The work-abroad dream: 4 benefits of remote working for employers

Johanna Cohen | |

Whether you’re a multinational organization or have an office in an unsexy location, the opportunity for international remote work can be a huge appealing factor in candidate attraction and employee engagement. Sure, there’s the standard, flexible remote work and full-time remote work, but there are also benefits of remote working for employers – particularly when placements are temporary and short-term. Temporary remote work means that an employee moves to another area – or multiple areas anywhere in the world – and works from there for a defined period of time.

So, what if your company implemented a new policy where employees get the opportunity to work for a set number of months in a specific country or region if they’ve been with the company for one full year? Here are four reasons why the benefits of remote working for employers can be significant:

1) Boost your talent attraction

As a recruiter, you can market to a pool of people who otherwise might not be interested. It’s a method of talent attraction for different types of companies, whether you’re at an office park in a suburb, in a tech hub in a mega city or in a small town. You can’t compete with the recruitment marketing of the Googles and Amazons of the world — but this is one benefit where you can get ahead.

In the same way a student might choose to study abroad in college or do research in a foreign country while in a graduate program, employees can live abroad or immerse themselves in a new culture while continuing to work effectively at their jobs. It might not be as easy as having an employee in the office where their engagement can be regularly monitored, but for tough-to-fill markets, it’s a strong way to attract candidates.

2) Improve engagement and retention

Many millennials and Gen Zers dream of being able to live abroad but don’t want to put their career on hold. According to a survey from Graebel Companies, 81% of U.S. college seniors want to work abroad. The Gen Z population is keen for work-abroad opportunities and this group of people will continue to take over a larger proportion of the workforce over the next few years.

There’s a burgeoning market of startups looking to capitalize on this trend, such as Remote Year and WiFi Tribe. Their slogans expand on the desire to continue to grow professionally while experiencing the global world, with Remote Year’s “Keep your job. See the world” and WiFi Tribe’s “Design your life.” These organizations are working to make it feasible to continue building one’s professional self while abroad and at the same time keep employers comfortable.

Having such a policy in place in your company can do wonders for employee engagement and retention, especially among the younger crowd.

3) Strengthen your expansion strategy

Imagine you’re at a 50-person startup in Boston, primarily composed of millennials. Your company has just received funding with the impetus to expand your business and build a European customer base. You already have leads, but you’re missing an essential ingredient: locally based talent in that region of the world. Consider the issues that arise:

  • Your product requires hands-on onboarding
  • Your support team’s hours are US-focused
  • Your company doesn’t (yet) have that deep understanding of European markets

So, what can you do? You could hire local talent, but it takes time to onboard new employees and you want to hit the ground running. You can, instead, give your existing employees the chance to work abroad, act as an ambassador for your brand in the new market, and build a local network while your company establishes its presence. Another benefit is the chance to gain a deeper understanding of other cultures so your business is better positioned to expand to that location when the time comes – and moreover, remotely placed employees can help train new hires locally until they’re fully productive on their own.

In short: a policy that allows employees to move to a destination office for a fixed term opens up new opportunities to bring businesses closer to their expansion and new-market goals. Add to that the potential for round-the-clock support if you have offices around the world.

4) Boost your diversity and inclusion efforts

Imagine a scenario where a new immigrant joins your company. They’re more likely to feel included when they have colleagues who have worked in that immigrant’s home country, speak their language, and/or understand their culture. Additionally, the various challenges of traveling and living abroad open employees to experiences that take them out of their comfort zone, and that’s when they learn to think from different perspectives when approaching a situation or problem.

Shane Snow in Harvard Business Review draws the connection between living abroad and business:

Traveling a lot – or, even better, living for extended periods in foreign cultures – tends to make us more willing to revise our viewpoints. After all, if we know that it is perfectly valid to live a different way than we do, it makes sense that our brains would be better at accepting new approaches to problems at work.

Consequently, one of the main benefits of remote working for employers is that employees who temporarily work abroad can bring their new learnings back to the office and your business now has a team that is more multilateral in their thinking processes (diversity) and are more accepting of one another (inclusion).

One size doesn’t fit all

What works for one company might not work for another. For temporary international remote placements to thrive, you need to first understand where your company currently sits in its growth, what your goals and your employee’s goals are, and align all of these towards an overall vision.

It’s important to recognize that your company’s needs and the expectation of your employees in terms of relocation may not necessarily align; for instance, some employees sign up in the hopes that they’ll indeed get to work in sunny Thailand but end up being sent for a three-month stint in a mid-sized German town in the midst of winter – this alone can lead to disengagement and the opposite of what you hoped to gain in implementing a temporary remote-work policy.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You need to first understand whether you can offer this option, and what it is you’re trying to achieve by bringing in such a policy. You’ll also want to consider the usual variables of where they’ll work, for how long, what they’ll be doing, etc. – these can differ drastically based on company, market, goals, and so on.

That’s not to say there aren’t services available that can help your initiative. However challenging a work-abroad appointment can be, there are options that provide reliable WiFi and comfortable rooms. Instead of going the route of a fully built-out program, you can look at coworking and coliving opportunities. There are global organizations such as WeWork with coworking locations around the world, and Roam, which designs hybrid coworking and coliving spaces. GCUC, the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, reports that as of 2017, there were 14,000 coworking spaces globally up from 14 in 2007, and predicts that number to rise to 30,000 by 2022. Harvard Business Review emphasizes the meaning behind this growth, as people continue to want to work remote, coworking spaces offer professionalism, credibility and community.

The choice of how to approach this is up to the employee and you, the management at the company. Instead of seeing people leave in order to pursue travel, this type of work situation keeps good employees at the company and provides them with a unique opportunity to grow their skillset and their diverse approach to the global world.

While spending six months with penguins in Antarctica might sound enticing, they’re still working for you and the onus is on you to ensure they’ll have access to WiFi, a workspace, and a general smooth transition that works for both you and the employee.

Ultimately, having such a policy in place can make you a more attractive employer that’s willing to build trust with employees by allowing them to work remotely in such a way. Your company can also benefit from the added skills that employees bring back to your office, and you can retain great employees who can now scratch that travel itch or resolve their need to go abroad while keeping their job with you. In an increasingly competitive talent space, the benefits of remote working for employers can put you ahead of your competition.

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Johanna Cohen

Johanna manages our product marketing release campaigns at Workable. She bikes and hikes in four seasons, oil paints and consumes large quantities of pesto. An avid traveler, when she's not in Boston she's probably befriending komodo dragons.

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