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Our Story : Enabling and Living Remote Work

There is much discussion on the impact of remote working, including working across borders, in attracting and retaining talent. So, it comes as no surprise that for Deloitte in the UK delivering an Overseas Remote Work (ORW) policy was a key priority last year.

My team advise clients on cross-border working including tax, immigration, legal and corporate risk matters. Thus, we know all too well the complexities that limit employees from simply working wherever they want, and for as long as they want.

Given my experience, I was tasked as part of a team with developing, rolling-out and embedding this policy for Deloitte employees, which might impact the people I work with every day.

When joining this project, the first question I had was why we wanted to initiate a policy that would require complex discussions, a robust framework, and streamlined operations. So, step one was to understand the clear purpose behind this policy ambition – providing our diverse workforce with the opportunity to work cross-border temporarily, enjoying the same opportunities to fit work around personal requirements, previously only given to those within the UK.

I am delighted to say that our Overseas Remote Work policy is now live. It allows Deloitte employees to request to work overseas for up to 20 workdays per year, subject to certain terms and conditions. The requester must have the right to work in the remote work location and also meet other criteria. Requests are assessed for compliance with Remote Work policy as well as external tax and legal considerations, but the philosophy is to say yes in as many cases as possible.

My colleague Chiara was eagerly waiting for the opportunity to use this policy. So, as ORW policy and process designer and Remote Working end-user (Chiara got approval to work in Italy for two weeks), we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on our respective experiences and key takeaways.

Cyrus: First, Chiara, tell me why you wanted to apply to work remotely?

Chiara: I am from Italy and have family and friends there, but the pandemic made my visits to Italy difficult. In 2020 and 2021 I had to spend at least two weeks in Italy, as I had to self-isolate for the first five to seven days.

Luckily, self-isolation is not a requirement anymore. However, the experience during the pandemic has certainly reshaped my priorities, and I want flexibility to visit Italy and my family, without having to take extended vacations.

As I am a European citizen and have the right to work in Italy, the ORW policy gave me the flexibility to join my family and celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday. This wouldn’t have happened if not for the ORW policy, which allowed me to work agilely, juggling a busy client project and my family!

So, Cyrus, thank you for your help with implementing this policy and helping people like me reconnect with their family and friends. One question I have for you is what were your top-three priorities when designing the policy?

Cyrus: This is a tough one! We had the full support of our executive as we embarked on this project which allowed us to be ambitious in setting priorities. If I had to choose just three, then I it would be:

  1. User Experience. It was vital that the policy and processes we came up with delivered on the ask of our people to be flexible and to offer actual choice to the many employees with family or other commitments overseas. This meant that at every stage we challenged ourselves to stand in the shoes of the employee as a ‘user’ of the process and consider how decisions around guardrails and exclusion might impact them. Of course, our employees were not the only ‘user’ we had in mind, and it was important that the process and the technology underpinning it worked well for the case managers who would handle the requests.
  2. On-demand Reporting. It was key for us to have the technology and process in place that would allow us to provide our compliance functions, such as tax and legal, with reliable and on- demand real-time data.
  3. Robustness. Given the scale and breadth of our business, and the diversity of our client-base, it was critical that our policy and processes worked not only for our employees, but also for our clients, and enabled us to hold ourselves to the highest compliance standards – not always an easy balancing act! We did this through focused stakeholder-management, bringing them along with us at every stage. We tested and validated each design decision with our quality and risk leaders, our Chief Tax Officer, and the Chief Operating Officers across our businesses.

All the above meant we could be confident in the choices we were making and that we were building something that would work for our business and stand the test of time. We understood that there would be some requests that were refused, but we could justify why we were “saying no”, and illustrate our reasoning.

So, Chiara, as an actual user, how did you find the application process?

Chiara: Very easy and straightforward. I was able to search for the ORW policy on the intranet page. From there, I was guided to an FAQ document, where I was able to find the information I needed, all in one place, and this allowed me to gather the information needed to apply. From the FAQ page, it was a simple click-through to get to the ORW form. This was very simple to navigate, as it had been built using our firm-wide ticketing system. It took me less than five minutes to submit the form and I received the approval in approximately ten working days, which was a very happy surprise as the policy estimated that the entire process could take up to 30 days.

Cyrus, from an end-user’s perspective, I would say the process is smooth and straightforward. I wonder what was the biggest challenge that you faced when implementing the ORW programme and how you overcame it?

Cyrus: Educating and upskilling stakeholders across the firm was certainly one. Although we centrally review and approve requests from a compliance and tracking perspective, the first part of the ORW process requires Deloitte Partners to give business approval to such requests. For them to do this they need to know what to look out for and where to obtain the relevant information. By really thinking about the change management and communications process, and leveraging that stakeholder buy-in I mentioned earlier, we were able to do this successfully.

The change management and communication pieces are of course continuous, and we continue to use different channels and mediums (such as information videos and ‘All Hands’ webinars) to reinforce key messages around the policy, making sure any changes are properly embedded. We also target refreshes close to the summer and Christmas breaks where people are more likely to want to undertake overseas remote work.

Chaira: What about managing rejections?

Of course, this is a challenge. It is difficult to have to tell people that due to a specific tax law, that they may not fully understand, that we cannot accept the potential risk or tax cost of a trip. For the individual making the request, often to spend more time with family, this can be really tough. What I would say, is that we continue to monitor all high-demand locations, including challenging and working with tax authorities to update their interpretations to make this possible not just for our own people.

On the face of it, it seems that the work we put into the policy is paying off. Chiara would you apply again?

Chiara: I will certainly apply again. I visited Portugal last March and I loved the people and the culture there. Given I also have the right to work in Portugal I would love to go back next year for a couple of weeks, working for a week, and then taking time off!

Cyrus, what is the key piece of advice you would like to give to anyone wanting to implement an ORW policy?

Cyrus: For me I would say the most important thing is spending time at the outset to set the strategy and understand, why there is a need to implement a cross border remote policy and for whom. When I discuss this topic with client organisations, I strongly encourage them to collect quantitative and qualitative data to back up their strategy. Why? Because having a strategy that is backed up with data makes it easier to get the leadership buy-in that is needed to make a project like this a success.

As organisations work through the design phases of the policy, they will have to make decisions, based on this defined strategy, to weigh risk and/or assess cost for their organisation.

Experiencing this project as both end-user and consultant has given us unique insight into how an organisation can successfully implement overseas remote working. Our experience has enabled us to better support clients as they go through similar journeys. We really look forward to what the future brings

In today’s increasingly competitive world, businesses are having to find new ways to attract, acquire, develop, retain, and deploy key talent and skills. As part of this trend Remote Work, in its many forms, is challenging HR, Reward and Global Mobility functions to delivery ever more innovative and diverse solutions for their business partners. Deloitte’s multi-disciplinary approach to supporting clients to enable Remote Work for their organisations couples’ market leading strategy consulting, with deep technical capabilities across tax consulting, immigration, employment law, regulatory compliance and risk advisory. Find out more here:

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