International Remote Working and Virtual Assignments Survey

How do multinational companies effectively navigate the challenges of managing a remote global workforce in today's dynamic business environment? Has remote working become a “must have” for global talent acquisition and retention?

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, numerous employees were required to transition to remote work, making the management of a distributed workforce a top priority for organizations. In 2021, we ran a survey on international remote working and virtual assignments.

Our survey participants included:

Overview of participation statistics from Mercer's 2021 International Remote Working and Virtual Assignments Survey. It had 230 participant companies with an average of 54,677 full-time employees each. Thirteen industries were represented. More than 70% of participating individuals work a their company's global headquarters.

Survey topics

  • Strategies employed by companies in managing virtual international assignments and international remote work
  • Adoption of virtual assignments as a new option for international assignments
  • Extent to which companies empower employees to engage in remote work on an international scale

At that time, more than three-quarters of respondents reported supporting International Remote Working and/or Virtual Assignments:

  • Close to 20% of companies had already developed specific guidelines (12%) or an addendum to an existing policy (7%)
  • More than 60% of companies cited bringing jobs to people and expanding the talent pool as key actual or expected advantages of introducing virtual assignments or international remote working
  • Among those that indicated having IRW or VA in 2020–2021, more than 60% reported that this resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic

2023 Spot Survey

Recently, we conducted a spot survey to understand how multinational companies have evolved their approach to international remote working.

Select findings

78% allow temporary international working (IRW): 40% case by case and 38% with a policy or guidelines in place. Among the ones not allowing international remote working, the main reasons are that they find IRW too risky from a compliance perspective (68%) and too complex to administer (47%).

Close to a quarter (24%) have not set any maximum duration for IRW but half allow up to 30 days or less. Most (70%) allow IRW more than once a year.

Among those who allow international remote working, most expect an increase in numbers.

45% can track how long and where their employees work internationally remotely; about a third would like to but do not have the adequate processes/tools to do so. Only 12% have a tool that allows tracking international remote working.

More than half either have specific guidelines (40%) or an addendum to an existing policy (15%).

The main reason why companies offer IRW is about flexibility to respond to employees' situations/fix ad-hoc issues. The top challenge is tax compliance/permanent establishment risk.

Feasibility of international remote working is typically assessed ad hoc (70%) rather than with a country matrix internal tool (16%) or an external provider or tool (3%).

For just over a quarter, IRW is a must have but a majority are more nuanced.

Apart from compliance requirements, access and legal constraints, nature of the job (74%) and location where IRW is requested (69%) are the main factors impacting eligibility to international remote working.

More than half are either satisfied or even very satisfied of their IRW offering. At the same time, 93% do not have any metrics to track the success of international remote working.

To take steps towards embracing remote work as a strategic advantage, we encourage you to download and read our comprehensive International Remote Work Framework and Assessment. This resource provides practical guidance on evaluating remote work requests, aligning them with your business objectives, and navigating the complexities of international remote work.

For more information and to get started today, please download the International Remote Work Framework and Assessment.

Read more or request assessment

Questions? Contact us for more information.

Related insights Looking for answers to complex questions related to working from anywhere? Read recent articles from Mercer experts to learn more about the challenges and solutions for international remote work and virtual assignments. 

Explore insights