Authors: Jane Wood – RSM Australia, Ichwan Sukardi – RSM Indonesia, Eric Chen – RSM Hong Kong, and Aki Murayama – RSM Japan  

The transforming mobility landscape

As the pandemic continues to evolve, and its impact on international business continues to be felt, global organisations are adapting the ways in which they work. In this second article in our series, we explore an Asia Pacific perspective.

The business world has adapted to the concept of virtual meetings, online communications, and remote working. For many companies the extent to which employees need to be in a traditional office location is still evolving and will continue to do so depending on the needs of the business, and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

The pandemic has shown the extent to which we are living in a highly connected world and society. International travel virtually ceased or was dramatically curtailed in 2020/21, however global supply chains, international business opportunities and the search for global talent remain key to the future success of international companies. Therefore, although globalisation has slowed down in 2020/21, it has not stopped, nor will it disappear.

International assignments will remain important for companies as they seek to develop their global businesses in this new environment. However, global mobility policies will need to focus critically on the objectives and structure of future assignments rather than the physical location. The effective use of digital tools to share information and support connectivity between teams across multiple countries will be essential, along with IT security and the maintenance of robust data privacy and compliance policies. To the extent that work cannot be done remotely, businesses will require strategies and policies to safely operate physical secondments where required (and to have in place effective contingency plans which can be implemented if local circumstances change, and skills and resources are not available locally).  

At this stage of the pandemic, it is unknown whether we can expect to return to the same volume of assignments globally as pre-2020, or if these will be restricted to the senior and technical positions, where there are specific requirements for those people to be in an overseas location. The trend is currently towards hybrid structures, a virtual working arrangement but one that provides flexibility for both employers and employees to transition to physical relocation if required, but also one that provides for a reversion to virtual if required by the circumstances of the pandemic. In this environment global mobility teams can add significant value to the business by providing clarity on the objectives of the assignment, providing effective reporting lines, and putting in place internal and external support where required to ensure the business is sufficiently robust to withstand unexpected shocks such as loss of key customers, suppliers or staff or physical disruptions from lockdowns.  

Information and documentation management, along with good communication will form a strong foundation for both employees and employers to efficiently discharge their tax compliance requirements, as well as providing the data the business requires to respond the ongoing changes caused by the pandemic.

In the early stages of the pandemic tax concessions and wage subsidies were put in place by many countries to support both employers and employees. Additionally, in some countries, revenue authorities provided temporary concessions where individuals were unexpectedly required to work in an unscheduled location. As we settle on the “new normal” in 2021, global businesses should undertake a risk review of their prior arrangements, check that all required information is available, confirm any uncertain tax positions, and file the tax returns that are required in the relevant countries. Given the wide range of potential tax issues that may have arisen, external advice or consultation with the revenue authority may be required for significant issues. Once the prior position is clarified, the business should review its 2021 decisions and assumptions and make the required changes.

Global companies continue to need international skills to support their business growth, and to provide opportunities for their people. Well-developed but flexible assignment policies, excellent digital technology and clear communication between employers and employees will provide the basis for successful global mobility in 2021 and beyond.