Normally based in Berlin, Breanna-May Shepard is currently basking in the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
She’s on a month-long tour of the country, visiting dreamy destinations like Lake Como, Siena, Florence and Bari along the way. But this isn’t just a holiday for Shepard. Instead, the employer branding and corporate PR manager at holiday rental company HomeToGo is working too, taking advantage of the company’s policy allowing staff to work from anywhere in Europe for up to 90 days a year.
Shepard says it’s part of the reason she moved from the U.S. to join the company which introduced the policy in 2021. “As someone who loves travel the idea of marrying my professional goals and personal goals was totally ideal for me. There’s nothing like going out for a gelato at lunch or sightseeing after work and still accomplishing everything I want in my career.” She’s also worked from Porto, Rome and Prague in the past year.
The world of work has changed enormously since the pandemic. Trends that were years, or perhaps decades away, have become a reality. None more so than companies allowing staff to work from anywhere in the world, whether for three months or permanently, meaning digital nomads no longer remain a niche tribe.
Last month Airbnb hit the headlines when it announced it would give staff greater flexibility, allowing them to live and work in over 170 counties for up to 90 days a year. “While working from different locations isn’t possible for everyone, I hope everyone can benefit from this flexibility when the time is right,” said Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky in an email to staff.
Airbnb isn’t the only company bringing flexibility to the workplace. Last July, Digital Identity specialist GBG revealed that not only would its employees not be required to return to the office, but they would also be able to work abroad for 13 weeks per year.
“Having the option to work abroad helps GBG team members create an even stronger work-life balance, enabling them to visit family in another country, for example, without having to use up their annual leave,” said James Miller, chief people officer at GBG. “It also gives them the option of blending some of their annual leave entitlement with work time to extend their time abroad even further. For us this is very much about trust. We trust our team and want to empower them to work when and where they want, believing this creates a happier, more engaged workforce, which results in a productive team and better results for the company and our customers.”
Since the policy was introduced last year, around 50 people have worked abroad in countries such as Spain, the U.S. and France.
But employees need to be mindful of times zones and work earlier or late to fit in with the rest of the team. “For example, a teammate working in Malaysia for a couple of months may come online a bit earlier in the day to serve the needs of their team and their customers,” said Miller. “It’s about trusting the team and them delivering.”
Over at software firm Paddle, headquartered in London but with a New York office which opened last year too, the company allows staff to work from abroad for six weeks a year. To help each ‘Paddler’ make the most of the opportunity the company also provides every employee with £250 ($340) of Airbnb credits.
“The scheme, which has so far proved extremely popular, aims to give employees greater flexibility and freedom to enjoy their work and personal lives, as well as fostering a culture of trust and empowerment that will drive greater productivity and help attract the best talent to the business,” said Hanna Smith, head of people at Paddle.
The company has a preference for time zones of +/- 5 hours to make sure that everyone can still work in a productive and collaborative way and may look at extending the six-week period in the future. “We’re still in a one-year trial of the program and will conduct a fuller review of it at the end of that year,” added Smith.
Nadya Movchan, PR manager at virtual fitting room company 3DLook, which has headquarters in San Mateo in California and has other in the U.K., Poland and Ukraine, has a permanent remote working policy. The company covers employees’ co-working or home office expenses.
For Movchan, the chance to work from anywhere was a top reason she joined the company. Since starting in 2020 she’s lived in the Ukraine, the Netherlands and the U.K. She says the company makes it work by having short daily and weekly meetings for each team, monthly CEO talks and offline events. For example, each May – before the war – the whole company would gather in Odesa, Ukraine, to celebrate the company’s birthday for a long weekend.
“The obvious benefit is the opportunity to travel,” said Movchan. “We don’t need to take a vacation to change the scenery – all we need to do is confirm our trip with the team leader in case we change time zones, and that’s it. Since joining 3DLook two years ago, I’ve lived in Kyiv, Amsterdam, and Oxford, with a few occasional trips around Europe. This has been a unique experience, and now that we can finally travel again, I can’t wait to plan more workations.”
One of the issues of encouraging people to work from abroad, especially permanently, is making sure people still feel part of the company.
Chesky said the company plans to encourage people to come together more. “Most of you should expect to gather in person every quarter for about a week at a time,” he told staff in an email.
Still, many companies will want staff to work in a similar time zone.
“We can control a lot, but the exception to this rule is time – there’s no getting around the need for remote colleagues to align with each other in a sustainable way,” said James Barrett, managing director at recruitment company Michael Page.
As it’s still a relatively new concept for the wider workforce with companies still learning and trialling what benefits they need to offer in order to maintain their community feel and culture remotely, Barrett says companies are investing in learning and training opportunities and programs, online team building experiences and “hubs” for those who are local or who want to travel into an office or workspace on occasion.
There’s also the need for employees and employers both need to speak to tax experts to make sure they’re not exposed from a local tax or right to work position. “There are so many different tax regimes that any organization or individual really needs proper and legitimate guidance,” added Barrett. “A slightly less complex option would be allowing employees to work remotely from any location that falls within the main country the company operates in, which allows flexibility to move around without dealing with international tax laws.”
When it comes to creating an effective remote working policy it is important to bear a number of factors in mind, says Melanie Folkes-Mayers, founder and CEO of HR consultancy Eden Mayers.
“It’s important to create an environment of support and belonging, as remote working can become isolating, also not everyone has a productive working environment at home. Covering the cost of a co-working space could be could be helpful, as well as ensuring that there are regular online teams, one-to-one and social interactions. I do believe that having opportunities for a whole team to come together in person is best, just to ensure that everyone is working well together, that could be quarterly or bi-annually where teams are spread internationally.”
Happy (work) holidays.