16 Feb 2023

"Workation needs the corresponding corporate culture".

At LEARNTEC xChange, experts discussed the opportunities and risks of working from abroad.

Once again this year, the online format LEARNTEC xChange inspired more than 2,300 registered participants with lectures and panel discussions on new forms of learning in schools, universities and companies. Wednesday morning was dedicated to the new exhibition New Work Evolution, which will take place alongside LEARNTEC from 23 to 25 May in the halls of Messe Karlsruhe.

Frank Roth, CEO of AppSphere AG, gave the introductory lecture on the topic of "Workation" - and comprehensively covered the challenges and opportunities of working from abroad. Especially in industries where skilled workers are highly competitive on the labour market, home office and workation offers of a company are important arguments in the job interview. "The pictures on social media, laptop on your knees, feet up with a view of the sea - these are often images of freelancers," says Roth. "With employees, it's not quite so simple. There we talk about tax, social security and health aspects, workplace equipment, occupational health and safety and data security that need to be taken into account."

In general, workation is easier in European countries, but there are also pitfalls within Europe. In countries such as Belgium, for example, the tax obligation for employees applies from the first day, so that employees may be subject to double taxation. In Portugal, Portuguese labour law applies after a certain period of residence and thus reduced protection against dismissal. In Switzerland, a work permit would be required in any case. Data security and the equipment of the workplace must also be taken into account. "With a distance of thousands of kilometres, a malfunctioning laptop cannot be quickly replaced by the in-house IT department," says Roth.

In any case, Frank Roth recommends a supplementary workation agreement to the employment contract that covers all these points. For his company AppSphere, the CEO and a lawyer have screened 20 countries for relevant tax, health and safety and insurance regulations.

But why, despite all these challenges, workation still is a welcome offer to employees? Better coverage of school holidays, work-life balance, more time with the family, longer visits to relatives abroad or, last but not least, a massive increase in the attractiveness of a company in the war of talents are many good reasons that speak in favour of workation, says Roth.

Changing work culture

In the subsequent panel discussion, Roth, together with Götz Pasker, specialist lawyer for labour law at Dennig & Kollegen in Karlsruhe, and Elke Manjet, Global Head of Talent Attraction, SAP in Walldorf, shed light on the topic. SAP allows its employees to work abroad for up to 30 days a year. According to Elke Manjet, this is based on the company's internal initiative "Pledge to Flex" with the goal of flexible and trust-based working.

According to Frank Roth, employees who are interested in workation can inform themselves about tax law on the website of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, but a call to the BG is also important: "The fact is that companies and technology make a lot of things possible when it comes to workation, but on the other hand, the legislator is still far behind with regulations on the subject." Lawyer Pasker added that a stay of up to two weeks is in most cases without problems in terms of tax and social security law. Longer stays would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

For Elke Manjet, it is also crucial to create the right corporate culture in which workation is possible. "Managers felt uncomfortable at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone went to the home office. There was uncertainty to what extent the same performance would be achieved in home offices. That is why a culture of trust is important," Manjet said. Even in the office, people work at different levels of productivity. For Manjet, the issue of performance in the home office is now positively supported by figures: At home, employees are less likely to get caught up in unforeseen conversations and are less distracted.

Roth addressed the other side, the mindset of the employee. "As a company, could I allow one employee to workfrom abroad and not another, because he or she might not have the necessary mindset?" For specialist lawyer Pasker, this is a difficult situation: "There is no claim to workation, but the principle of equal treatment applies. The employer needs a convincing reason for a rejection."

Host Corona Feederle, Managing Director of office equipment supplier feco-feederle, added that home office has also led to a redesign of corporate workplaces. The order of the day is to equip an office attractively and with a high quality of stay, so that employees are happy to swap the comfort of home for their office again.

However, workation and home office also have limits, according to the experts, precisely because there is no longer a clear line between working time and free time. For Elke Manjet, it is clearly the manager's task to make it clear that bosses' emails do not have to be dealt with directly in the late evening, because "my working time is not your working time". Employees must be encouraged to manage themselves and their working hours in order to remain healthy in the long term.

There will be more exciting lectures and panels on New Work at the new trade fair New Work Evolution: interested companies can find more information for exhibitors HERE.

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Portrait Tanja Stopper
Tanja Stopper
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