Are You Ready to Employ Your Digital Nomads?

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It used to be that traveling for work was considered torture—forcing people to slog from airport to layover to another airport to rental car to meeting to hotel and back to airport. Or it was considered glamorous—the opportunity to travel the world in first class on someone else’s dime. These days it’s becoming one of the hippest perks that companies can offer to entice top employees. For example, a recent article states that 30 percent of Millennials would take a smaller paycheck if they had more of a chance to travel. Millennials aren’t alone in this. Gen X and Baby boomers are interested and researching. Traditionally, large companies have offered sabbaticals and leaves of absence for valued employees with the idea of preventing burnout and rewarding high performers.  But why have them wait?  We are in the age of YOLO after all. More and more companies are offering travel perks for their employees right now. HomeAway has a program called DeskAway which lets employees work from another country for several weeks a year. Recently, CNBC published a list of 25 companies that would let you work from anywhere.The Muse published an article naming the top employers for working abroad. For the logistics of this, entrepreneurial founders of companies like Terminal 3 and BeUnsettled have created remote work “adventures.” So clearly, remote work is becoming a big deal and an incentive with the potential to attract top candidates.

However, having an employee working and traveling abroad requires an enormous amount of trust. You have to trust that they won’t commit any gaffes that will damage your reputation. You have to trust that they won’t get overwhelmed by the challenges. And you have to trust that they’re actually working, even though you’re in different time zones. So is now the time to jump in? A lot of enterprise sized companies are saying yes. PWC says many companies use the opportunity to travel as bait for candidates who see overseas assignment as critical to their career development and future leadership opportunities.

If you trust your employee enough and are wondering how to stretch your compensation budget, this could be the really killer perk to outwit your competitors while recruiting and retaining talent.  Let employees work from abroad for all, or part, of the year. This might include getting them a membership at a co-working co-op so they could have a desk and a community wherever they are. As long as they understand you expect the same level of productivity, and that they might have to get cracking at 6 a.m. or late at night so your time zones can, at least partially, coincide, you can set up parameters to make it work.

You don’t necessarily have to offer a long-term overseas engagement. It could be a few weeks, like HomeAway’s policy.  Many companies already allow employees to take trips as a combination of business and leisure known by the awkward name of bleisure. With bleisure, you send an employee on a business trip and allow for a little bit of “fun” time on either side of the work. You won’t cover their meals or lodging during these vacation days, but you will have paid for the airfare and expenses during the business part of the trip. As many people who travel for business often complain, they only see the airport and the hotel. Who doesn’t want time built in to actually enjoy the country they’re visiting?

Of course, the con with all of this is the risk of sending employees overseas and then finding out they weren’t cut out for this kind of assignment. It’s important to vet them for necessary attributes. First on the list is emotional maturity because working off site means adulting, a lot. The Society of Human Resource Management has come up with a list that we find is a good start:

Intellectual capital: Knowledge, skills, understanding and cognitive complexity.

Psychological capital: The ability to function successfully in the host country through internal acceptance of different cultures and a strong desire to learn from new experiences.

Social capital: The ability to build trusting relationships with local stakeholders, whether they are employees, supply chain partners or customers.

Confidence and self-reliance: independence; perseverance; work ethic.

Flexibility and problem-solving skills: resilience; adaptability; ability to deal with ambiguity.

Tolerance and interpersonal skills: social sensitivity; observational capability; listening skills; communication skills.

Skill at handling and initiating change: personal drivers and anchors; willingness to take risks.

For some employers and for many tasks, near and far shore employment simply won’t be an option. Sending people abroad to be digital nomads is definitely a huge paradigm shift for most companies in the U.S. With the national unemployment rate at 3.8%, it’s good to at least consider all the tools available. And if you’d like help figuring out whether this kind of perk would work for your company, call us!

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.