherish their newfound flexibility and autonomy.
Employers who provide those two benefits will be successful during the Great Resignation, in which companies across the U.S. and U.K. are experiencing historic turnover. For example, more than 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employees who responded to the survey ranked flexible work arrangements as the third most important attribute they look for in a new employer. That trailed high pay and a focus on employee wellbeing, but (not surprisingly) ranked above great culture, professional development opportunities and social impact.
More than half (56%) of respondents said the flexibility to work in whatever location they want defines an “exceptional employee experience.”
That’s where Topia comes in, ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time, while staying compliant with various laws. Black knows the struggle of global mobility, having relocated from Chicago to London 15 years ago for a job at a consultancy. “The process was super clunky and painful,” he told HRD. “HR wasn’t used to it and didn’t have the tools, tech or data to manage that process.”
Read more: Will America embrace a four-day workweek?
As most entrepreneur stories begin, Black figured there had to be a better way. He and Topia co-founder Brynne Kennedy brainstormed how companies could better deploy and manage their mobile workforce. They realized employees needed information, such as how much it costs to live in their new home, how public transportation operates, where to eat, the best schools, etc. Employees also needed to figure out logistics, like shipping their belongings, how to open a foreign bank account and how to obtain a pet passport.
Therefore, Topia aggregates the content employees need for their destination, while also supplying real-time data from the entire supply chain, so they can stay up to date. The platform automates the entire global talent mobility process, including scenario-based planning, expat payroll, tax and immigration compliance, reporting and more.
“Now they can just focus on the exciting part of expanding their career and getting to move halfway around the world,” Black says. “By bringing all this information to one place, it finally allows HR teams to step back from the operational headaches and focus on creating a delightful employee experience, which is why HR folks got into the business.”
While most HR professionals recognize the benefits of remote work, the data suggests that tax and immigration compliance remain a great risk. In 2021, 60% of HR professionals were confident they knew where most of their employees were located. That number fell to 46% in 2022, revealing a major blind spot.
“The messiness of where work is happening creates huge risk from a tax and immigration perspective for companies,” Black says. “In the U.S., if you have people working across state lines, you have to withhold payroll and file taxes appropriately, among other challenges. In Europe, if you have people working from their ski home in France to get away from the pandemic in Central London, all of a sudden, you’ve created tax risk for the company because of this hidden employment movement.”
According to the survey, 40% of HR professionals discovered employees working from outside their home state or country. Black isn’t surprised by the data because for Topia’s larger customers, last year saw the highest volume of relocations in the history of their business. If anything, the pandemic has led to an increase in employee desires to have international experiences as part of their career path.
That’s going to become an issue sooner rather than later if employees continue to fail to report all the days they work outside their home state or country. Nevertheless, 90% of HR professionals are confident that employees will self-report such days.
“We’ve proven we can stay connected to the people we love at home via Zoom, so it’s less scary to travel halfway around the world to take advantage of an opportunity,” Black says.