Realization: How do I make a difference?

A journey through COVID-19

May 1, 2020



Katherine Avery

Katherine Avery

Principal, Global Mobility Services, KPMG US

+1 408-367-2237

Robert Smith

Robert Smith

Senior Manager, Tax, Global Mobility Services, KPMG US

+1 408-367-2787

A quick note: Regress vs. progress

As we noted in our last article on the Inaction stage, you have reached a key point in the COVID-19 curve where you may regress into Fear and Crisis Management or move forward into Realization. Forward and backward momentum may happen as new information emerges or external factors change. Therefore, the re-emergence of Fear is not a failure on the part of your Crisis Management response but can be caused by factors beyond your control. The real test of success is whether you can leave behind the original Fear response and move forward into Realization.

Emerging from Inaction: Learning and adapting

As an individual and organization, you’ve now reached and experienced the point of Inaction, a time of self-reflection and decreased productivity, and are now ready to move into the next phase, Realization – a review on past actions with an emphasis on learning and improving.

Realization is critical to ongoing organizational success as it provides a point-in-time review of past work viewed through a future-ready lens. In this phase, learning is the currency and adapting is the key to success.

This phase starts with a review of past successes and failures within your response plan, program, and your overall business framework. Being truthful and objective in this review is essential in emerging stronger and should be an imperative. This is a time to make critical judgements, voice concerns, and honestly define what is and isn’t working. The goal: to transform your business operations.

This will ultimately answer the question: “How do I make a difference?”

Embracing Realization: Hit the restart button

In business when there’s a downturn, transformation occurs. This is true for all parts of the business including HR and Mobility. Realization is one of the most important phases of the COVID-19 curve because it requires a level of both personal and organizational objectivity that may be uncomfortable but is critical for transformation.

As a mobility/HR professional, your role during this time is two-fold. One, cultivate or reinforce a culture of honesty and openness and, two, ignite the motivation in individuals to come out of the Inaction phase with a heightened interest in future organizational success.

What’s key here is to learn, generate new ideas, and define how to do things differently. Our checklist below is designed to help start this process providing themes that have emerged throughout our response to COVID-19. Transformation begins with an understanding that things will not go back to the way they were and that we have to create and embrace a “new normal.” Many things, both in business and our personal lives, have changed requiring us to adapt and transform – going back to “the way things were” is not going to be a viable option.

Learning, adapting, and transforming make up the Realization phase. To provide you with a pragmatic approach to move through Realization, we have included a Business Transformation Checklist. This checklist addresses what we are hearing in the marketplace and highlights key themes that have emerged during COVID-19.

Business Transformation Checklist


Currently, most companies are not repatriating the majority of assignees but are allowing them to remain in host locations. Companies have also suspended the majority of upcoming assignments with plans to resume assignments as soon as feasibly possible. This has led to an emphasis on global work flexibility and alternative work arrangements from working remotely during shelter-in-place regulations to working from other locations or countries. Repatriation is currently being handled on a one-off basis by most organizations.

Companies that can do so have allowed employees to change their working arrangements while maintaining salary and benefit packages. This is driving more positive feedback on work from home arrangements. We fully anticipate work from home or “Work Anywhere” arrangements to continue for several months with many becoming an ongoing part of a company’s corporate culture.

What this means for Realization: COVID-19 has forced us to learn to “Work Anywhere” and how to adapt to new work arrangements and technology. Important to note is that while physical connectivity has decreased, connecting with others, even virtually, is vital to both personal and professional success.

Some things to consider:

  • Did your mobile workforce receive the right amount of support when and how they needed it?
  • Did your mobile workforce receive the effective just-in-time communications?
  • Did your mobile employees have a choice to evacuate or stay? What are the longer-term consequences of these choices?
  • Does your technology mix allow mobile employees to maintain relationships and collaborate with others?


Mobility departments are working to better understand the current and future effects of COVID-19 on both employees and the company’s finances. A key component of mobility’s ask at this time is to look at changing costs including exchange rate volatility and increases in overall costs of living expenses arising from COVID-19. These changes in expenses may include additional temporary housing, storage, travel, and increases to hardship allowances to name a few.

What this means for Realization: One of the fundamental requirements of a mobility program is a duty of care framework to support your employees. During COVID-19, this importance has been magnified. Now is the time to evaluate the efficacy of your duty of care services.

Some things to consider:

  • Did the level of duty of care meet the needs of your employees across the globe? Did they feel the company was looking out for their needs?
  • Did you have access to the right information, data, and tools at the right time?
  • Did vendors provide required support? Did some suppliers impress you with how they’ve stepped up to partner during this time, whereas others fell short of your expectations?

Tax and Compliance (including Compensation and Benefits):

Many countries are enacting legislation to assist both employers and employees during shelter in place orders related to COVID-19.  In the United States, this includes the CARES Act, tax filing extension, and Section 139 relief which are designed to ease the burden of COVID-19 on both employees and employers.

While the IRS has issued extended filing deadlines and guidance, it’s important to work with your vendor network to stay up to date on changes both domestically and internationally as there are still jurisdictions who have not yet released guidance.

What this means for Realization: This is a fast-paced environment changing daily.  It’s important to keep tuned into changes as they happen and to have partners who assist in staying on top of those changes.

Some things to consider:

  • How do we manage extended filing deadlines while continuing to provide a high level of care to employees?
  • If jurisdictions have not provided updated guidance, how do we ensure that we remain compliant?
  • Do I have the right knowledge or do I have a vendor who can provide information to my employees on the CARES Act?
  • How do I apply Section 139 to enhance employee’s work experience while correctly accounting for expenditures?


Payroll has been greatly affected by COVID-19, specifically in cases where individuals have been repatriated and have not met specific residency requirements. Luckily, like the United States, many countries have extended tax deadlines as well as payroll withholding deadlines placing less burden on you and your employees as you concentrate on duty of care, not payroll.

Shelter-in-Place orders have also impacted working locations for individuals who live and work across state or international borders. In the U.S., several states have written telecommuting policies creating a new point of review and compliance considerations.

What this means for Realization: COVID-19 has impressed upon us that mobile employee payroll is expanding as work anywhere arrangements become part of the “new normal.” It’s important to monitor ongoing changes to payroll and withholding regulations as COVID-19 will have both short-and long-term implications.

Some things to consider:

  • How well are we tracking employee presence so we know how to maintain payroll compliance?
  • Are we able to meet new payroll and withholding requirements with our current technology and vendor relationships?
  • If “work anywhere” policies become part of our standard arrangement, how will payroll adapt and ensure accurate withholding and compliance?


As of today, Immigration seems to be one of the most impacted areas and one that causes the most concern. This includes considerations for individuals in the U.S. on visas who are currently out of the country and individuals who were planning to come to the United States and have already received their Visas but are unable to work in the host location.

What this means for Realization: Similar to tax, this is a fast-paced environment changing daily.  It’s important to keep tuned into changes as they happen and to have vendor partners who assist in staying on top of those changes.

Some things to consider:

  • How do I look at all in-progress moves and planned repatriations and assess immigration impacts and different move options?
  • What countries have issued travel restrictions, when will they be lifted, and when will normal immigration processes resume?
  • How do remote working arrangements change what we need?

In summary, we continue to see companies focusing on duty of care much more than cost or compliance.  As we move through the remainder of the COVID-19 curve, we anticipate that cost and compliance will become areas of priority.