CWS 3.0: May 2, 2012

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Temporary Commuter Assignments

At a recent Staffing Industry Analysts’ conference, I was talking with a strategic sourcing manager of a U.S. corporation that has manufacturing facilities around the world. The topic of the conversation was the secondment of their U.S. employees to one of their operations in China and the associated compliance issues that this entailed. At the time I wondered whether this type of worker should be classified as contingent.

Recruiting and retaining employees who can adapt successfully to living and working abroad in addition to having the right technical skills has always been a challenge for international business. Using different international assignment types alongside the traditional long-term approach can give companies greater freedom to match the needs of the business with that of the individual. One of these is the international commuter assignment, a global concept which appears to be growing in popularity.

As the fulfilment of temporary needs such as projects or mergers is by far the biggest reason for companies to send employees on commuter assignments, it is understandable that some companies may consider these individuals to be contingent, particularly in the country where they have been temporarily assigned to work.

Compliance is a major challenge
Taxation and other compliance issues such as immigration and visas, complexity of administration and time lost through commuting are generally cited as the main challenges for commuter assignments. Clearly, the advantages that come with being able to get an employee into a location quickly need to be balanced against administrative concerns. To ensure acceptable return on investment, not to mention staying on the right side of the law, these need to be addressed effectively. However, it is commonly reported that responsibility for the process of managing commuter assignments is often spread throughout the organization, which makes being compliant even more challenging.

Consistent and cost-effective outcomes
Commuter assignments offer a means of providing pragmatic, practical and flexible support to international business. However, this can come at a cost, particularly because their very ad hoc nature leaves companies exposed to the pitfalls that come with a lack of centralized coordination. If these types of assignments are to deliver consistent and cost-effective outcomes that comply with fiscal and immigration regulations, rigorous management and co-ordination between HR and line managers responsible is essential.

Perhaps this explains why the strategic sourcing manager wanted to pick my brain that day.

Martin Glick is senior associate of global compliance with Brightfield Strategies LLC, which helps Fortune 500 companies with contingent workforce strategy initiatives such as program design, VMS/MSP sourcing and selection, and global program compliance. He can be reached at mglick@brightfieldstrategies.com.

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