Are virtual assignees the new expatriates ?


Julianne Liebert

Are virtual assignees the new expatriates ?

Key points, challenges and advantages about choosing virtual assignments instead of traditional expatriation packages for your employees.



With a major switch in the recruiting methods due to the pandemic crisis and the close of most borders, companies have had to deal with a new types of workers : digital nomads , remote workers (whether domestic or in another country), and virtual assignees.


What on Earth is a virtual assignment?

Can it be applicable and profitable to your company?


Let’s find out more about this new way (but already super trendy) of assigning employees.



What is a virtual assignment ?


Basically, a virtual assignment, also called virtual mobility, is the assignment of an employee to perform tasks remotely.

The specification here is that the employee can be working at home in their country of origin while the business is literally in another country, or, performing their tasks in another country of their choice that is neither their home country nor the home country of the company/business.



The rise of virtual assignments


ECA’s latest mobility survey published on february 2021 already showed a real upward trend in the use of virtual assignment.


Results show that only 5% of companies had virtual assignment policies in place before the Pandemic, but 42% of those surveyed introduced one since the Pandemic (or were planning to). 

The main reasons for this rise, at the moment of the study (in a context of lockdowns and close of borders), were: to start assignments even though relocation was not possible (74%), to continue assignments even when employees had to leave their host country (65%) and to continue working while waiting for repatriation (39%).


A majority of the surveyed companies (59%) already planned to keep their virtual assignments policy post-pandemic.



Another study from KPMG published in late 2021 shows that 12% of companies were opting for virtual assignments. Although domestic remote working (42%) and cross-border short-term remote working (22%) were still ranked at the top, virtual assignments remain more used than hiring talents in another country (9%) or cross-border mid/long-term remote working (8%).


The area of study should also be considered as the Asia-Pacific (ASPAC) region as the results are slightly different: virtual assignments are ranked 2nd (26%) on the remote working pattern, when ranked 3rd for EMA (11%) and Americas (8%). Domestic remote work remains in the 1st place in any case: 46% for Americas, 43% for EMA and 32% for ASPAC.


The same study tend to reveal that ASPAC countries are more likely to choose virtual remote working due to the entry restrictions they faced during the Covid19 pandemic. Indeed, this area was one of the most restricted in terms of travels and lockdowns, thus people and companies had to adapt quickly and durably.



A win-win agreement ?


Many  benefits  arise from the growing number of virtual assignments:


  • resilience: after the crisis period we’ve all been through, resilience has become a key word in our everyday life. In any case of another crisis (pandemic, geopolitical…), your virtual assignee, just like a traditional expatriate, may be forced to leave the country for their safety. Nevertheless, unlike the traditional expatriate who may be working at the office, the virtual assignee will be able to adapt and work elsewhere (digital nomad mode *activated*), and such agile and flexible workforce allows business continuity.


  • reduced costs: while packages for expatriates can occur massive costs and be time consuming, virtual assignees are, generally speaking, less expensive. Immigration and relocation packages (whether you have the internal resources or you hire a professional to handle it - like Cooptalis, just saying -) versus a few business trips ? The calculation is pretty quick.


  • family life: this one is pretty obvious and naturally follows the previous point. A short/long-term expatriate will certainly have to bring their family (bringing all the processes linked - relocation, school, etc) or if not possible, go through some serious personal issues which may lead to decline or quit… With the virtual assignment, there is no such change in your employee’s daily life. No drama.


  • employability: looking to fill an overseas position with a non local may be super challenging. Moreover, becoming borderless in terms of recruitment is a significant advantage. Wider choice, better candidates.



Challenges and main concerns you should consider


As life is not made of coton candy and unicorns (sorry for that cruel revelation), there are also red flags that are to be considered:


  • tax and compliance: lots of questions need to be asked and answered here. What is the assignee’s residence country? How is the worker employed? And so on. Each country has specific payroll arrangements, employment laws, human resource processes.


  • company culture: It may be hard for an employee to get into the company’s culture when working abroad, and thus feel alone or isolated. The lack of a regular physical presence in the premises may affect professionnal integration. Although everybody is different, most of us enjoy having snack-time moment with their colleagues now and then.


  • immigration issues: choosing a virtual assignment does not prevent you from having immigration concerns. Indeed it all depends on the country of residence of your employee and their situation. Whether they are Italian nationals living and working in Italy for a company based in Shanghai or Italian nationals living and working in Cuba for a company based in Shanghai, different rules may apply.


  • time zones: directly linked to the previous point, working with an overseas virtual assignee may be challenging when it comes to working hours and international time zones.


  • safety and security matters: having an overseas employee may also raise some security issues. Providing your overseas virtual assignee with safe IT supplies and data protection policies is the key to prevent data breaches, as they will access your company’s data from a remote (and sometimes wireless) connection.




Our experts can help you defining which mobility solution would suit your company the best, feel free to contact them !



Julianne Liebert

by Julianne Liebert