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Across the Pond: International Perspectives on Remote Work


This is part one of a two-part series that will examine the international and European perspective on long-term remote work and what challenges might lie ahead Part two will focus on compliance and geographic pay differences.

Many things have already been said and written on the expected post-coronavirus world of business and remote work arrangements. 

Organizations will have to answer yes or no when it comes to remote work and weighing decisions such as social distancing versus the end of limitations, productivity considerations and sales/supply chain disruptions. Additionally, companies must consider hybrid presential and non-presential models, new ways to conduct meetings and workflows, people resiliency and physical/mental health, changes in consumer behavior and social mores, cultural, tax and legal aspects, etc. 

Yet, amidst all the above, we might sometimes forget that COVID-19 and remote work discussions have brought broader questions on business, people and rewards management to the forefront, which compound when we are discussing all this from an international perspective. 

There are many factors influencing how international and European business will move forward when it comes to remote work including:

  • World geopolitics: New United States presidency, Brexit, China/India/Russia movements.
  • Seemingly “permanent” low interest rates and relative deflation and then suddenly inflationary risks in the advanced economies.
  • Scramble for strategic resources, and growth vs. stagnation of different developing countries.
  • Shareholder activism and corporate governance.
  • Complexity of financial markets and newer, strong investor groups.
  • Regulation, ESG, DEI and sustainability concerns.
  • Retirement of Boomers and Gen X is slowly happening and growing prevalence of Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce.

However, what arguably emerges as the most important factor affecting workplaces now and most likely going forward, together with the COVID-19 situation, is the digital transformation waves and related future of work questions affecting all kinds of enterprises. As the World Economic Forum reminds us in its well-known, “The Future of Jobs Report 2020”:

  • 43% of companies will reduce workforce by 2025; 34% will expand workforce; 41% will increase use of specialized contractors.
  • Still, 97 million “new” jobs will be created, vs. 85 million “old” jobs displaced.
  • Skill gaps will continue to be high, as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years: critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, etc. 

In this regard, artificial intelligence, cloud services and mobile apps, social media, blockchain tech adoption and cryptocurrencies, 5G, augmented and virtual reality, agile methodologies, networked/open-sourced work approaches and alliances, the start-up ecosystems and the gig economy are all changing the way we produce and sell goods and services across the world. This also changes how we attract, retain, motivate, engage and inspire workforces.

Across the Pond But Similarly Situated  

We could say that in Europe (Western and Eastern, EU or non-EU countries), the contextual business management factors commented above are not radically different in themselves from other places in the world. Thus, now we are seeing:

  • Asymmetric recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on European countries in question, industries and company model.
  • Reflections among top management about whether to allow wider remote work from now on.
  • Gravitation toward geographically distributed teams.
  • Care about employee wellness, resilience, and mental well-being.
  • Attention to compliance, tax and legal issues — personal income and corporate taxation, immigration and visas, cross-border moves and conditions, social security, benefits, and pensions — inside and outside Europe.
  • Rewards’ localization and debate on how to apply it — reduction of compensation levels, application of differentials vs. separate structures, etc.

In any case, notwithstanding the above, there are some specificities in Europe that should most likely be considered when discussing remote work configurations.

As can be seen in the article, A complete guide to remote working in Europe | cities, jobs and tips, countries in Europe frequently rank among the world’s best for factors that facilitate a good remote working environment. Perhaps most importantly, European nations have some of the most progressive attitudes towards remote working.

True enough, “the Netherlands and the Nordic countries were the first in the world to embrace flexible working.” Finland, for example, has had a flexible working culture for decades. Before the pandemic, people in the Netherlands were more than four times as likely to work away from the office regularly than people in the USA.”  

This means that in Europe, both by cultural and even legal requirement, remote work and flexible work arrangements have been a part of rewards and HR management for quite some time already. By law or collective bargaining agreements, pay for time not worked, maternity leave, number of vacation days and the like are usually more generous than in the U.S. or other world jurisdictions. Culturally, the employee expectation in several European countries is that companies offer flex-time/flex-weeks, part-time work arrangements, sabbaticals, etc., as opposed to pure monetary rewards. 

Having said this, it is important to remember that Europe has large differences, concentrated in a relatively small world region. You have the UK and Switzerland (and Russia) as quite unique entities, and then the European Union; you have the Euro, but not everywhere; you have larger and smaller EU countries; you have the Western European countries (Northern and Southern) and the former Eastern Bloc — all with their own characteristics. 

Consequently, even with further and further integration, managing rewards and human capital in Europe requires regional/local expertise — sometimes, even inside one single country.

However, how are the European companies going through the current times overall? How are COVID-19 and other factors affecting remote work? In part two of this mini-series, we will examine geographically distributed teams, employee wellness, compliance, tax and legal issues and rewards localization.

We will also attempt to share some aggregate conclusions on the overall remote work topic and possible next steps for companies.

About the Author

Mario Ceron Bio Image

Mario Ceron, MBA, GRP, is the managing partner and CEO of Zereon associates GmbH, a professional services firm based in Zunich.  Zereon Associates is a trusted partner of WorldatWork in Continental Europe.

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