'Find a balance' | Scottish Gov's 'work abroad' policy sparks debate on flexible working

Scottish Gov's 'work abroad' policy sparks debate on flexible working

The debate on flexible working has been stoked once again after news emerged that Scottish civil servants are eligible to work from abroad for up to one month per year.

Information obtained by the Scottish Daily Mail, via the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that the policy, which has been in place since April 2023, allows employees to fulfil their roles from a foreign country for a total of four weeks each year.

But the rule also states staff “must be prepared to accept travel to their office in their own time and at their own cost when required”.

It adds that most roles were suitable for hybrid working and therefore eligible to apply. However, the government also states that, when it comes to making a request to work overseas, there must be a “genuine requirement to do so.”

Flexible working, remote working and schemes allowing staff to ‘work from anywhere’ are nothing new and have soared in popularity since Covid-related travel restrictions began to lift. However, the news that public servants may be able to work abroad has attracted some opposition.

Murdo Fraser, shadow business secretary for the Conservatives in Scotland, said hybrid and home working could have a negative impact on local economies.

“The pandemic forced many of us from full-time office working to working from home full-time. We now need to find a balance between the two extremes,” he said.

“Much more must be done by the Scottish Government to tackle the knock-on effects that working from home have on city and town centre economies where businesses rely on footfall from office workers.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Consistent with the policy in place across the UK civil service, the Scottish Government does not support long-term remote working abroad.

“As part of our hybrid working arrangements, we consider requests to work abroad for short periods totalling no more than four weeks over a year for personal reasons such as visiting family members, provided staff have access to a secure and appropriate working environment. Any request requires authorisation from a senior manager at deputy director level or above.”

Why working abroad is growing in popularity

More than seven in ten UK employees (72%) say they are planning on working in a different country as a ‘digital nomad’, meaning they can travel freely whilst working remotely, according to recent research from the Post Office.

One in three workers said they have already tried 'digital nomadism' and a third say they can work as effectively from a beach as they can from an office.

Amongst the respondents, it was Gen Z and Millennials (83%) who said they would be the most up for trading their current work model for one where they can work abroad, with a lower 56% of Baby Boomers saying they would take the opportunity.

From an employer’s perspective, a third of companies say they allow employees to log on from different countries and nearly three quarters are considering introducing the policy.

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Nine in ten respondents said they imagine digital nomadism becoming a key part of the future of work.

Half said they want the opportunity to work abroad remotely to increase their work-life balance and it would give them the opportunity to see the world whilst working.

A third said this model would give them the flexibility to spend time with family and friends.

Interestingly, 12% of UK workers said they have already experienced remote work overseas from when they felt forced to answer work emails or calls whilst on annual leave.

Dodging the cost-of-living crisis

Out of the survey’s 2000 respondents, a third said an incentive to save money by living in a country that’s cheaper was a motivation for wanting to be a digital nomad.

The report explained: “Working remotely from a cheaper country while on a UK salary could be a savvy way of navigating the cost-of-living crisis - although people should consider the tax implications of working abroad.”

“The Post Office urges those jumping on the trend to consider what it entails to avoid any unforeseen issues - do you need a visa, what is your tax liability, is it a favourable time zone, what travel insurance is needed?”

With the cost-of-living crisis putting a strain on the pockets of average Brits, workers recognise they could have a much better standard of living in a different country whilst earning the same amount. As a result, employers must brace themselves from potential demands from staff.

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