10 minute read 23 May 2022
Woman practicing paddle board yoga on lake Kirchsee in the morning Germany

Debunking 5 myths about remote work and digital nomads

By Dr. Joost Smits

EY Global People Advisory Services Mobility Leader

Experienced people advisory leader who strives to align corporate objectives to enhance mobility ecosystems. Loves cycling, sports and his family.

10 minute read 23 May 2022
Related topics Workforce Tax Consulting

Remote and more distributed workforces are becoming the new normal. Adaptive policies and strategies are needed to manage potential risks. 

Questions to ask
  • Is “the new normal” of workforce mobility really that new?
  • What risks do organizations need to manage when considering remote work?
  • Why is it important to have humans at the center of workforce mobility planning?

As the world adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain challenges, and an ever-hotter race for talent, companies accelerated the pivot to the new realities of workforce mobility.  

Broader acceptance of video calls has made the working world seem smaller in some ways, just as both employers and employees increasingly recognize the new realities of flexible work away from the physical office. 

The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey shows 72% of employers are considering or have implemented a policy to work from another location on a temporary basis, and a further 74% of employers say they agree their company is prepared to hire employees with hard-to-fill or critical skills from any geography, and allow them to work from anywhere. These perspectives from employers come at a time when remote work is an ever-greater part of worker expectations: 80% of employees say they want to work at least two days remotely per week.  

The specifics of work flexibility can range from a few hours or days remotely per week, to an extended work placement in another location, to the overly mobile “digital nomad” lifestyle. Digital nomads are a class of worker largely unanchored by geographic location, doing work wherever the Wi-Fi takes them, from mountain chalets to tropical beaches. 

The appeal of this kind of extreme mobility for the worker may rest in a greater sense of freedom and choice over the details of work logistics. But for employers, the shift to more mobile and flexible workforces carries with it added complexity for organizations looking to manage risks associated with tax, immigration, or other compliance and regulatory requirements.  

Old myths around workforce mobility may not stack up to the new realities of cross-border work, and by parsing fact from fiction leaders can begin to weigh the true costs and benefits of new ways of working.  

Myth 1: Digital nomads and fully remote workers are a new phenomenon to manage.  

“This isn’t really a new issue — that’s probably the biggest myth of all,” says Shawn Orme, EY Global Immigration Leader.

It’s not new that an employee might want to extend a vacation stay and make a few work calls while traveling, for example, or even spend a few weeks or months working in a secondary location.

What is new is the scale of the expectation and duration of remote work whether home or abroad, and how that’s influencing companies determining where to place their workforce, and for how long. This, combined with the increased race for talent, is pushing employers to seek talent from new locations. In the next two years, 55% of respondents to the EY Tax and Finance Operations Survey anticipate facing more permanent establishment corporate tax risks connected to a higher number of employees working remotely. 

A company may face compliance issues for a worker crossing international borders, but also for an employee changing tax jurisdictions within a country, such as between U.S. states or Swiss cantons. 

These risks can add immigration-related complications to what may appear to be a convenient solution for sourcing foreign labor as some countries have now started to offer so-called digital nomad visas.  

“The nomad visas you read about post COVID-19 have sometimes been rebadged as nomad options, more geared toward individuals than companies,” says Ben Willis, EY EMEIA Global Immigration Leader. “If you’re a gig economy, or freelance worker, maybe it appeals to you. As companies look to take advantage of these programs there are things that complicate it: is there a permanent establishment created? Is social security being met? Has tax—personal and corporate—been impacted? Do they require any additional work authorization? There’s a whole host of complications or regulatory requirements which are going to impact that ability for free movement and work authorization.”

Myth 2: Companies don’t have increased risk with more mobile workforces. 

“Depending on local rules, you can have tax and immigration risk from day 1 of an employee working in another jurisdiction. You may also have other liabilities that are unintended and unplanned for,” Willis says, adding that just knowing where your workers are is part of managing risk. “With COVID-19, people were off in other jurisdictions which resulted in stranded workers who were unable to travel back because of sudden border closures and other restrictions. Combine that with geopolitical uncertainty. Imagine having to extract people working remotely from a conflict zone, but not knowing they were there in the first place, and whether your evacuation insurance covers those situations.”

This highlights the importance of real-time data being able to show exactly where the work is being done, and under what conditions.

“There’s what I call the doctrine of unintended consequences: you can solve for an immigration issue, but create a tax consequence that was not anticipated, or not expected,” Orme says. “The laws around all of this are so fluid and changing, you really need a constant lens of what’s going on. You may have a permanent establishment that creates corporate tax consequences for something as harmless as having a bunch of people going to the beach together and doing work.”

For Orme, there are risks associated with not knowing where workers are, and exactly what they are doing in a location, to determine whether it’s in line with the nuances of local rules and visas.

“That’s where having an integrated mobility solution comes in, including technology and the ability to have tax, immigration, and employee information at your fingertips,” Orme continues. “Having to go to three or four different providers, using three or four different tech solutions to get information just doesn’t provide the immediacy that’s needed in today’s environment.”

We need to have our eyes open about what we’re saying yes to with the details of workforce mobility.
Maureen Flood
EY Americas Mobility Hybrid Work Leader

These considerations go for work that crosses borders or tax jurisdictions of any kind, attracting different payroll or corporate tax exposures, or regulatory considerations depending on the industry.

“As an employee, I may not realize the risk I’m creating for myself or the company. Being on video so often has furthered this thought that we can be anywhere, but people don’t fully understand and appreciate the risks,” says Maureen Flood, EY Americas Mobility Hybrid Work Leader.


of employers are considering or have implemented a policy to work from another location on a temporary basis


of employers agree their company is prepared to hire employees with critical skills from any geography, allowing them to work from anywhere

“The Great Resignation is real, and the impulse to attract the best talent is real. There’s a need to enable work flexibility because people want it,” Flood says. “But we need to have our eyes open about what we’re saying yes to with the details of workforce mobility.” 

Myth 3: The immigration system is built for more mobile ways of working.  

“When you’re talking about immigration systems you need to be careful, because it’s about each country and at times requirements in each region and location,” Orme says. “It’s hard to have an overview of immigration because it’s so idiosyncratic and fluid. It’s also changing rapidly so you get some areas of permissibility that could change overnight because of an event or policy change.” 

The pandemic highlighted shifting approaches to immigration, with changing health requirements or the promotion of nomad visas, for example. Orme says the particulars of a country’s approach to immigration are often dictated by internal politics and priorities. 

“Look at different countries with different approaches,” Willis adds. “Some took more conservative approaches to immigration during the pandemic, like Australia or New Zealand, so you would be surprised if they created a nomad visa, as opposed to a country that responded quickly with new visa types like the UAE.” 

Any new visa requirements are on top of broader immigration eligibility considerations or agreements, Willis says, influencing the kinds of workers who might be able to participate. This might factor in free movement of people arrangements between Schengen countries in Europe, or Mercosur countries in South America.  

But typically, immigration rules anticipate certain scenarios: a worker physically moving to another location to work in that location, or staying for a few months, or staying just days on a single business trip.  

“The rules in place today don’t really contemplate virtual assignments, virtual working, or permanent remote work,” Flood says. “I think it will take time for the rules to catch up to it. What does the next iteration look like? Companies don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with tracking where people are, to be compliant with rules that don’t even exist to be compliant to!” 

Any response to changes in workforce trends also rests in the specific processes and legislative steps to enable new options: change doesn’t always come at the flip of a switch, even when the labor market appears ready for it.  

Myth 4: The only tech consideration is getting a laptop to a worker.  

It’s true that organizations need to get employees the technology they need to be productive, and stay connected.  

But having workers in different locations also creates challenges for data management.  

“Can you track your employees’ activity and log data? In some places, mining data like IP address location may be acceptable, but in other locations globally that may run afoul of data privacy regulations,” Flood says. “In some jurisdictions, I need to pay certain allowances for an employee working from home, but if it’s hybrid work, where is the line? What is commuting? What is business expense? How is that information logged? Immigration and tax, as complicated as they are, is just scratching the surface of the complexity.” 

A company also needs to manage the logistics of employee mobility that accounts for shifting immigration, health, or social benefits policies. This is best done in a digital/cloud environment which requires infrastructure and planning. 

The infrastructure also needs to account for the physical security of an organization’s people and property, and also their cybersecurity. 

“Let’s say you have to receive an SMS on a particular phone, in a particular region, for two-factor authentication—how does this respond to worker mobility?” Willis says. “If I was trying to sit on a beach in the Maldives and lodge applications for an employer in a particular country, I would not be able to get that authentication because I’m not in that country. I think some people who want to be on the beach will have their hopes dashed.” 

Myth 5: Companies don’t need a strategy for managing employee experience and company culture with dispersed teams.  

As companies consider the many possibilities for workforce mobility, it’s important to keep the human element front and center.  

This can include recognizing that more employees are looking for flexible working conditions and believe they can remain productive and successful regardless of location or the specific hours of a workday. The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey shows that 72% of employers believe new ways of working can cause a loss of career advantage, compared to 56% of employees believing the same.  

“We need to be deliberate and purposeful about creating interactions on a human level,” Flood says. “You have to work hard, schedule time and learn about your people wherever they’re working. Otherwise, we’re going to have teams of people working in-person together for 20 years and a bunch of virtual strangers who can be pulled out. They don’t feel connected, or loyal, or passionate about the organization. That’s not sustainable.” 


of employees trust their employer and feel supported by them


of employees say their company has a sustainable employee experience that lets them thrive

The Work Reimagined Survey also shows only a small majority (57%) of employees trust their employer and feel supported by them, and just 53% of employees believe their company has a sustainable employee experience that is allowing them to thrive. 

It points to the need for companies to build intentionality into their operations for high-value touchpoints with workers, both digitally and in-person. These opportunities can reinforce a sense of purpose and mission, and also contribute to employee development.  

For robust and future-proofed workforce planning that supports sustainable value creation, organizations should consider having at the center a comprehensive mobility strategy. Limited travel could be part of an onboarding or training opportunity that can strengthen ties and skills needed for productive remote work, whether an employee is remote working across town or across borders. 

“In the race for talent we’ve seen companies desperate to get the right talent on board,” Willis says. “Hiring foreign labor becomes more frequent, and immigration follows recruitment. Some companies have announced they are going fully remote, but the value of work is person to person. I don’t think you can replace some things that we do in the workforce remotely.” 

“We should be careful before we sit everyone on the beach in the Maldives,” he says. 


With the race for talent drawing workers across borders, organizations must structure and inform themselves to accommodate a more distributed workforce. They will need to cultivate their company culture, maintain product and service quality, and manage tax/immigration compliance, to truly stay competitive in The Great Resignation.

About this article

By Dr. Joost Smits

EY Global People Advisory Services Mobility Leader

Experienced people advisory leader who strives to align corporate objectives to enhance mobility ecosystems. Loves cycling, sports and his family.

Related topics Workforce Tax Consulting