Getting real with Virtual Relocation
The idea of virtual relocation has been around longer than Covid-19. Growing businesses in a global marketplace needed a new way of contacting and working with overseas offices. Phone calls weren’t enough for full-time employees to operate remotely, and frequent long haul flights or relocation proved expensive. Virtual relocation was the answer. Technology such as Zoom or Skype, helped multiple people to work together from opposite sides of the globe. Online work storage, such as Google Drive, enabled colleagues to share and edit information effectively as a team. When Covid-19 hit, many businesses were already using remote employees and were prepared. For others, it took time to adapt to a virtual company as a reliance on office life had developed. Virtual relocation was becoming more popular, and more companies than ever were forced to see the benefits of this new version of relocation. But what impact does it have on the people who work in such a remote fashion? By James Belcher.
From face to face to Zoom calling
When new technology became available, the idea of expensive relocation diminished in importance as if it was more of an option rather than a necessity. Now entire teams are trained online, having never met the manager training them in person. Even though this saves a lot of money, it dramatically changes the way we are used to working.
For many years working in close functioning teams has been the way business was done. It has not only been useful in the workplace but also creates a positive social environment. Employees often become close friends with their teammates, boosting brainstorming and innovation, and this is where the cracks in virtual relocation begin to arise. We usually prefer working with people and interacting face to face. Not being able to see your team leaders in person creates large divisions in the effectiveness of the team and the relationship the team members have with each other. Particularly between those working as virtual employees and those working locally in the office.
The social issue
When we talk to each other, we don’t just communicate with our voices. Vast parts of human communication come from expressions in our face and body. Yes, Skype and Zoom conquered much of this problem with efficient video calling but talking to someone on Zoom and talking to them face to face is a very different experience. Most of us have experienced this difference during the Covid-19 lockdown. I can say for sure that seeing friends and family on Zoom did not compensate for actually interacting with those people. The way we interact is vital in a work environment, especially when forming relationships with people is a priority.
Don’t miss the hidden costs
The low cost of virtual relocation is what makes it such an attractive option when managing an international business. Computer equipment such as software and perhaps a boosted internet connection are probably the most expensive parts of virtual relocation. There are, however, non-monetary costs that affect the employee. Lifestyle changes are a considerable cost to the employee. They range from working a different time of day to suffering mental health problems because of a lack of human interaction. As with the advance of all communications technology, the person taking part in virtual relocation could now be available 24/7. This increased workload may have a personal cost to the employee and in turn, the company, with more sick days taken and a lack of productivity.
The culture of the company often derives from its home country. For example, American companies are often known for their harsh, results-driven work ethic. In contrast, Japanese organisations have a reputation for an appreciation of politeness and etiquette. So take an American working for an American company virtually relocating to an office in Japan. They will be familiar with some of the American cultures of the business, but may not be familiar with the office culture in Japan.
It is more challenging for an employee, virtually relocating to pick up and adapt to the cultures of a different country. The reason for this is because they don’t spend their out of office time immersed in that culture. If the employee were relocated in the original sense, they would be fully immersed in the new culture.
A taxing conundrum
One issue that has come into the discussion regarding virtual relocation is about payment and tax. If you have a full-time employee working from America for a Japanese business, which country’s tax laws does that employee obey? Is that single employee acting as an American office of the Japanese corporation and therefore abiding by American law? Or does the fact that he is remotely working from America in a Japanese office mean he should stick to Japanese law? Currently, you abide by the laws of the country in which you work. However, more businesses are suffering from the cost of employing remote workers from countries with high taxes or living costs.
Making virtual as real as possible
Virtual relocation is not a simple matter of setting up a Zoom account, and you’re done. As I have shown the modern convention of virtual relocation is not as easy as it appears. There are many factors to take into account when virtually relocating. The primary concern is the cost to the employee and their ability to work effectively.
Currently, the most used tool is video calling, and even though it is good to see the other person, nothing can replace an in-person meeting. However, we must look towards the future, and the possibilities technology could bring us. As we have seen during Covid-19, we have been forced to embrace technology, and acclimatise to a world in a pandemic. Being relocated virtually could work well in the future, with more advanced technology like live-streaming VR, 360 degrees streaming and 5G. These are just some of the ideas Lookseecity is exploring to make virtual relocation a more reliable form of working. One great example is Lookseecity's new service to make it easier for Virtual Assignees to get to know their team, even if they don't meet them in person. Take a look at our Virtual Onboarding.