The rise of the commuters

If you have participated in any remote global mobility seminars over the past few months, you have heard corporate mobility professionals discussing the need for policy changes for assignees due to the COVID pandemic. Alternatives to long-term assignments such as short-term stays, one-way transfers, and commuter assignments are gaining attention and have been on the rise as a way to meet global staffing needs. Of the three types of alternative assignments, commuters are growing in popularity.

Commuter assignments are expected to increase further over the next three years based on employee demand and issues surrounding the family. Employee-requested commuter arrangements are on the upswing. They allow for one partner to work abroad without disrupting their partner’s career or schooling for the children.

Currently, companies view commuter assignments as a cost-saving measure.  They can more quickly launch an employee into an assignment as compared to the time it takes to organize a long-term assignment. However, when these two types of assignments are compared side-by-side, commuters may not be necessarily cheaper.  While the salary package for a commuter assignment is leaner and there is no cost of relocation, there is still the cost of the weekly commute, daily living expenses and accommodations in the host location.

The biggest challenge for managing commuter assignments is immigration and tax compliance. International commuters can be exceptionally complex with regard to the liabilities and payroll obligations in both the home and host countries, and perhaps in other locations where they may work during a given period. Engaging professionals with expertise in both tax and social security compliance is a must.

Border closings due to the pandemic have given global mobility professionals time to review policies for this type of assignment. Best practices for compensation and benefits have been shared between companies especially regarding temporary, permanent or self-initiated commuters as this category of assignments will continue to grow.  Most commuters return home once a week with the company picking up the cost of the flight home.  Other benefits that companies provide are temporary housing, medical insurance, travel insurance, and to some extent, a transportation allowance.

In addition, to support the success of the commuter assignment, many companies provide destination information resources and online cultural training that can be accessed at the commuter’s convenience. This is especially important as the commuter has a shorter amount of time in the host office to work effectively. Understanding the cultural work style of the host location will ensure a smoother and more successful transition.  Both destination information and online culture training are cost-effective ways to support your commuters!