Duty of Care

Where Does Working From Anywhere Leave Employer’s Duty of Care?

SAP Concur , Petr Seidner |

Work from Anywhere (WFA) policies are joining the list of fundamental perks that employees appreciate such health insurance and bonuses, according to a recent piece of research we conducted. Having in mind that employees highly value the flexibility of working from anywhere, businesses are in a good position to wield this benefit to its full advantage to achieve better talent retention. 

However, leveraging this benefit often requires implementing the right collaborative infrastructure, ensuring the correct policies are in place, and finding ways to ensure employees are abiding by the necessary perimeters of working from anywhere.  

Currently, businesses are struggling to achieve these employee demands, with more employees working from anywhere without notifying their company – an action that can lead to duty of care negligence. 

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The challenge is particularly rife in businesses operating across EMEA. In fact, the country’s employees are some of the worst offenders when it comes to discreetly working from anywhere without notifying their employer. In turn, HR and finance leaders have been left to grapple with this tricky situation, one that finance and HR managers associate with additional stress for teams trying to keep up with the less-than-obvious autonomy of staff. 

In this piece, we will highlight just what this spike in working from anywhere looks like, the risks associated with it (particularly when it comes to duty of care), and what business leaders in EMEA can do about this covert working landscape. 

Why is there a rise in working from anywhere? 

Working remotely was largely unheard of ten years ago. It was often seen as a rare privilege usually only extended to more senior staff within the workplace. However, the pandemic’s mandatory stay-at-home order brought about a cultural shift in EMEA that’s continued to grow. 

Today, EMEA has become accustomed to blurring the lines between their home and workplace, often unlocking more free time in the process. It quickly became apparent that working from outside the office was a habit many would like to retain in some form.  

Since then, working remotely has continued, so much so that employees are embracing the opportunity to not only work from home but to work from any location in the world – a term known as work from anywhere. 

One thing we know is that businesses are becoming increasingly cognisant of this shift. SAP Concur’s recent research into working from anywhere unveiled that businesses are implementing dedicated policies to enable employees to work from anywhere.  

And it’s been a move that’s clearly been well received by employees across Europe. 31% of employees in Europe say working from anywhere is now a fundamental benefit – one that sits closely alongside health insurance and financial bonuses. In addition, a large portion of employees would take a salary cut in order to work from anywhere. Meanwhile, almost half say they would look for a new job if their employer didn’t offer a WFA policy that gave them the flexibility to work from locations of their choosing. 

Yet, despite working from anywhere climbing further up the agenda and being more openly accepted by businesses, European are still opting to be discreet about their work locations. A third of employees say they’ve worked from anywhere without notifying their employer in the past 12 months. 

This behaviour is the result of three scenarios:  

  1. Employees don’t realise they need to tell employers  
  2. Employees know they’re breaking WFA policies but they are unaware of the risks of discreet WFA  
  3. Employees know they’re breaking WFA policies and that they are aware of the risks, but they intentionally decide to be discreet. 

In the third scenario, we found employees going as far as to apply virtual backgrounds to video conferencing calls, avoiding posting their location on social media, and working unsociable hours to account for time differences.  

It’s this behaviour that makes it even more difficult for HR and finance leaders to track who’s actually working from anywhere. In turn, leaders across EMEA end up believing very few staff take advantage of WFA – estimating 7% do so – when the actual figure is over twice as high. 

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Work from Anywhere - The Employee Benefit and its Implications for Business

‘Working from Anywhere’ (WFA) policies have extended across the globe, with some circles implicitly acknowledging it as the future of work. But it leaves businesses and their people divided – every stakeholder seems to present the issue from a different perspective, whether positive or negative.  

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What are the risks of working from anywhere? 

Multiple risks are derived from employees covertly working from anywhere. The first and most obvious is tax and expense implications. Working across multiple tax jurisdictions around the world means finance teams are lumbered with ensuring they apply the right regulations to the right employees. This is particularly time-consuming if tax and expense management is largely manual. 

However, duty of care is also a big consideration for businesses, especially for HR departments. Currently, across EMEA, 61% of leaders say they’re concerned about how WFA is affecting their duty of care for employees. For example, if leaders are unaware of their employees’ work location, they can’t ensure their safety to the best of the business’ ability.  

That means if something happens to that employee during their work from anywhere stint, the business won’t be able to quickly provide that staff member assistance if they need it – and the company could even face allegations of negligence as a result.  

Damaging workforce culture is also an additional concern here. If some employees aren’t being above-board with their working from anywhere activities, it can cause gripes among those who are abiding by WFA policies. As such, HR leaders need to ensure accountability – something that’s hard to implement when employees continue to act covertly.  

Finally, there’s also the impact on collaboration if employees are continuously dispersed, underlining the need for collaborative technology to fill the gap. 

What can HR and finance leaders do? 

While WFA is a relatively new working practice, an employer isn’t directly responsible, however, there are ways in which HR and finance leaders can support.  

HR and finance teams need to have a lot of visibility on work from anywhere processes if they’re to mitigate the potential risks. However, this clear purview can be particularly hard to obtain when processes are largely manual – a challenge currently being experienced by 54% of HR leaders across Europe. 

Of course, there’s a role here for technology to play if used correctly. Yet, 69% of UK and 62% EMEA EMEA-based finance leaders are currently finding that processing technologies are often failing to adequately process expenses for employees working from anywhere. This highlights that businesses may need to consider how they’re using solutions and how tech can be applied to make working from anywhere a safer and more sustainable option. 

For example, SAP Concur’s travel management app TripIt, ensures HR teams within its ecosystem can provide safety functions such as a ‘Neighbourhood Safety Score’. Essentially, employees working from anywhere can access a real-time safety score based on their itinerary, location, and time of day – provided they have a travel itinerary deposited in the app. It means employees have the right information to make safer choices as they continue to work outside the office, particularly when they’re educated to use these tools. 

Safety is a key priority and in addition to TripIt, SAP Concur’s partnership with International SOS means travel managers can safely manage their global teams while they work around the world. This allows businesses to analyse, mitigate and control their employees’ health and safety threats while ensuring managers can make faster decisions during incidents or crises.    

This efficiency also extends to other challenges introduced by working from anywhere. For instance, Concur Tax Assurance by Blue dot automatically identifies eligible employee transactions and enriches data with information from various authorities required for tax authority. This can be paired with Concur Benefits Assurance by Blue dot to categorise expense reports and flag taxable employee benefits according to local regulations. That allows employees to have an easy experience when reporting their locations and submitting their expenses, without unnecessarily burdening finance teams. 

Ultimately, working from anywhere isn’t showing signs of slowing down in the UK – it’s become a big expectation for employees. Stamping out activity is only going to encourage more covert behaviour which could greaten the risks of negative repercussions, particularly in terms of duty of care. Instead, employers must earn the trust of staff by achieving maximum visibility, much of which can be gained from automated technologies. 

This is just a snapshot of what’s happening across businesses in terms of working from anywhere. For full insights, download SAP Concur’s research or read the infographic into working from anywhere policies and how HR and finance leaders can approach the next generation of the workplace. 

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