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Remote work in a post-pandemic world

The requisites that grew out of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic — masking, social distancing, hypervigilance over disinfecting — are quickly receding as the world gets a better handle on the virus. In the world of work, it seems some employers are also keen to walk back a practice that may no longer be essential to safeguarding employee health: remote work.

Even before 2022 was out, a number of big companies had already began pushing back against the fully remote work arrangement that became the norm at the onset of the pandemic. The challenges of managing a widely dispersed workforce and concerns over nurturing corporate culture drove the return-to-office mandates that, predictably, have been met with resistance from workers. This year may determine who wins in this push and pull between employers and employees or they could also happily settle into a mutually beneficial hybrid work arrangement.

At Deloitte, we firmly believe remote work is here to stay, regardless of developments on the pandemic front. In a survey of more than 820 tax, human resources, mobility, and payroll business professionals from 45 countries, our researchers found that respondents overwhelmingly agree that remote work is now considered part of normal working practice. Instead of pushing against it, perhaps organizations would be better off According to Deloitte’s Global Remote Work Survey conducted towards the end of 2022, 80 percent of organizations allow some level of remote and hybrid ways of working. Within this group, however, the concept of “remote work” takes on various forms. Twenty-seven percent allow their employees to work fully remote on a regular basis. Two-thirds of respondents allow for domestic remote work — employees can work in a province or state other than the one where the company is headquartered — while 35 percent allow employees to work in another country altogether.

When considering these different work models, it is important to align decisions with organizational strategy. Are you offering remote work to expand your talent pool or to be a more inclusive enterprise? Are you looking at improving operational resilience by dispersing employees? Think about what you want to achieve and then craft remote work policies around those goals. In doing so, it is important to involve other functions, such as HR and tax, to ensure that you have a full picture of the risks and the costs attendant to your preferred work model.

Speaking of risks, remote work opens the door to potential tax, legal, and immigration compliance issues. To limit exposure, business leaders will need to internally agree on their overall corporate risk tolerance and from there establish the appropriate guardrails that will enable cross-border remote work while remaining on the right side of regulatory requirements.

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Based on Deloitte’s survey, the most implemented guardrail is that the employee has the existing legal right to work in their chosen location (64 percent of respondents made this a part of their remote work policy). This was followed by time limits on remote working (58 percent). While a good share (55 percent) of Deloitte’s respondents allows unlimited domestic remote work, international remote work is a different story: 19 percent allow up to 20 working days per year while 16 percent allow up to 30 working days per year.

With the right guardrails in place, businesses should also consider the best ways to track and govern their remote workers. In Deloitte’s survey, 40 percent of respondents said they currently tracked all remote work requests while 21 percent said they were not tracking their remote workers and had no plans to do so in the future. This gap could expose an organization to legal risks, especially if it has cross-border remote workers but no mechanism to know where they are exactly.

Many companies hesitate to use tracking tools out of fear of eroding employee trust or overstepping the boundaries of privacy, but note that increased employee dispersal means increased employer responsibility and not just in terms of managing the organization’s employment tax and corporate tax exposure. Business leaders also have a duty, for example, to protect customer data and knowing where that data is being used is key to meeting the responsibility.

Thankfully the market is now awash with digital tools and solutions that can help business leaders strike that balance of tracking remote workers to minimize risks while also respecting their privacy and agency as they get tasks done. Now is the best time to experiment with new technologies and operating models that will help operationalize remote work programs.

These developments further point to flexible work becoming the norm even as the world sheds most — if not all — pandemic restrictions. Rather than resisting this wave, business leaders can instead take this opportunity to explore the ways they can drive efficiencies and improve compliance and tracking as they empower their workers to be productive regardless of location.

The author is the managing partner and CEO of Deloitte Philippines, a member of the Deloitte Asia Pacific Network. For comments or questions, email [email protected]

Deloitte Asia Pacific Limited is a company limited by guarantee and a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. Members of Deloitte Asia Pacific Limited and their related entities, each of which are separate and independent legal entities, provide services from more than 100 cities across the region, including Auckland, Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, and Yangon.