Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Borderless work model challenging local employers

You do not always have to live where you work thanks to technology, but companies may find it difficult to trust far-away employees.

The borderless work model is becoming a challenge for local employers after national lockdowns forced them to invest in technologies that would allow their house-bound staff to continue working during the pandemic.

“Post-Covid, these advances saw the emergence of new concepts in workforce management, from work-from-home to hybrid and now the borderless model where employees could be present in the office full-time, working from home several days a week, or even located in another country,” says Muhammed Goolab, senior reward specialist and exco member with the South African Reward Association (SARA).

However, as the boundaries of the modern workforce blur more every day, companies face several challenges to keep their operations running like clockwork and their distributed teams productive.

Goolab says the first challenge for employers is whether to allow borderless working at all. “While some industries reported increased productivity, others witnessed a definite decline in worker output.”

Therefore, each organisation must determine whether this model will enhance their type of business through a mix of research, pilot implementation and possibly sheer trial-and-error. They should also be prepared to pull out if the yields are poor.

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Challenge to develop and entrench policies

The next challenge is to develop and entrench policies that govern how the model will work and be managed and what is expected of employees. “Most importantly, these policies must be clearly communicated to staff to ensure they know where they stand, what the rules are and where their boundaries lie.”

Another major challenge is to ensure people are where they must be, when they need to be there to ensure the business continues to operate smoothly. Goolab says no company wants days when too many employees are working remotely and not enough are in the office to handle face-to-face situations.

“Keeping the different roles and timings coordinated – internally, locally and internationally – demands careful attention to planning and communication between all teams and stakeholders. This can be especially tricky if remote employees are out of sync by several time zones,” says Goolab.

Communication and cooperation between managers and their teams, as well as between team members themselves, can be more difficult if some members are outside the region. “Organisations must invest in management and communication technologies that will keep members informed and in the loop on every decision and detail, big and small, mundane or significant.”

When it comes to productivity and trust, Goolab says unfortunately bias can creep into management and performance evaluations as it is easier to see an employee as productive when they are visibly working than when they are away from the office.

“Ultimately, though, corporations must judge employees based on results, not location. This means keeping performance reviews focused on outcomes and trusting remote employees who achieve their tasks to manage their discipline in their own way.”

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Managing the mix of borderless work

However, managing the mix is not easy. Borderless workforce managers are exposed to unusual challenges they seldom faced before. Employees who must be on-site full-time could become resentful of those they consider privileged for working remotely.

Remote workers, on the other hand, may experience feelings such as a sense of isolation, a lack of involvement, or a loss of direction, while cross-border staff could face cultural or language-based problems or a lack of familiarity with local markets.

“Now, emotional intelligence and support are more important than ever,” says Goolab.

Legal considerations are also important and with no limit on where employees can work from, including other countries, organisations have more to consider from a governance, compliance and legislative perspective.

“These become critical when determining matters such as how data is secured and exchanged, what foreign governments expect of employees and employers, or how workers should be paid according to their labour and tax laws.

In all this turmoil, reward remains a constant. “It is tempting to think that employees who work away from the office are less involved than those who are present. Yet, regardless of where they perform their duties, employees are rewarded for the work they do.”

Goolab says in this sense, reward continues to be a significant force for attracting, motivating and retaining talent, even in the borderless model. “Rewarding an employee consistently with fair recognition of their outcomes-based performance is essential to making this model a success.”

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