The JGM BitBlog: Bridging distance through zooming? Unveiling the effectiveness of virtual assignments.
Luisa Wicht, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
Dirk Holtbrügge, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
The modern workplace has witnessed a significant transformation with the rise of virtual assignments, a concept where assignees work remotely from their home base, instead of relocating to host locations. This approach offers various advantages over traditional international assignments, including enhanced flexibility, cost-efficiency, and the possibility for assignees to stay rooted in their home communities. However, they also bear disadvantages, such as weaker personal relationships and potential misunderstandings due to a lack of face-to-face contact. Therefore, the significant question arises: Are virtual assignments as effective as their traditional counterparts?
In our study, we compare the ability of virtual and traditional assignees to bridge the distance between headquarters and subsidiaries, shedding light on the effectiveness of virtual assignments. Findings of this study revealed that virtual assignees have a similar ability to bridge cultural, functional, geographic, and language distance as compared to traditional assignees. However, it is important to recognize that traditional assignments still hold an advantage when it comes to bridging emotional and temporal distance. This implies that meaningful face-to-face interactions and physical presence in the host country play a crucial role in addressing these particular facets of distance.
It is interesting to note that virtual assignees' ability to bridge temporal and geographic distance differs, although the two distances might seem interlinked. The assignment type does not affect the assignees' ability to bridge geographic distance, whereas it influences the ability to bridge temporal distance. While the geographic distance between the virtual assignees and their team members does not matter, the difference in time zones is of decisive importance. It is therefore crucial to consider the ability to bridge geographic and temporal distance separately and not combine them into one factor. Only by understanding the nuances of distance-bridging abilities, organizations can unlock the true potential of virtual assignments.
In sum, as captured in the title of this BitBlog, "Bridging distance through zooming?", it is apparent that virtual assignees are indeed able to bridge several facets of distance. This implies that the latest type of global mobility can be effective. Due to lower costs and reduced coordination efforts associated with virtual assignments, they should be preferred, if cultural, functional, geographic, and language distances are the most problematic aspects during international assignments. However, in order to navigate the challenges posed by distance in our interconnected world, creating a harmonious blend of virtual and traditional assignments is essential.
To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Wicht, L. and Holtbrügge, D. (2023), "Bridging distance through zooming? The use of virtual assignments in multinational corporations", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 179-199. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-10-2022-0056" target="_blank" rel="noopener">https://doi.org/10.1108/JGM-10-2022-0056