Getting to Grips With Virtual Assignments: Mobility’s First-Ever AMA

August 4, 2020

Ask Me Anything: Virtual Assignments on insideMOBILITY Slack

Graebel hosts the mobility industry’s first-ever AMA session on Slack. The topic? Virtual assignments.

In the run-up to June’s insideMOBILITY Digital 2020, Graebel created a new Slack community for mobility professionals. The peer-to-peer platform, which has over 150 members to date, enables an ongoing exchange of ideas and dialogue on industry issues and developments.

Building on the momentum generated since launch, at the end of July insideMOBILITY hosted its first-ever ask-me-anything (AMA) Slack session on virtual assignments (VAs) – a topic which has generated a lot of interest as companies look to increase flexibility and minimize travel in response to the global pandemic.

To host the session, Graebel enlisted subject matter expert Andy King from Improbable. Andy has managed over 30 VAs in the past and currently has 20 employees on virtual assignment around the world, having seen a sharp rise in activity in this area over the last three months. During a set hour, attendees were able to log in live to ask King anything they wanted on the subject of VAs, with posted questions answered in real time via on-screen text dialogue.

VA definition and support

King began by explaining that there are two types of virtual assignment. The first involves a virtual assignee staying in their home country while delivering a project/job remotely in another country. The second involves an assignee staying in a foreign country while delivering a project/job remotely in another country – which, he was quick to point out, is not the same thing as someone managing or regularly visiting a region to support a specific function.

Responding to a number of interesting questions from session participants, King next addressed the issue of VA support. Many of the services required for conventional, physical assignments, he said, will still be needed for VAs – for example, cultural and language training. But others will have to adapt to the new reality of Covid-19. Indeed, more educational and cultural products might be required, explained King, to support the volume reduction in physical services.

Tax implications

But what about cross-border tax liabilities, participants wanted to know, and other complexities such as transfer pricing? Tax is certainly a tricky subject in the context of VAs, said King, as each country has different rules and different treaties with other countries. A good approach, he suggested, is for companies to grow their tax knowledge on a case-by-case basis. They should build a set of instructions or policies for the country where the assignee is based, and the country where the work is delivered.

Joining the discussion, Jil Solanki from PwC agreed, pointing out that an employee’s personal circumstances may also “trip up tax treaties”, leading to further obligations being required of a company. For this and other reasons, she cautioned that businesses need to be aware of the additional exposure that may arise through VA arrangements.

Keeping employees engaged

Another key theme emerging from the session was the need to keep employees engaged during the VA experience. “It’s easy to feel disconnected working remotely,” observed one participant, asking King how companies can help virtual assignees feel ‘part of the team’.

In response, King recommended virtual stand-ups at the beginning and end of each day “to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly”, along with virtual game nights and quizzes. He also urged companies to makes use of video conferencing tools to nurture a sense of inclusion, while describing how some businesses are even using virtual reality to boost engagement.

Find out more

Throughout this wide-ranging and dynamic session, participants were keen to hear about all manner of issues and insights linked to virtual assignments. Establishing best practice, managing employee expectations and immigration were just some of the other subjects covered.

King’s response to specific questions, and the discussions that followed, can be found in full at the insideMOBILTIY Slack Community, click here to request access.  

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