Published on Jan 24, 2023 by Rhiannon Payne
In 2020 I wrote The Remote Work Era, in which I highlighted some of the inequalities that exist in our global economy and how remote work can help level the playing field.
Since then, remote work and international hiring have boomed, with companies expanding their teams to new regions and startups being built on the philosophy that finding the best talent is more important than having a centralized team. I’ve seen this firsthand while working at Remote, a global employment company that has scaled to over 1,000 employees across 60+ countries and every time zone since 2019, with all of us working to help other organizations do the same.
(Note: this blog was originally published on LinkedIn and the Remote Work Era site.)
But global hiring isn’t without challenges, particularly when the lived experiences of employees can vary dramatically from country to country.
So how can you foster equality across your team in a world that is inherently unequal? Below, I’m sharing a few examples of ways inequality can come up in a global workplace and how to combat it.
1. Your Argentinian engineer always seems to have the day off for bank holidays.
Some countries offer far more public holidays than others. If you have a team across LATAM, you’ll find that those in Argentina have 18 holidays compared to Mexico’s 8.
Employees are entitled to the days off mandated by the government where they live — there’s no way around that. But you have to be mindful that some workers might feel slighted or stressed by feelings of needing to do extra work to make up for days off taken by their colleagues.
The best way to combat feelings of inequality is to create a globally applicable unlimited PTO policy. If someone is feeling overworked, needs a mental health day, or just wants to take a long weekend to spend time with their family or work on a personal project, an unlimited time off policy will give them the opportunity to do just that.
It’s also important to ensure that you foster a company culture where everyone feels comfortable taking their PTO, because attitudes toward taking time off are different across cultures. As an American worker, I’ve noticed I feel more guilt and anxiety about requesting time off compared to some of my European colleagues who are more accustomed to ~5 weeks of statutory PTO a year. It helps that Remote has a minimum PTO policy of 20 days per year and that my team is always supportive when I do want to take that time.
2. Your British team members receive a year of maternity leave while American parents are not guaranteed any time off at all.
Statutory parental leave is one of the biggest examples of inequality between employees across the globe. For American workers, who are not entitled to any maternity leave by the federal government, this is a hot-button issue.
Similar to having an unlimited PTO policy, you can combat this inequality in your workforce by offering a global parental leave policy. At Remote, all employees are entitled to a minimum of four months leave, regardless of where they live.
It’s also important to consider fathers, the partners of the birthing parent, and those having a child through non-traditional means (like adoption or surrogacy) when creating your leave policies. Having the support of a partner with time off is key to helping the birthing parent successfully get back to work.
3. Your German employees earn significantly more than your Spanish employees for the same work.
The issue of equal pay across regions is complicated. It's something I see all the time in my global friend group and professional network.
There are few things as demotivating as finding out you’re getting paid significantly less than others on your team. In fact, this realization can be downright devastating, especially if you’re a hard worker who is outpacing your peers.
If there’s a large disparity in pay and/or quality of life between workers in one country compared to another, your employees will eventually find out and your company culture will suffer as a result.
With cost of living increasing rapidly across the globe, this issue is more important than ever. Many countries and cities that were once thought to be cheap to live in are catching up to major markets in the West, but salaries are not keeping pace.
So what can you do to combat this inequality in your workforce?
There’s no simple answer, but you have some options:
1. Equal pay for equal work: Offer standardized salaries based solely on role and seniority instead of location.
2. Base pay on up-to-date COL data: Many companies choose to adjust pay based on local COL to create an “equal experience” across their workforce. This is all well and good, but you can’t offer salaries based on outdated ideas of how much it costs to live in a place and without recent data to inform your decisions. There are many services out there that provide current global salary data — seek those out and continue to adjust employee salaries annually as cost of living increases.
4. Your American employees can’t afford good medical care compared to team members in other countries.
There is nothing more stressful than dealing with health issues, especially when it’s a struggle to afford the quality of care you need.
A notable example of this is America, where there is no national health insurance. Pre-retirement workers who don’t have insurance through their employer, spouse, or parent have to purchase health insurance through a marketplace, and rates can be astronomical depending on where they live and what their demographic situation or medical needs are. If they don’t have insurance, dealing with health issues that come up can easily cost thousands of dollars or even six/seven-figures depending on the extent of treatment required. In fact, many Americans live with crippling medical debt that they can never pay off.
This experience is wildly different from that of employees who live in countries where access to quality healthcare is widely available and free or low-cost, like in much of Europe. For those workers, the anxiety of having to pay huge medical bills while also struggling with health issues is unimaginable.
As an employer, the best way to combat this inequality is by offering the option for supplemental local health insurance to all employees. If you are unable to work with local providers in every country where your employees reside, a good solution is a monthly stipend for employees to purchase their own insurance.
In 2022 I wrote Remote’s Guide to Global Benefits, which outlines in detail how to create equality in the workplace through benefits policies. You can download it for free here!
5. Your Nepali employees are staying online til midnight while American employees get to work standard hours.
Time zone inequality is a big problem in the future of work, and one that doesn’t get addressed nearly enough.
This is a real example as someone who has managed and collaborated with a Nepalese development team for years while working for American clients. I’ve seen clients insist that the Nepal team be present on 9am PST calls, completely disregarding the drastic time difference. And that’s not okay.
Being forced to work late at night on a regular basis can be extremely disruptive to a person’s sleep and detrimental to their physical and mental health. It’s also just inconsiderate and can make your team members feel like they aren’t valued as equals.
To combat time zone inequality, it’s best to have a company culture that relies on asynchronous communication and documentation rather than frequent calls and stand-ups. Being async-first is simply the most scalable solution when you’re hiring globally.
If you do need to have team calls, try to find times that fall within standard working hours for everyone. If that’s not possible, alternate times — one week have a call that favors team members in APAC, and the following week have one that favors EMEA or North America/LATAM. This way, folks can be on the calls that work best for their time zone and preferred work schedule.