Employees’ expectations have changed since the quarantine and companies are slowly starting to let their people work longer from any corner of the world. With travel in the doldrums, countries, noticing this at least slightly brighter vein of tourism, are luring such ‘digital nomads’ with exclusive offers and, experts say, are shaping a new work-and-travel culture, business daily "Verslo Žinios" is writing.
As countries’ borders close and reopen according to the whims of the pandemic, businesses are considering the possibilities for making remote work a norm in the organization of labour.
The technology company NFQ Technologies this year launched a Work from Anywhere initiative that lets employees work from any corner of the world with no limit on the number of days or requirement for occasional physical presence in the office. NFQ CEO Paulius Insoda says the step was a response by the company to changed employee expectations.
“During the quarantine we found that we were just as productive working in different places at the same time as at our offices. While planning how we would work after the quarantine, we surveyed employees. A full 93% of the team expressed a desire to be able to work with more geographical freedom after the quarantine too,” the head of the company recalls.
NFQ decided in June to introduce the new policy and has allowed work from anywhere since September. Currently two of the company’s professionals are using that opportunity: one is working from Belgium, the other is set up in Spain.
“We think once the coronavirus situation stabilizes, over half of NFQ’s employees could take advantage of this policy for some period of time, shorter or longer,” the CEO predicts.
According to Mr. Insoda, greater mobility not only contributes to employees’ motivation but also opens up opportunities to attract talented people who do not want to live and work just in Lithuania.
“A survey by the analytics firm Gallup found employees who work remotely can be 20-25% more productive, and the same amount happier, than those working in the office. By letting employees freely choose their work place, not restricting them to our offices in Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai or their home in Lithuania, we’re giving them freedom and the ability to have a totally different personal life experience: to learn and enjoy the pleasures that foreign countries offer without emigrating from Lithuania or losing their job, keeping their social security guarantees, circle of close colleagues and growth opportunities,” Mr. Insoda explains.
Laws and security
The Work from Anywhere policy allows working from any foreign country where it is possible for a professional to perform their job function. However, the CEO notes, legal restrictions (work visas) and political issues (like military activity in the chosen territory) have to be taken into account, as do issues of internet speed and cybersecurity.
“For instance, we clarified that in order for an employee of a company registered in Lithuania who goes to work from a foreign country long term to not lose their legal status of being permanently employed in Lithuania, and for the employer to not have to legally formalize the employee’s permanent employment there, the Lithuanian employee may not work in the foreign country for more than 6 months a year. Otherwise the employer has to consider possibly registering a subsidiary of the company in the foreign country where their employee is working or arranging to pay taxes for employee also to the country from which they are working. That means our employees can work from any other country for up to half a year annually,” Mr Insoda says, explaining some of the legal complications.
Another key question for NFQ was how to ensure a secure data-transfer connection for an employee who is working abroad.
“A secure data-transfer connection is just about the most important factor in determining the real possibilities for employees to do their work securely not just from Lithuania, where NFQ has secure infrastructure, but also from any foreign country. VPN communications are known to be blocked in some countries. So before an employee sets off to work from such a foreign country for any longer period, it is important to assess the situation and find alternatives for secure data transfer,” Mr Insoda says.
Among countries where VPN use may be restricted he lists Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Russia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. If employees of the company want to work from those countries, each case needs to be examined separately.
In the Paulius Insoda’s opinion, the policy that NFQ adopted is also an additional benefit for employees.
“We’ll consider the Work from Anywhere policy a success if the employees who’ve gone to temporarily work abroad have positive experiences and satisfaction. When more of our people go abroad to work at one time under this policy, we’ll also examine the issues of productivity and teamwork,” Paulius Insoda says.
He notes that the company does not plan to revoke the possibility of working from anywhere when the pandemic ends.
“Unless over the long run we run into human, legal or security restrictions that force us to limit this opportunity in some countries,” he adds.
Amid the restrictions on the travel sector, some countries are trying to revive it by offering long-term work visas to residents of foreign countries. They are luring so-called digital nomads, who can work from anywhere where there is an internet connection, with offers of low rates of COVID-19 infection, smaller everyday expenses and a slower pace of life.
The island of Anguilla, which belongs to the UK and is located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, has only registered three cases of COVID-19. In late August, the island’s tourism body published an invitation for foreigners to work remotely from Anguilla and offered them extended visas. According to Kenroy Herbert, head of the country’s Tourist Board, priority goes to tourists arriving for a longer period from countries with a coronavirus infection rate of no more than 0.2%. The opportunity to work in Anguilla carries a cost of USD 1,000 per person or USD 1,500 for a family of four (including visas, arrival fees, 2 COVID-19 tests and so on).
“The island only requires a short description of the activities one conducts,” the CNBC news portal specifies.
Since June 30, Barbados has been offering people who work remotely an extended “12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp” visa. The country offers a free internet connection that works all over the island, including at restaurants, cafes, libraries and public parks. Children of remotely working tourists can go to private schools or, for a fixed fee, attend state education institutions. Those who want the visa, which costs USD 263, must show that in their own country they have a permanent job, are studying at university or have enough money to live in Barbados without hardship for a year.
CNBC reported that countries inviting remote workers also include Georgia and Estonia, which launched its “Digital Nomad Visa” programme well before the pandemic, while Croatia too has plans to welcome its first remote-work nomads in 2021.
Paulius Insoda remarks that such programmes show the post-pandemic world will unavoidably be different, and businesses can take advantage of the lessons learned during the pandemic already now.
“Remote work will become a new norm not just in progressive sectors but generally, in all sectors. Perhaps the pandemic has encouraged society to change by force, but flexible and clever people will undoubtedly gain more than they lose after this experience. Our company’s experience shows that crises, global challenges, are a good training ground for growing new muscles and seizing the kind of opportunities you don’t get in calm circumstances,” he says.