„Remote work is perhaps the supreme discipline of flexible working, especially away from home. Until now, this form of work was primarily a topic among the self-employed. Now it is becoming a new desirability for employees as well – and ideally an opportunity for companies. Eight questions and answers on the topic.” Sylvie Konzack
Carina, an employee of a fashion company, has just managed to include in her employment contract the right to work remotely for four weeks a year – and not only from home. Yvonne, a long-time manager in an automotive company, is currently changing her position and negotiating a new employment contract that allows for remote working opportunities in various locations around the world. And Teresa is currently advising an ever-increasing number of companies on how office presence teams can work effectively in the future in a hybrid mix of on-site and remote office.
In Germany alone, Teresa says, there are at least a dozen companies that have not had a fixed office location since their inception. All employees work flexibly and hybrid from other places and locations and organise themselves in the team via digital tools – which the companies see as their USP.
“From a purely legal point of view, remote work is already possible in many forms today, but at the same time there are many things that need to be taken into account,” says lawyer and university professor André Niedostadek. Legislators will have to define the framework conditions in more detail in the coming years, he says, to protect remote workers and employers. Because, as is so often the case, reality is more advanced, and many already live the concept of remote work without being legally protected in every case.
Bleisure Traveller has listed eight questions and answers on the concept and implementation possibilities:
1. What is remote work?
Basically, it is about location-independent working, i.e. working independently of a fixed office location of a company. This can be the classic home, but also working at any other location of one’s choice. Remote work can take place temporarily for a few days, weeks or months, or permanently, e.g. if an employee generally works outside the company offices by contract or if the company has no fixed office premises. Remote work is often accompanied by flexible working time arrangements.
2. What is workation as opposed to remote work?
Workation belongs directly to the New Work world with remote work & Co. However, the term primarily means a working holiday, i.e. working and relaxing during a stay. Workation stays are often undertaken with colleagues and/or like-minded people. And especially teams that work remotely a lot use workation trips as team building and joint presence work in an inspiring place. Workshops are often organised or team incentives take place.
3. Why are remote work and workation issues that remain?
With the digitalisation of the world of work, new professions and more automated processes, the possibilities for working independently of time and place have been available for some time. Events like the Corona pandemic have shown how feasible and effective work processes can be independent of physically fixed workplaces. Whether for economic reasons or with an eye to new employee demands, many companies are currently transforming their work organisations. Experts predict that most will rely on hybrid processes, i.e. a mix of presence and remote work. Only a few will switch to 100 % remote work or start up in this way. At the same time, experts say: Those who do not create remote work offerings in their company will have difficulties in the future to be perceived as an attractive employer by existing and new employees.
Remote work and workation are fixed conceptual components of New Work. This in turn can be understood as flexible, location-independent, self-determined and thus meaning-oriented work. The job is better harmonised with one’s own life wishes – this applies to the self-employed and entrepreneurs as well as to employees. For employers, this requires a change in leadership, away from values of control and towards values of trust. In addition, there is a new understanding of travel, in that it is about a meaningful and sustainable combination of professional and private travel.
4. For whom is remote work an issue?
For anyone who would like to work remotely once or regularly – in other words, not a wish that applies to everyone. So far, it has mainly been digital nomads, i.e. representatives of digitally affine and freelance professions, who have used the option of remote work. In the meantime, other freelancers and self-employed people – and also increasingly employees in the wake of the pandemic experience – are also included.
5. What advantages does remote work offer?
Remote work helps people to be more concentrated, inspired and thus more effective and innovative in certain activities. Self-employed people and companies can increase their performance and turnover – in the long term. It also allows them, as well as their teams, to deal more flexibly and sensibly with wishes and changing life and work circumstances. With the help of remote work, employees are therefore happier, more motivated and less stressed – and employers are more appreciative and increase their attractiveness, their employer branding and their recruiting success.
Last but not least, companies and freelancers also save office and travel costs and contribute to sustainability.
6. Are there legal and company entitlements to remote work?
So far, not in many places, and in any case not across the board with regard to the different forms. Basically, while the self-employed and freelancers are free to decide, employees must always agree on remote work with their employer – their permission is required. Ideally, both can already stipulate this in the employment contract. Issues such as working hours, communication channels, cost coverage, data security, etc. should then be specifically regulated. In addition, there are aspects such as duty of care, insurances, taxes, etc. for mutual protection, especially in the case of long-distance stays. The following applies to self-employed persons: Even if they basically decide themselves where and how they work remotely, they are also subject to the local legal conditions, which are different in every country.
7. How easy is remote work to implement from a legal perspective?
Remote work basically affects different areas of law: Labour law, social security law, tax law, data protection law, etc. Within one’s own country, remote work is usually legally unproblematic because there are basically no restrictions on movement and the conditions regarding issues such as social security, taxes, etc. usually remain unchanged. However, the territoriality principle also applies to many areas of law abroad, i.e. where I work, I am subordinate to the respective law. In almost all areas, this basically creates obligations.
When it comes to social security obligations, employees abroad are generally subject to the social security law applicable there and are liable to pay contributions. At EU level, the Posting of Workers Directive can be used for employees. In the case of a posting, i.e. a temporary integration of employees in a foreign company on the instructions of the domestic employer, domestic social security law thus remains applicable under defined conditions, even if the employee works exclusively abroad. As with classic business trips, it is always important for employees and self-employed persons to provide proof of an A1 certificate for stays abroad. Short stays of two or three weeks a year do not usually entail social security obligations abroad, at least not in the EU. However, it is best to clarify this beforehand.
Outside the EU, social and health insurance for longer stays is regulated individually. However, many countries have already concluded individual agreements in this regard.
The principle of territoriality also applies to tax obligations – and this quickly takes effect with various obligations. For countries, the question of the extent to which the activity is associated with tax advantages for the remote worker is particularly relevant. The extent to which the employee working abroad may negotiate, initiate or conclude contracts must also be clarified. To avoid risks, some experts recommend that the employee be prohibited from negotiating and concluding contracts abroad in a home office agreement or that the tax consequences be carefully examined in advance.
With regard to labour law, a separate residence and/or work permit may be necessary. The labour protection law of the respective country in which the employee is working abroad always applies. In addition, there is often a favourability comparison: if the labour law of the other country provides for a statutory supplement for overtime, for example, the employee is entitled to it.
8. To what extent are countries and tourism providers opening up to the topic of remote work and workation?
More and more. Governments are concluding joint agreements, individual countries are offering remote work visas for several months. Large cities, tourist destinations, rural regions, etc. are developing remote work offers, especially after Corona, and are promoting co-working and co-living start-ups, expanding WLAN offers, etc. Hotel and flat providers, in turn, are making more and more long-stay and workation offers in cities and in the countryside. Visits from family and friends are also often possible in an attractive way.
The opportunities to live in a different place for a limited time without having to move or emigrate completely are greater than ever.
Sylvie Konzack …
sees remote work as a real form of work, life and travel for the future – of course not for every job and for every type of person. But remote work is at least partially or occasionally suitable for many, regardless of the employment relationship and level. It is important that legislators soon create the right framework conditions for the self-employed as well as employees and companies.
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