Before the pandemic, we never thought we’d work away from our London office, let alone from another country. One year later, we rolled out a policy that enables our team to work from anywhere (with a few limits). Here’s what we learnt doing it.
As Chief of Staff at CharlieHR, I always considered myself to be someone who rolled with the punches, at least until the Covid pandemic hit.
In April 2020, cooped up in my flat, I thought perhaps we’d hit a dead end. How would we help our team adjust to the new challenges of remote working?
But as summer approached and restrictions started to ease, I found myself enjoying the flexibility and realized the team had gotten used to working from anywhere.
And with a growing pool of candidates looking for remote opportunities, it was obvious we needed to change our ways of working.
However, we wanted to find a balance between spending time together face-to-face and enjoying the flexibility to work from abroad to avoid becoming out of sync and interfering with our business goals.
It took time and effort, but in June 2021 we came up with a nomad working policy (a nod to digital nomads) that allowed our team members to work outside of the UK for a set number of days each year.
We thought we’d share our journey from making nomad working a priority to rolling out the policy, as well as the doubts and challenges we faced along the way.
Where the idea of nomad working stemmed from
Pre-2020, we genuinely thought that working in an office was the ultimate way to enable our people to do their best work.
Like many companies, we initially worried that working from home would have a negative impact on the quality of the work we produced. However, we soon realised that this wasn’t the case.
Our team members still achieved their goals and excelled at their work whilst working from home and occasionally being spread across the country.
That got us to reflect on whether we would still allow them to work abroad when “things got back to normal”.
So when restrictions started to ease in the summer of 2020 and the demand for remote working did not waver, we were keen to pursue it beyond lockdown.
Why putting together a nomad working policy was important
In early 2021, we sketched out the contours of our hybrid working policy – with no set number of days in the office and only eight in-person compulsory meetings per year.
Once we had most of the hybrid policy narrowed down, we started thinking about implementing a working abroad policy within it because of the many benefits it could bring:
- Addressing the current climate and the growing demand for working abroad
- Aiming for more flexibility by changing our existing ways of working
- Retaining our current team members and keeping our promise of being an employer with forward-thinking ideas
- Putting us at the forefront of innovative small companies to attract the best talent and choose from a larger pool of candidates
With these main drivers in mind, we were more than ready to flesh out a draft of the nomad working policy we intended to roll out.
How we drafted a bespoke nomad working policy for our business
In April 2021, we started our research to address questions and challenges we had prior to drafting the policy. The research included:
- Reading from experts in the HR industry
- Consulting with an accountant and a lawyer to understand tax implications
- Chatting with companies who had a “work from anywhere” policy in place
- Identifying potential problems with team leads at Charlie
We then decided to run a survey across the whole business to check if there were any gaps in our existing knowledge, but more importantly to assess the team’s sentiment towards the possibility to work abroad.
Here’s what we found out:
What we first noticed was that most of our people were very keen to work abroad, but that they needed more clarity around the rules.
With the pandemic, there had been no clear set of guidelines – we just approved remote working requests on a case-by-case basis. This created confusion in the team about what was acceptable.
Now, our intent was to give clear answers and create a policy that everyone felt comfortable using. Along with the survey, we also asked our team members about issues they wanted to see addressed.
Here’s what they flagged to us:
- People in customer-facing roles would not necessarily be able to use the policy as much as the rest of the business – they’d need to stay available for customers during specific hours, and that wouldn’t necessarily work in different time zones
- People with caring duties could be disadvantaged by not being able to travel abroad that often compared to everyone else
- Team members with relatives in very different time zones worried about not being able to visit them
- The lack of knowledge around tax and legal issues that could arise from working abroad was anxiety-inducing
- Some team members would feel uncomfortable using the policy if there was no visibility on who was already doing it
We did some more research to respond to these concerns and drafted the nomad working policy to first send it to our leadership team for feedback.
It took some back and forth but once the final layer of feedback was acted upon, we weaved all this material and knowledge into a document we were ready to roll out to the whole business.
Rolling out our nomad working policy to the whole business
In June 2021, a month before all restrictions were lifted in the UK, we rolled out our nomad working policy. Here’s what we settled on to make it work for Charlie:
Setting a 30 day yearly cap to work abroad
Thirty days seemed to us like a generous place to start as it would be a total of six weeks every year. It allowed for extended stays, could be split up across the year or combined with time off.
The limit would also allow us not to have to worry about tax implications, and in case of any doubts we advised our team members to consult with an accountant or a lawyer (please make sure you double check with a lawyer what would work for you as circumstances are different for each company).
“You get this incredible sprint to get your work done. Your inspiration and creativity are doubling up when you’re outside of your normal working context. Nomad working is a game changer.” Antonio L. - Product Designer at CharlieHR
Allowing nomad working in any time zone
Although we initially considered having a limit on how much time difference there could be between the remote working location and the UK, we realized it wouldn’t be fair to some of our international team members.
We wanted to encourage them to visit friends and family for an extended time and make sure they enjoyed it.
As long as everyone kept on communicating asynchronously, we trusted it would cause minimal disruptions to team work and business goals, especially with a 30 day cap.
“I was grateful that my company understood I’m not from the UK and that I have a life beyond the country I live in. It takes so much weight off your shoulders when you know your company trusts you to do the work you’re supposed to do wherever that is!” Sam L. – Product Designer at CharlieHR
Making it fair with guidelines and budget available to all
One of our biggest concerns was to make it fair. We didn’t want a performative policy that only benefited high-earners, so we first allocated a yearly £500 budget per team member to spend towards travel and accommodation.
This budget could also be used towards any remote working equipment for team members that did not necessarily benefit from the same capacity to travel.
We also decided to ask team members to give at least one month’s notice before booking nomad working days. It would give customer-facing teams enough time to organise cover if one of them travelled to a country with a significant time difference.
Of course, the circumstances of each team would be different, and that’s why we insisted on encouraging transparency and communication throughout the process to avoid any issues.
To help with that, we also produced a series of guidelines and welcomed feedback to keep improving the policy over time.
Measuring the policy’s success
Keeping ourselves accountable by understanding the policy’s success was essential, and we decided to measure by:
- Collecting unbiased feedback from team leads to prove employee happiness has a positive impact on levels of productivity
- Reporting on the number of nomad working days booked in our CharlieHR software to report the number of team members using the policy
- Running monthly engagement surveys to gauge whether the team’s motivation went up since we made broad changes to all of our policies
At the moment, the policy is still in its early days, so it’s hard to say whether it’s truly perfect, but at Charlie, we’re happy to experiment and iterate as we go along and that’s what we’ll keep on doing.
Interested in seeing the full policy to create your own? Download it for free along with helpful tips to successfully put it in place for your team.
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