Inflexible labour markets make it hard for countries to improve productivity and therefore make them less competitive.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report shows that the most competitive countries in the world are those that nurture innovation and talent in ways that align with the changing nature of work, including by adopting policies that support working remotely.

In fact, remote and flexible work was found to be the top “demographic and socio-economic driver of change” in employment.

Another Forum report from 2016, The Future of Jobs, states: “Organisations are likely to have an ever smaller pool of core full-time employees for fixed functions, backed up by colleagues in other countries and external consultants and contractors for specific projects.”

Mobile Minds is a high-skilled migration project led by the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Future of Migration that aims to promote global economic prosperity by advancing information about, access to, and use of a cross-border remote workforce in addressing current and future labour shortages.

The benefits and challenges of cross-border remote work

From a business perspective, companies have reported cost savings, improved productivity, agility and scalability, increased access to talent, reduced turnover and improved retention when implementing remote work options.

The cost savings are substantial. Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), the research firm, estimates that emerging remote workplace strategies save companies $22,000 per remote worker, per year.

Societal benefits include traffic mitigation, reducing environmental impact, the social and cultural benefits of bringing people together from different locations around the world, and emergency and disaster preparedness. GWA reports that 75% of remote workers say they could continue to work in the event of a disaster, compared with just 28% of non-remote workers.

Remote work on a global scale is not without its challenges. A complex tangle of taxation, employment issues, and labour laws exists between, and even within, countries.

Minimum wages, part-time and full-time status differences, overtime compliance, background checks, employee versus freelance classifications, and other details are different from country to country, and even within countries when states and provinces have their own laws.

Migration policies, education and skills gaps, and compensation and fair labour issues related to freelance and contract workers all come into play when considering cross-border hiring with remote work.

The white paper goes into greater detail on each of these challenges and benefits, and it is clear that a collaborative effort is needed to unleash the potential of remote work to positively affect professionals from across the world.

The future of remote work

Businesses, governments, and related organizations each have a role to play in supporting cross-border remote work, and action they can take right now to invest in cross-border remote work as the future of the workforce.

United Nations Global Impact is a fantastic example of an organization looking at employment on a global scale. The Sustainable Development Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, is directly related to the need for better cross-border hiring.

On top of this, companies already engaged in remote work need to start tracking their programmes to truly understand and refine their benefits. Only 3% of companies with flexible and remote work programmes conduct any sort of formalized analysis.

Mobile Minds aims to create public-private cooperation towards the following goals:

1. Build awareness of cross-border remote work.

2. Make business practice and policy recommendations.

3. Develop standards for skills recognition, taxation, and worker recognition.

4. Create a virtual space to engage a diverse remote working community.

The challenges in achieving these goals are not new. Companies attempting cross-border mergers and acquisitions encounter similar challenges. In those circumstances, as in remote work, the benefits outweigh the challenges, and solutions can be developed to support cross-border remote work.

Of course, there are some occupations where remote work cannot replace the need for physical work-related migration, and governments need to continue their efforts to design fair migration policies. Work-related migration does carry with it some inherent benefits, such as raising fertility rates, generating jobs, promoting multiculturalism, and more. The idea behind Mobile Minds is not to replace physical migration, but when possible and necessary, to alleviate the burdens that often accompany physical migration; burdens on individuals, businesses, and governments.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, writes in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: “We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another.” Remote work is uniquely positioned to harness the “range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human”.

For most of the twentieth century, part of “being human” meant people traveling to and from work every day. In this century, remote work can transform the fundamental nature of when, where, and how we work. Similarly, “work” in this century is what people do, not where they do it from.

Even with the current challenges in cross-border hiring, remote work shows clear economic, business, and societal benefits, and should be used as an alternative to physical, work-related migration.