After arriving in Canada in 2016, Vipul Srivastav dedicated much of his time to work, first as a student at Concordia University in Montreal, then in his job as a software engineer. It wasn’t until the pandemic began that he had time to reflect.
“COVID made me realize how much we need to value time; time is so important,” said Mr. Srivastav, speaking over Zoom from New Delhi, India.
The revelation, which came in the early days of the pandemic, ultimately inspired Mr. Srivastav to seek a fully remote position – one that would provide him with the flexibility to travel back to his home country to spend extended periods with his family and his longtime girlfriend while still working. In June, 2020, he accepted a job as a senior engineer for Toronto-based digital life insurance provider PolicyMe, and after years of pandemic-related delays, in January, 2022, he boarded a flight to India, where he has been working remotely ever since.
“PolicyMe has a work-from-anywhere policy, due to which I was able to come to India, see my girlfriend after four and a half years, see my family,” said Mr. Srivastav, who was finally able to marry his longtime girlfriend in early May after years apart. “I’m very thankful for PolicyMe for giving me this opportunity.”
Despite the sharp increase in remote work during the pandemic, travel restrictions and COVID-19 fears kept many Canadians from leaving their home province or country for extended periods of time. Now that travel restrictions have eased, research suggests more Canadians are interested in moving farther away from their home province, and they expect to bring their work with them, creating new challenges for employers.
According to a recent survey conducted by the National Payroll Institute, 10 per cent of remote workers have moved from their home provinces since the start of the pandemic. Now, 39 per cent are interested in moving provinces or countries, if approved by their employer. At this time, however, only 15 per cent of employers currently offer a work-from-anywhere policy.
“Canadians want more flexibility in terms of where they work,” said Peter Tzanetakis, president of the National Payroll Institute. “Businesses should get ahead of this trend and begin preparing policies and procedures to provide this kind of flexibility if they want to retain and attract talent in a really tight labour market.”
According to the survey, those who are interested in working from another province or country are most attracted by the opportunity to experience another part of the world, followed by lower cost of living expenses and improved work-life balance. Providing that opportunity, however, will require businesses to clear a range of legal, financial, and regulatory hurdles.
For example, employees who leave the province might lose their provincial health care coverage, might be subject to taxation in both jurisdictions and could lose their insurance coverage.
“It’s not as simple as just picking up and moving to another jurisdiction; not all things remain equal in that situation,” said Mr. Tzanetakis. “If employers have never had people working outside of the province in which they’re situated, then this is a whole new area of complexity for them.”
According to Andrea Bartlett, the director of people operations for Toronto-based HR software platform Humi, there are seven specific areas employers need to consider when implementing a work-from-anywhere policy: legal, taxation, banking, accounting, insurance, real estate and recruitment.
“I will add that it’s also up to the individual business to define what ‘anywhere’ means. For example, you might have three offices in two different provinces, so ‘anywhere’ for you might be within those two provinces,” said Ms. Bartlett, who is currently working remotely from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. “Businesses who are not looking at those seven areas and defining what ‘anywhere’ means are putting themselves in a really dangerous position.”
Ms. Bartlett also warns that organizations with a mix of staff who need to work in person to fulfill their job duties and those who have the ability to work remotely must be careful they aren’t creating a two-tired system. Organizations also need to consider whether their policy is scalable, or could risk creating significant complexities when the organization increases its headcount.
While Ms. Bartlett acknowledges there are risks and costs to businesses choosing to implement a work-from-anywhere policy, she also warns the risks and costs could be even greater for those who don’t. In a highly competitive talent market, employees may choose to switch employers for more flexible work policies, as Mr. Srivastav recently did.
“If you’re not at least open to the conversation and open to figuring out some kind of accommodation here, then you are putting yourself as a business at risk of losing talent,” said Ms. Bartlett. “The question comes down to, ‘how much risk are you willing to tolerate?’ and on the other side of the coin, if you aren’t willing to accommodate or tolerate any, how comfortable are you losing that talent?”
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