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Why Communication Is a Must to Protect Remote Employees



This article was originally published in Corporate Compliance Insights.

Business travel is once again raging and is mobilizing the already travel-happy workforce even more. The Global Business Travel Association expects global business travel spending to overtake pre-pandemic levels, reaching $1.4 trillion this year. It also predicts it will accelerate to $1.8 trillion in the next three years.

This resurgence in business travel adds to a remote workforce that’s more active than ever, with 58% of employees now saying they have access to some type of remote work option.

However, international and remote work often creates complicated tax situations, inviting a long list of new compliance risks. All the while, members of the mobile workforce are largely unaware of the tax and compliance risks they’re putting on themselves and their companies by participating in remote or international work.

HR and compliance teams can prevent tax violations and significant headaches by opening the right lines of communication to remote and international employees. It’s a straightforward solution to an ever-growing problem: protecting an international workforce from the high risks of remote work.

How to protect remote workers and international travelers

A significant risk for companies that employ remote workers is not always knowing their whereabouts. If remote employees are working across borders without the knowledge of their employer, they could end up owing social security or create withholding requirements in an unexpected area. Remote employees could also inadvertently create a corporate tax presence within a jurisdiction—and potentially leave companies with a hefty tax bill.

Beyond the tax concerns that can arise out of untethered remote work, there are also duty of care and employee experience risks. For instance, an employee may lose health benefits while working in some countries, and if employers don’t know where employees are, they can’t ensure an employee’s safety during political unrest or natural disasters.

One easy way to protect remote and international employees is to schedule frequent check-ins. By setting up regular one-on-one meetings, employers can keep tabs on remote employees and regularly discuss the risks that come with working in different areas.

Another solution is to connect employees with country experts. People who understand the specific laws, tax rules, and risks of a country can easily clear up questions international workers have about working within the location. At the same time, giving employees access to their work country experts will help them feel supported within a culture that may be unfamiliar.

Lowering risks for employees on international assignment

When employees are deployed on international assignments, there is usually less compliance risk than with remote employees. That’s because these assignments are generally backed by policies and corporate planning that’s tailored to their work location.

However, international assignments still carry risks, including several employee experience risks. International employees often don’t receive enough clarity about their changing tax situation or compensation in their new work destination. This can add to the employee’s mental load and lead to burnout.

Another high risk for international assignees is turnover. If they don’t adjust to local culture or develop meaningful experiences, they’ll often drop the assignment partway through — or leave the company altogether.

To reduce risk, here’s how to improve communication at each stage of an international assignment:

  • Before assigning an international job, communicate clear expectations to the employee. Explain how often they’ll need to connect with advisors or colleagues in the Home office. Also, let the employee know about changes in compensation, taxes, and benefits up front.
  • During the international assignment, encourage the employee to develop relationships with the Host office and connect them with country experts they can go to with questions. By keeping these lines of communication open, employees will feel more welcomed in their Host country throughout their assignment, and they’ll feel more supported during their time abroad.
  • As the assignment winds down, plan and communicate what the employee’s next position or project will be. That way, they can make financial plans, and they’ll feel reassured that the company values the skills they’ve developed during their international assignment.

Download our Mobility Program Evaluation Checklist to help you make informed decisions at each step of an international assignment and determine when it's best to bring on an outside vendor for support.

More communication now can save compliance teams in the future

Compliance and tax leaders know how risky remote work can be. But they often aren’t passing that information on to employees in effective ways. To reduce burnout, turnover, tax violations, and reputational damage, corporate leaders need to step up their communications game. By setting up simple plans to talk more often and remain connected while working remotely, corporations can protect the entire organization from compliance setbacks in the future.

Author: Jennifer Stein

Jen has over 25 years of experience in expatriate and foreign national tax preparation and consulting. She joined GTN in 2011 and serves as Managing Director. While clients' projects may look similar on paper, she understands that every employee situation is unique. She coaches clients to understand the complexities of sending employees overseas and helps them work through the many requirements of Home and Host reporting. | +1.312.698.9864
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