How do Global Mobility Professionals demonstrate more Value?

 

Guest Post by Kevin Castro

In a survey commissioned in 2019 by Santa Fe Relocation Services and conducted by Savanta, a critical view is revealed on how and why Global Mobility professionals need to take action to affect change. 

The findings suggest again that even now, not all stakeholders are aware of the full roles performed by Global Mobility and that there is an opportunity here to educate both internal and external stakeholders on the true future potential that Global Mobility brings to an organisation and its development. This is further underpinned by John Rason, Group Head of Consulting, Santa Fe Relocation, who identifies that: “Those of us working in the Global Mobility industry will tell you that it can be frustrating, challenging, complex—sometimes even scary. However, when executed well it can also be exciting, fulfilling…” 

You can request a copy of the report by clicking here

While Senior Leadership recognizes the role that GM professionals play in the organization, does it transcend to having real benefits for those supporting the company’s best talents i.e. not feeling under-resourced or undervalued?

Perhaps only for some. As GM professionals, how can we further demonstrate value in order to improve the team’s perception and thus influence how the organization provides support to the team? It is evident from the above quote that challenging, rewarding work is being done but not being recognized at all junctures. In fact, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international travel and thus international assignments and GM in general, Global Mobility professionals have stepped up in a big way to manage and facilitate expats stranded in foreign countries, navigating complicated and unknown pathways to providing them essential support.

Such value should not go unappreciated. In light of that, I have listed four points, which I hope can help you and your teams increase your value in the organization:

1. Get a Seat at the Table 

Do you have Joint-Business Planning with your HR & Business Leaders? If none yet, you should start engaging them in order to better understand their goals, focus, and how you can support Talent Strategy. This may lead to an easier path in demonstrating your value to the business as you will get to know how and where to play towards their goals. Does your company do assignee pre-screening, where you determine the suitable candidates for the international assignments? If not, this is something that you can explore and introduce. If done right, you avoid the pitfalls of selecting the wrong people. 

2. Communicate Your Value, Regularly and Consistently

Do you consistently communicate what you have achieved, the projects you initiated? Ensure that you communicate the things that you do and how you have supported the business. A study by Cartus in 2016, a global relocation services provider, found out that 54% of companies lack focus on tracking and reporting on assignments. Hence, it is high time to gather that data (assignment success, costs, the return on investment, assignees feedback, etc.) and have a regular newsletter, blog post or presentation at your next strategy and planning meeting. As my clients always ask, how will I know if the expat assignment is successful? Presenting reports is useful to communicate such info. 

3. Demonstrate Why Your Expertise Matters

You are the expert, and you should try to demonstrate this frequently. You can do this through sharing GM insights, trends, and how these contribute to business or talent strategy. If the opportunity is available to increase your Global Mobility expertise through having certification and further studies. GM organizations and consultancy organizations provide certifications/courses, where you can further deepen your mobility knowledge. For example, Global People Transitions offers the FlyMe! Program, a career coaching geared towards Global Mobility professionals.

An academic course to certify you as a “Global Mobility Advisor” is available with Expatise Academy in collaboration with Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

4. Be Flexible and Agile 

In previous years, the goal was to ensure that you arrange logistics and meet compliance needs, which are more transactional. In today’s world, the role expands and you are now viewed by the business as a strategic partner not merely as administrators. You should always understand what is important to the business. Today, the focus may be costs, but it might be something else in three months’ time. Keep your eyes and ears open for this and be agile and flexible.

In addition, as practitioner (in-house or outsourced),tyou should also be aware of trends in terms of mobility practices and service delivery.  You can start by looking at how technology affects the delivery. Do all assignees adapt to these changes, or do we provide omnichannel delivery? What do other companies do?  Such questions might lead you to new service delivery models or enhancement.

I hope these four points will prove to be beneficial for you and will help your team to push more value to the organization. So, don’t forget to get a seat, market your value, be the expert and be agile and flexible.

I remember a conversation with my previous boss, where he shared with me that HR is a cost-generating function, so it might sometimes receive smaller budgets (e.g. hiring additional headcount, higher bonus, etc.). However, HR’s role has transformed itself from a back-office support function into a more strategic business partner. This principle should also apply on Global Mobility regardless of where it is structured in the company. In fact, as the Santa Fe survey points out, Global Mobility is now increasingly connecting more formally with broader HR and Centres of Excellence subjects such as: workforce planning, innovative policies and advisory services (to both executive management and employees).

To summarise, in today’s world, Global Mobility teams are and will continue to become more valuable than ever!

P.S Sign up for FlyMe! now. If you would like to become a Global Mobility Specialist or deepen your knowledge, improve your skill set and build your professional network at the same time, this program is for you. Read in details below.

 

Kevin Castro is a Filipino by birth, who lived in Singapore for almost 8 years and is now residing in Zurich. A Global Mobility professional, with experience in Mobility Operations, HR Services, Project & Supplier Management, and Customer Service. He is currently learning German and at the same time enjoying cooking & curating travel experiences.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-castro-37010a49/

Our Ten Commandments for the Global Mobility Manager

Photo by Luna Darrous

We have lived in a world dominated by political, economic, and environmental uncertainty for many years. However, the past three years have been exceptional and challenging for most of us. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has brought the entire planet to its knees. The pandemic impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. The world of Global Mobility will never be the same. We are beyond Global Mobility and ride into a new way of working.

Considering the impact caused by the pandemic, it does not take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility Managers will have to deal with the blow of the crisis in the years to come. If you thought that one global crisis was enough, you were up for a shock in February of this year when Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Geopolitical tension, including in and around China, seems more pervasive than ever. Insecurity around energy, food supplies, inflation, and other dystopian scenarios cause many anxieties and mental health issues. The Global Mobility Manager of 2022 is a crisis manager. All “crisis” cycles show that Global Mobility Managers continue to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming up with immediate and creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. 

Imagine the difficulty of suddenly repatriating an Expat (or an Expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. You might have to find a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but had to postpone their departure. Their household goods are on their way to the host location. You book a serviced apartment for them in the home country.

Teams in war zones continue to work or relocate to a haven, refugees integrate into the workforce, and business travelers overstretch their stays in locations and create a tax liability.

Having handled many crises in the past, guarding the life of Expat families has become our daily bread. We continue to bring the human touch back into Global Mobility. As I already mentioned in my book in 2019, it is more important for all of us to keep our sanity. It’s more important than ever to put on our oxygen masks and work on our inner strength. 

Let’s continue to build up our support gang and raise the next generation of Global Mobility Managers through an excellent education with the Global Mobility Master Course at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. I also favor a mentor system where experienced Global Mobility Jedis foster and guide a Padawan. (Yes, I draw much inspiration from movies, books, and music.) 

When you need guidance, we all have our favorite book, and I turned to my religion for advice and found a fantastic guideline for the winter to come.

1) I am the EXPAT, your client: You shall not have strange people before me.

 

Our Expat population is changing. Nowadays, an ever more diverse population is embarking on international assignments. Expats vary in cultural background, family situation, age, gender, etc. It is impossible to address these various groups’ needs in a one-size-fits-all policy. A more diverse workforce equals a variety of individual assignees’ expectations, resulting in a proposition that might be desirable for one employee while not appealing for another. The Expat is our main client. We need to take care of their interests before we consider other parties in the process. In case of doubt, focus on people over processes (see also: Agile Manifesto).

In the AIRINC Mobility Outlook Survey 2021, 65% of respondents expect that the demand for flexibility from the business will increase. Meanwhile, 52% of the companies surveyed expect that adding more flexibility to policies is the best response to this demand, followed by 28% who think using a wider variety of policy types is the better solution. According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, the most popular policy elements for which the participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

2) You shall not take the name of the POLICY, your bible in vain.

 

There are reasons for quoting the policy, the law, or other regulatory insights. However, this should not be your go-to-wording for anything that “is not possible.” With the crisis, we all accepted that the duty of care belongs to our role. Policies should foster the well-being of employees. 

Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. In my view, we will be moving away from policies altogether and designing individual packages for the Expat that fits like a bespoke, handmade business suit.

We mentioned last year that immigration gets more complex, and it could be that the host country’s legislation has not kept up with modern family constructs, for example. Communication about what is possible and how we can support it is critical here. Communicate openly about longer lead times and backlogs at authorities (for example, post-BREXIT, the UK immigration process currently takes much longer than we were used to.).

 3) Remember to keep holy the DIGITAL DETOX DAY

 

Keep a “digital detox day” because your work never ends. We have constantly worked across time zones, holiday schedules, and daily demands. For your sanity and energy maintenance, it is essential to get away from all media for 24 hours at least. I practice DDD but observed with my coaching clients that the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal time. 

Many organizations have focused on digitization which means moving to more digital formats. While digitalization means strategically shifting to digital processes and activities. Often the term digitalization is used for both interchangeably.

One of the biggest challenges is incorporating technology into the business to add value to the company and its employees. One positive example of digitalization is reporting assignees through an intuitive HR system and tracking assignees through security apps such as the International SOS Assistance App.

Your level of digital engagement depends on how “digitally mature” your global mobility program is. You might be just ‘exploring digital,’ using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks, while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy. 

You are already experiencing success where automation performs tasks humans generally handle, such as periodic emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. 

Adopting and introducing those techniques into existing processes will focus on diminishing costs, increasing productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retaining talent. 

Some of the latest HR systems like Success Factors or Workday, offer essential workflow functions for international assignments. Still, they cannot yet run the entire end-to-end process with all the external vendors involved. Data needs to shift from the HR System to the vendor platform, but an integrated solution, which I call “the Holy Grail,” has yet to be invented (it exists mainly in my fantasy brain). As I filled another Excel sheet with numbers and birth dates, I kept reminding myself that this was how I started in the field in 1999. Before that, we used to calculate on paper.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is another exciting use of AI in the field. We speed up transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself as crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking. If you want to read more about this topic, this article on our blog might interest you. 

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms, and email have evolved to expand connected and collaborative working possibilities. Expats can now access the latest information, join video conferences, and share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. It is an excellent aid tool for managing assignee package creation. It makes it possible for our teams to communicate closely with our Expats worldwide. 

As for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR, respectively), they can transform the onboarding experience into the organization or allow them to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, you can virtually recreate cities to immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there. Many serviced apartments use VR to show their apartments.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already helping organizations go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce by using intelligent devices to predict, detect, and prevent risks in moving people around the globe. With the massive increase in the data volume available to organizations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms, and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) deals with more natural ways humans and computers can work together in the future. Watch this space as it could again help us in Global Mobility and reduce our stress levels. For example, instead of sitting at a desk for 12 hours, we could work by walking outside and taking the Expat Family with us on a virtual tour of the city. Or we can use voice commands to fill out a form instead of retyping the data. 

 4) Honor the Expat’s Host and Home Manager (and Sponsors)

 

We have structured Global Mobility drivers and assignment types and integrated Global Mobility with the Talent function. We still need to bring back the Human Touch, and we especially need to align the home and host line manager’s interest in the Expat’s goals and performance criteria. 

We also need to remember to nominate a sponsor so that the Expat has a home they can return to and a guardian angel who watches out for their interests in the home company. You will have fewer headaches if you initially reduce the assignment length to a maximum of two years. It’s always easier to extend an assignment that works well than to “early repatriate” someone for whatever reasons.

Since the 1990s, assignment types have evolved from only having long-term or short-term assignments. In the 2000s, new kinds of assignments emerged, such as the rotator, the international transfer, the globalist, and the commuter. Then, the 2010s saw the rise of business travelers, international new hires, and domestic relocations. In the present decade, we will see the assignment types evolve and diversify further with new possibilities like virtual roles, contingent workers, remote workers, and other future mobility options we have not thought about yet. 

Depending on your situation, you might want to consider your primary use cases and create suitable assignment types around them. For example, we started the “Cross-Border Project Worker” type as someone who is employed in one location, lives in a second location, and might commute twice a week to a third location. European legislation now adopts the “Teleworker” as an assignment type. Be creative so you have a handle on managing or accepting our other reality of dealing with every case on a customized basis.

 5) You shall not fire any EXPAT. 

 

Have you solved the dilemma of succession planning and repatriation in your company yet? If so, I’d be interested in exchanging with you as it still seems that we are utilizing 1999 methods in recruiting and global resourcing. We should have understood that firing an Expat is never a good idea. It shows that we did not do our job well in the selection or assignment. Maybe we forgot to nominate a sponsor in the home company, or we assigned the Expats without a clear Global Mobility driver. We should make it our priority to retain our Expats in the organization.

 6) You shall not solicit from your VENDORS. 

 

As I mentioned in the Global Mobility Workbook, we need to collaborate better with all our vendors to enhance the Expat Experience (XX) further. One ground rule is that you cannot poach staff from your vendors. I would also suggest you build long-term relationships with everyone involved in the process.

You are one team at the end of the day, and the Expat and their family will feel it if you work together like a well-oiled machine instead of blaming each other when there is a break in the process. I would encourage you to search for the cracks in the “Process Porcelain” because most of the time, you can solve an issue best if you look at the process in every detail, handover, and sub-step.

 7) You shall not reduce BENEFITS. 

 

Now that companies diversify their compensation approaches, you need to dig deeper into base pay, benefits, and short-term and long-term incentives to have a more comprehensive financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden your reward skills and ensure you understand compensation models, host-based compensation, and inflation rates by country. As a basic principle, try to maintain equity in the compensation approach. Balance out a lower salary than the host market by providing an additional market allowance or a benefit such as corporate housing.

 8) You shall not bear false witness against your EXPAT. 

 

Building a trusted relationship with your Expat and their Spouse will be a crucial success factor for any international assignment. Try to communicate openly and honestly and be transparent about your limitations. Let them know how you justify exceptions, how you make package decisions, how you can offer specific benefits, and under what circumstances. Show them your “box of chocolates” and give them one to taste. 

We think it is too short-sighted to discuss employee experience only in the context of our work and want you to focus on the Expat Experience (XX) specifically.

 9) You shall not Neglect the EXPAT SPOUSE.

 

The lack of Expat Spouse career opportunities is still among the top five reasons assignments fail (AIRINC Mobility Outlook Survey 2021). I have written extensively about why that is and given you ideas on how you can support the Expat Spouse. Over the last ten years, I have seen no significant improvement in how we integrate and support the Expat Spouse. Only a few companies offer Expat Partner Career Support. Let’s also agree that we want to see an improvement on that front. 

 10) You shall not move your EXPAT’s goods.

 

The climate and energy crisis will force us to rethink Global Mobility altogether. Expats want to work from anywhere in the world, and at the same time, moving furniture from Hong Kong to Singapore to New York or flying home every week might not be the best and most sustainable solution for the future. If you are serious about reducing the carbon footprint, you will need to incentivize environmentally friendly solutions in favor of the “classical approach.” For example, you could pay for storage rather than moving household goods. You could support rental furniture instead of giving an allowance for buying new furniture. You could pay for train travel instead of flights within a certain distance.

We will need to give up our resistance to “work from anywhere (WFA),” meaning that employees can also work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). This possibility enables Expats to become digital nomads as they are no longer bound to a specific location. Implementing a more significant number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, there are limits to this as well. The most obvious is that not all jobs are remote, which is also one of the reasons why virtual Mobility will not replace traditional Mobility. Tax and compliance issues can pose a risk too. The company having no existing operations and not wishing to have a permanent establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based can be another possible barrier to Virtual Assignments. Some organizations are also concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk of the employee feeling like a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic. Sometimes, the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country where sending them will cost the company much more (Mercer, 2021b). 

It is now easier to see how virtual Mobility’s popularity closely relates to increasing a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce more fluidly and coordinatedly (Mercer, 2021d). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs will not substitute the traditional way of thinking about Global Mobility. Still, it is one more tool companies can use in their global operations. We live in an era where recruitment should be location-independent. 

As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinking and learn to implement Virtual Assignments successfully. Also, the Global Employment Company adage will have a rebirth like the latest 80ies fashion.

As every year, I wish you great success in all your endeavors. You know you can always contact me via LinkedIn or good old bottle post or show me your love by reading my weekly brain dump (The Global People Club Sandwich). If you wish to bulk order “The Global Mobility Workbook,” please contact our team here.

Kind regards
Angie Weinberger

 

PS: The Global Mobility Master Course takes applications right now! You can sign up yourself and your team members to the Global Mobility Master Course at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. There is an early bird bonus for everyone who registers before 1 October 2022. I look forward to seeing you in one of the first lectures.

 

References and further Reading

AIRINC. (2021). Mobility Outlook Survey 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.air-inc.com/library/2021-mobility-outlook-survey/ 

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für die Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 Is Disrupting Immigration Policies and Worker Mobility: A Tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Crown. (2021). Five Standout Talent Mobility Trends for 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from  https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/5-standout-talent-mobility-trends-for-2021_digital-CWM.pdf

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

Dictionary.cambridge.org. (2021). multi-skilling. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/multi-skilling

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Hershbein, B. and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2020). Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2020/10/gapp-2020-survey-web.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Global Mobility Forecast: Trends in Risk, Talent and Digital. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/02/global-mobility-forecast-trends-in-risk-talent-and-digital.pdf 

Mercer’s 2022 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey 

Mercer, (2019). ‘Flexible Mobility Policies Survey.’ Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

Mercer. (2017). Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

Mercer. (2021a). Global mobility policy flexibility in practice. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice 

Mercer. (2021b).The rise of virtual assignments. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments 

Mercer. (2021c). Upskilling the Mobility Function. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function 

Mercer. (2021d). Talent mobility: looking ahead. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Talent-mobility-looking-ahead

PWC. (2016). Women of the World: Aligning Gender Diversity and International Mobility in Financial Services. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd 

Vialto https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6943208654061850624/ 

Weinberger, A. (2019). The Global Mobility Workbook (Third Edition). 978-3-9524284.

Working from anywhere: A differentiator in the war for talent? (2022). Mercer Mobility. Retrieved September 15, 2022, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/working-from-anywhere-a-differentiator-in-the-war-for-talent 

2021 buzzwords and what they tell us about mobility. (n.d.). Mercer Mobility. Retrieved September 15, 2022, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/2021-buzzwords-and-what-they-tell-us-about-mobility 

EPIC BLOG POSTS

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/our-eight-commandments-global-mobility-trends-2021/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/why-we-need-to-push-for-more-minority-and-female-expats-in-global-mobility/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/the-rise-of-women-in-global-mobility-seven-obstacles-and-six-solutions/ 

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/eight-major-barriers-to-expat-spouse-employment-2/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/bringing-the-human-touch-back-in-the-impending-age-of-ai-and-digitization/ 

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/getting-projects-completed/ 

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/why-we-need-to-push-for-more-minority-and-female-expats-in-global-mobility/ 

The Rise of Women in Global Mobility – Seven Obstacles and Six Solutions
Rise of Women

Picture this scenario: a leading multinational company must select somebody with the right skills to establish its first overseas division and has two equally strong candidates. Alice just got married and, in their best intentions but without consulting her, leadership decides that she would not like to go on assignment as she is likely to be starting a family. The opportunity is therefore offered to George. 

What do Alice and George think twelve months later? 

Alice and her husband wanted to get the wedding out of the way so that she could pursue her dream of going on an international assignment. She was shocked about not even being consulted. But it all worked out for her: she is now working overseas for one of their competitors and is very happy in her role.

The company’s decision came at the worst time for George. He and his wife were about to announce their first pregnancy to their families.  But he still said “yes” to the opportunity and eventually convinced his wife to give it a try. It was, however, very tough on her: She was sick throughout the pregnancy, and when the baby was born, she had no support network. This situation also impacted George’s performance which was disappointing compared to his pre-assignment performance. For this reason, the company decided to bring him back. 

I bet it’s not the first time you have faced this scenario. Wrong assumptions and stereotypes are, in fact, one of the reasons why women continue to be highly under-represented within the expat population

Though we have to mention a few positive developments that make the prospect of the rise of women in Global Mobility look somewhat brighter. Take policy and awareness, for example. In 2011, only 12% of CEOs saw poor retention of female talent as a key business challenge, and only 11% were planning policy changes to attract and retain more female workers (PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey). Yet, only five years later, 64% of CEOs worldwide confirm that they finally have a diversity strategy, and 13% plan to adopt one over the next 12 months (Pwc, 2016a).

What’s to Celebrate?

When we look at data, it’s essential to break it down. For example, even if it is true that the percentage of expat women swings between just 14% and 25% (Mercer, 2017; PwC, 2016a; PwC, 2016b), we cannot bypass the significant differences between regions and industry sectors. For example, while expat women in the energy and high tech sectors are only 8-11%, the percentage for the life science sector is 23%. Companies in the service and retail sectors also tend to have a higher rate of women expats. 

Other research provides an even more optimistic picture, showing us how the proportion of expat women grew slowly but steadily from the 1980s onwards.          

Continuing on the bright side, among those employees who have already had an international experience, 47% of the female and 53% of the male respondents confirmed they had completed more than one international assignment. In addition, based on their most recent international experience, 84% of women said they would repeat a similar experience, and 93% said they would recommend an international assignment to a colleague (PwC, 2016a). 

And last but not least, 73% of women working in Financial Services believe they have the same opportunities as men to undertake international assignments at their current workplace (PwC, 2016b). This percentage is encouraging compared to the 50% of women taking part in the previous year’s millennial survey who believe that promotion is biased towards men (PwC, 2015).

Despite rejoicing over these good news, we shall keep in mind that these variations don’t influence the overall conclusions: we are still decades away from seeing the percentage of female assignees rising to 50%. In the best-case scenario, the predictions estimate this will be reached only around 2050 (Mercer, 2017).

How Can You Benefit From Having More Expat Women? 

1 – You Will Facilitate Better Assignment Selection With a Broader Talent Pool 

One of the leading mobility cost drivers is a direct consequence of the limited choice of candidates ready for assignments. Inviting more women to the club creates more options for your company and indirectly helps control costs better. The more good candidates you have, the better your selection will be and the higher the chances that you don’t have to sell an incredibly overpriced assignment package.

2 – You Will Record a Higher Assignment Success Rate

The When Women Thrive report highlights that women are perceived to have unique skills that are particularly relevant for expatriation, including flexibility and adaptability (39% vs. 20% who say men have those strengths); inclusive team management (43% vs. 20%); and emotional intelligence (24% vs. 5%.). In short, women tend to build cultural bridges better than men and work more sustainably. 

3 – You Will Not Only Attract but Also Retain Talent

Female demand for international mobility has never been higher, with 71% of female millennials wanting to work outside their home country during their careers. Also, 64% of women interviewed said that international opportunities were critical in attracting and keeping them with an employer (PwC, 2016).

To successfully attract and retain female employees, you need to have a talent brand with international experience as a core element of your employee talent proposition. 

Are you not yet convinced that more expat women add immense value to your company?  In our previous post, we give other proof of how having a more diverse expat population makes you a more profitable and valuable company. 

Seven Obstacles to the Rise of Women in Global Mobility

1 – Strategy

Like most international organizations, you too might be currently challenged with a lack of alignment between Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Global Mobility. You should work on solving this crucial issue as soon as possible. When goals and data are discussed with Senior Management, Global Mobility Managers must have a seat at the table. 

2 – Policy

Many Global Mobility policies were initially developed for male assignees with children and a “trailing” spouse. It’s 2022, and this needs to change. Make sure your policy addresses the issues of expat women and new types of families – single parents, for example (the vast majority of them being female), or same-sex couples, for example.

3 – Nomination Process

As we mentioned in our previous post, there is still a lack of transparency over who is assigned and why. Companies often don’t have a clear overview of their employees’ willingness to be internationally mobile. And like in Alice’s and George’s stories, unconscious bias still plays a considerable (yet  invisible) role in the selection of the candidates. Because of the prevalence of stereotypes that associate women with family, female employees are usually not even asked, even if they are willing to consider an assignment abroad. I’ve been there too. If you would like to take a short journey into the unconsciously biased HR world, look at this insightful article on gender decoding. 

4 –  Non-Diverse Host Locations 

This is probably not a big issue in reality (apart from a few critical war zones and dangerous locations). The problem is rather the assumption that expat women won’t be accepted in their new role abroad because of the fixed gender roles men and women have in the host location. In fact, expat women in India automatically have a higher status than local women. And in some Muslim cultures, as long as you wear a ring implying that you are married, you can be seen as highly respectable and will be treated accordingly. 

5 – Representation

While Global Mobility Managers are often female, women don’t benefit from the same representation rate at the upper levels. This means that Senior Leaders and Executives in Global Mobility are mainly men. As a consequence, lack of awareness at the Senior Management level is an issue, and this is especially true in traditionally conservative countries.

6 – Lack of Visible Assignment Opportunities for Women

65% of female employees (Pwc, 2016a) are still unhappy with the little transparency their companies offer over the availability of opportunities for overseas assignments. 

It’s time that you make opportunities readily accessible to all, including underrepresented talent groups!

7  –  Lack of Human Touch 

The lack of Human Touch and/or previous bad Expat Experiences might stop women from actively seeking opportunities for international exposure.

HR and Global Mobility teams are often too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program and fail to design a human-centric Global Mobility program for their expat population. 

If you haven’t started yet, do it now. Talk openly about diversity in your policies and encourage internal discussion on this topic. Communicate about role models and success stories.

Six Potential Solutions  for a More Inclusive and Diverse Global Mobility Program 

1- Set Clear Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals for Global Mobility

Global Mobility, together with DEI teams, need to set realistic yet challenging goals for increasing the number of female assignees AND female department heads in Global Mobility. According to KPMG (2018), only 41% of the organizations surveyed had clear DEI objectives. Without specific targets, nothing will change! 

2 –  Allow for More Flexibility by Having Different Assignment Types 

New types of assignments and flexibility are making things easier for women and employees with family responsibilities to go on assignment. As I reiterate in The Global Mobility Workbook, Global Mobility should not systematically be synonymous with traditional Long-Term Assignments. Even if those remain the preferred assignment type by both genders, women favor 6-to-12 months assignments more than men (37% vs. 29%). We can say the same for assignments shorter than three months (10% vs. 5%) as well as frequent business travels (36% vs. 32%) (PwC, 2016a).

3 – Identify and Understand What the Real Barriers are 

Do you know what the real barriers to inclusive mobility are for your workforce and organizations? If you’ve never measured how your current policies hinder women’s mobility, you should act NOW.  Stop simply assuming the barriers to gender inclusiveness and understand better where the actual issues lay. That’s why I recommend intercultural training for all Global Mobility Managers.

4 – Give More Visibility to Female Role Models

While 68% of men feel that there are enough male role models of successful expats in their organization, only 48% of women feel the same about female role models (PwC, 2016b). This negatively impacts companies’ wider female talent pool and Global Mobility programs.  Therefore, if you want to help fill the gap, take active measures to drive awareness of the positive experiences of successful expat women within your organizations. 

On page 24 of this PwC report, you can read a short and inspiring testimonial of a Tax Partner and Expat Woman role model. 

5 – Use More Gender-Inclusive Language 

Too often, Global Mobility policies still refer to their globally mobile workforce with masculine pronouns. And quite logically, the consequence is that they would make you assume that “trailing” Spouses should be female. Well, it’s 2021, and this is not the case anymore. If you want to make your program more inclusive, start by addressing your talent differently. The UN has recently published new guidelines that will definitely be useful when updating your policies too.

6 – Foster a Supportive and Inclusive Culture

It is critical for your company to move away from the restrictive gender stigmas of the past if you wish to unlock your full global workforce potential. Your ultimate challenge is to create a culture where all your employees are on board with diversity and recognize its value.

Our message is clear: Global Mobility strategies that do not fully include women will simply not deliver to their full potential.

How We Can Help you

If it all makes sense to you, but you don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. Here are four ideas on how we can do that.

  1. We deconstruct your expat nomination process and review your existing policies for inclusiveness.
  2. We improve the language you use in communication to make them gender-inclusive, and we also help you sprinkle them with “Human Touch.”
  3. We analyze your Expat Experience and identify unveiled barriers for female expats and their spouses.
  4. We facilitate transition workshops with expat women in the host country and prepare female candidates for potential expat assignments through our exclusive 1:1 Executive coaching program, RockMe!

PS: I have two more tips for you:

  1. If you are looking for a board member mandate in Switzerland, check out VRMandat and Stiftungsratsmandat. Check how they can support you.
  2. Look up these two links above if you’re trying to expand your board of directors.

Resources

https://stiftungsratsmandat.com/de/

https://www.vrmandat.com/en/

https://dorothydalton.com/2016/03/11/gender-de-coding-and-job-adverts/

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20160929-where-are-all-the-expat-women 

http://www.internationalhradviser.com/storage/downloads/Gender%20Bias%20in%20Global%20Mobility%20Developing%20Female%20Leaders%20PwC.pdf 

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/global-hr/pages/women-expatriate-workforce.aspx

References 

KPMG. (2018). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. KPMG. https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

Meier, O. (2019). The path to diversity. Mercer. https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-path-to-diversity-women-on-assignment

PwC. (2011). 14th Annual Global CEO Survey. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/pdf/14th-annual-global-ceo-survey.pdf

PwC. (2015). Female millennials in financial services: Strategies for a new era of talent. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/financial-services/publications/assets/pwc-female-millennial-report-v2.pdf

PwC. (2016a). Modern Mobility: Moving women with purpose. PwC. 

https://www.pwc.com/gr/en/publications/assets/modern-mobility-moving-women-with-purpose.pdf

PwC. (2016b). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. Pwc.

https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

This is a good example of Women in Global Mobility
Riikka Virtanen Schwitter speaking during the EY “Future of Mobility” event (February 2020)

 

Why we need to push for more minority and female expats in Global Mobility

“We need to take a stance and stand up for minority and female talent now.”  @angieweinberger

Are you a Senior Manager, often managing globally mobile talent in your company?

How many times have you had the realization that your company’s Global Mobility Program is not diverse enough? Are you concretely working to achieve your company’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) goals, and do you foster more inclusion within your team?

Let’s see how you can actively help fill the current gap in diversity common to so many organizations.

What Is a “Diverse and Inclusive Organization”? 

An organization is diverse when it encompasses all aspects of the employees, from age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status, and background. However, an organization is only inclusive when minority groups are allowed and encouraged to participate in the decision-making process and to contribute to breaking the career glass ceiling. Besides being meaningless, diversity without inclusion does not drive team performance (Czerny and Steinkellner, 2009). To quote the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, “inclusive diversity is a strength.”

Why Isn’t There More Minority and Female Talent in Global Mobility?

A KPMG survey highlighted that most Global Mobility Programs do not have specific Diversity and Inclusion objectives as part of their department’s strategy. Why is that? 

According to 59% of the respondents, the reason is that candidates for international assignments are chosen by you and not the Global Mobility Team. This is true. However, this does not explain why you are not being more inclusive of minority and female talent in your selection. 

Could you not challenge your promotion and selection decisions more often? 

Another 31% consider the movement of people to new countries and cultures as diverse and inclusive by its very nature and do not think that further DE&I goals are needed. We believe this is too short-sighted and a biased view of the world. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at this stage still need affirmative action (also called positive action in the U.-K.), that is to implement policies and guidelines to correct tendencies due to bias against women or any form of minority.

You and I need to push actively to integrate more minority and female talent into our expat populations. 

What you consider a minority will depend strongly on your home base country, usually the country where your HQ is based. However, I recommend that you consider more second-generation immigrants, People of Color, and refugees.

Only 41% of the respondents say they have DE&I objectives as part of their Global Mobility strategy.

You indeed have acknowledged that meeting these goals is not easy. Here are the common challenges faced by most Global Mobility Programs.

1 – There’s a Data Gap on Most Aspects of Diversity 

Apart from gender and gender identity, there is a  scarcity of mobility-related data on most demographics (KPMG, 2018a). This makes it difficult for Global Mobility Teams to identify problem areas and find solutions related to disability status, religion, ethnicity, academic, professional, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

2 – There Are Still Too Many Biases and Stereotypes

As you can easily guess, this issue particularly affects how women are represented within the international mobile population. Currently, women only make up 20% to 25% of it (PwC, 2016; MacLachlan, 2018), which shows how much more work is needed to fill the gap. 

The good news is that 88% of the women (PwC, 2016) feel that they need international experience to advance in their careers. The bad news is that there is a strong perception that women with children don’t want to work abroad. To make it worse, traditional mindsets still typically associate men with international assignments. 

Interestingly, however, data shows that women don’t let that impede on their career plans: 66% of women would be happy to work abroad at any stage of their career (vs. 60% for men), and only 17% of women cited the well-being and education of their children as a concern preventing them from embarking on an international assignment (vs. 22% of men).

How many times have you consciously or unconsciously assumed that someone would not be able to perform their jobs effectively due to the situation in host locations? Or that they simply would not want to go on assignment due to family constraints, for example? Before assuming, just ask. 

3 – There’s a Lack of Transparency Over Who Is Assigned and Why

Let’s look at gender again. The data speaks loud and clear, and it’s worrying. 

According to 42% of women (PwC, 2016), organizations don’t have a clear view of what employees would be willing to be internationally mobile. This means that you may be choosing from a narrower pool than necessary. 

What’s more, only 13% of women who have been on assignment said that their employer has a program that positions Global Mobility as a core part of an employee’s career plan. 

4 – There’s a Lack of Flexibility in Assignment Choices 

You might not know that shorter and more flexible short-term assignments are notably more popular among women than men (PwC, 2016). In particular, women tend to give favorable consideration to frequent business travel based in their home country, fly-in/fly-out commuter assignments, short (6-12 months), and short-term assignments. Therefore, if you expanded the list of available options, you could match a more comprehensive variety of business demands. 

5 – There’s a Lack of Diversity Among the Pool of Candidates 

In heavily male-dominated types of work, such as construction and mining, casting a wider demographic net may be impossible. Likewise, some candidates may not go after mobility opportunities because they feel out of place. This explains why, for example, women, older workers, and people with disabilities may not raise their hands for relocations to oil rigs or construction sites. At the same time, minority groups may feel discouraged because they lack role models. But why not ask those unlikely candidates? Maybe that is all it would take! So, like Sundae Bean advises in her podcast discussion with Cathy Heyne, managers should be mindful of their assumptions and simply chose the best candidates for the assignments (not the ones they think want to take the assignment).

6  – External Factors Pose Barriers Too 

The definition of family has expanded to include same-sex couples for most mobility teams — rising from 17% in 1999 to 70% currently (KPMG, 2018a). However,  attitudes and laws in many countries have not kept pace. Most countries still don’t allow same-sex marriage, and homosexual acts are illegal in at least 69 countries. According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2021), there are still seven countries where homosexual conduct is punishable by death. There are still ways you can support your LGBTQᐩ employees. Discuss potential assignment destinations with them and their partner, make sure you and the employee understand the legal situation in order to plan accordingly, and ensure having good support in the host country.

How Can You Benefit From Being More Inclusive?

Even though it may seem that the global business case for boosting Diversity and Inclusion is clear, the reality is still shockingly stuck in the last century. I have even observed that we have gone back three steps to supporting minority and female talent in the past 25 years.

If you want to expand your global competitiveness, you need to be a pioneer of equal opportunities, promote acceptance and understanding, and highlight the value of your employees. You need more than unconscious bias training for managers. You need to establish facts. And that can only be achieved with data. Here are the four main reasons to develop D&I goals for your Global Mobility Program.

1 – You Tap Into a Bigger Pool of Resources

Establish concrete goals for sending minority and female talent and persistently work towards achieving them. You will then automatically broaden the talent pool from which the mobile population is drawn. This way, you will also help ensure that the executive pipeline reflects your customer base, developing a more diverse group of future leaders. Finally, report the data regularly to your Senior Management. Without data, nothing will change.

2- You Have Access to a Broader Range of Perspectives

It should go without saying that a broader range of backgrounds (considering all possible factors, i.e., gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, language, socio-economic classes, etc.) results in a team having a more comprehensive range of perspectives. That will successively reflect itself in better-stimulated creativity and innovation, and a team ready for all opportunities.

3 – Your Team Will Collaborate Better

It has been proven that women generally have better collaboration abilities. This heightened sense of collaboration is in part due to women’s better ability to read non-verbal cues. Better collaboration will allow improvement in many fields, among which many team processes. Researchers have observed that groups with more women tend to respect speaking turns better and are better at leveraging each team member’s knowledge and competencies. 

4 – You Control Costs Better

One of the leading mobility cost drivers is not related to pay packages and policies per se but because companies often have a limited choice of candidates for assignments. A broader talent pool facilitates assignment success and indirectly helps control costs. You depend less on one candidate and can negotiate better packages if you have a broader pool. You probably also have better candidates if you have more than one in the pipeline. Another way hiring minorities and women will benefit you financially is that happy and respected employees tend to be more loyal and easy to retain; that, in turn, saves you time, money and energy in the hiring and training process. Do bear in mind that hiring them is a good starting point, but not sufficient in itself: you have to treat them well and not be afraid to admonish sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. in the office or anywhere, for that matter!

5 – You Improve Your Brand and Reputation as an Employer of Choice

Nowadays, having international experience is a precondition to reaching top managerial levels within many multinational companies. Employees develop essential skills and build a network that boosts their careers immensely. It’s therefore crucial that you promote mobility as part of your talent brand. If you do that, you will also be advantaged when competing for minority and female talent. Offering international opportunities to minority and female talent will put you ahead of the competition by showing in your reviews. You will become renowned as an “Employer of Choice.” 

If you feel you belong to one of the mentioned groups and you might need more support in order to have a breakthrough in your career you can always contact me for individual coaching. We offer several programs and free workshops as well.

The annual RockMeRetreat is for all senior-level professionals who need a boost to overcome challenges in there professional and personal lives. I am really determined to help minorities (of any kind) and women overcome the obstacles they face in their careers and better their journey.  The RockMeRetreat will also help you if you need a “pitstop” to think about your current situation, improve your relationships and want to re-energize yourself.

We are offering the RockMeRetreat this year at the Haus der Begegnung, Ilanz, Grisons, from 17 to 23 November 2022. Sign up here to be updated and informed.

Resources and further reading

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/05/the-myth-of-flexibility-for-women-in-the-workplace/?utm_source=sfmc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2777109_Agenda_weekly-20May2022&utm_term=&emailType=Agenda%20Weekly

121: Why Only 25% Of International Assignees Are Women

https://www-srf-ch.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.srf.ch/article/18661443/amp 

Murchie, F. (2020). Women on the front line. Relocate Global, Summer Issue 2020, p.13 https://content.yudu.com/web/fiqy/0A3p9yp/Summer-2020/html/index.html?page=12&origin=reader

https://attitude.co.uk/article/meet-the-head-of-the-united-nations-lgbtq-staff-network/23388/?fbclid=IwAR3iICb0qbAqf2lZWoerrUxYTkKIIgBrd7qBs3EWtgReDadvT54I9BoEDi0

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/5/18/21260209/facebook-sheryl-sandberg-interview-lean-in-women-coronavirus

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2020/06/three-degrees-racism-america/613333/

 ​https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200724-why-imposter-syndrome-hits-women-and-women-of-colour-harder 

https://www.fidi.org/blog/expats-with-disabilities?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=socialseeder&utm_campaign=2020+07+%2F+01+-+Expats+with+disabilities%3A+why+the+lack+of+accessibility+is+holding+us+all+back

References 

Czerny, E. J. & Steinkellner, P. S. (2009). Diversität als Basis erfolgreicher Teams. Eine ressourcenorientierte Betrachtung. Unpublished Working Paper, Vienna: PEF Privatuniversität für Management.  

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2019, Sep. 23). World Report 2019: Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2019/02/28/human-rights-watch-country-profiles-sexual-orientation-and

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2021, April. 23). World Report 2021: Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved June 04, 2021, from
https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2021/04/23/country-profiles-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity 

KPMG. (2018a). Inclusion and Diversity: How Global Mobility can help move the Needle. KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle-FINAL.pdf

KPMG. (2018b). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. KPMG. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://assets.kpmg//content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2018/06/global-mobility-inclusion-and-diversity-how-gms-can-help-move-the-needle.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Inclusion and Diversity in Global Mobility. 2021 U.S. DEI report. KPMG. Retrieved 7 June 2022. , from https://www.kpmg.us/content/dam/global/pdfs/2021/kpmg-us-2021-dei-report.pdf.

Maclachlan, M. (2018; Mar.). Why Female Talent Are the Future of Global Mobility. Learnlight. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from https://insights.learnlight.com/en/articles/female-talent-future-global-mobility/

PwC. (2016). Women of the world: Aligning gender diversity and international mobility in financial services. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf

 

Our Eight Commandments (Global Mobility Trends 2021)
The Global Mobility Workbook

We have been living in a world dominated by political, economic, and environmental uncertainty for many years now. However, the past two years have been particularly exceptional and tough for most of us. The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has brought the entire planet to its knees. The pandemic impacted all aspects of life and radically changed the way we work. The world of Global Mobility has not been spared. Considering the extent of the impact caused by the pandemic, it doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee that Global Mobility teams will have to deal with the blow of the crisis in the years to come.

However, it’s not all bad news! We need to think positively and see the good in all situations. For example, the crisis showed that Global Mobility teams continue to be incredibly resilient and are constantly coming up with immediate and particularly creative solutions to face issues that arise overnight. Imagine the difficulty of having to suddenly repatriate an expat (or an expat family) who was temporarily on holiday in a third country and remains stuck there without any other assistance. Or the complexity of finding a quick solution for someone who was about to go on assignment but suddenly had to postpone their departure, despite all their household goods having already been shipped to the host location. The following section will briefly outline the top eight Global Mobility (GM) trends to watch in 2021.

1 – Diversify the Assignment Types in Your Guidelines

A constantly changing and diverse population like today’s requires closer alignment between mobility types and support levels and more flexibility and agility. Since the 1990s, the mobility types have evolved enormously from only having long-term or short-term assignments. In the 2000s, new types of assignments emerged, such as the rotator, the international transfer, the globalist, and the commuter. Then, the 2010s saw the rise of business travelers, international new hires and domestic relocations. In the present decade, we will see the assignment type evolve and diversify further with new possibilities like the “flexpat”, the virtual roles, the contingent workers, remote working, and other future mobility options we haven’t thought about. Predictably, there will be more variety in the range of mobility locations as well. The “global approach,” which Global Mobility has seen increasing over time, will become the leading type of move. 

Even though Long-Term Assignments (LTAs) remain an important and widely used relocation model, it is also true that the deployment of shorter and more flexible approaches, such as Short-Term Assignments (STAs), business trips, immersive experiences, and commuter models, are constantly gaining traction (Deloitte, 2019). The Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey from KPMG (2020) confirm the same trend, with survey participants expecting to rely the upcoming five years more on STAs (46%), Commuter (52%), and Permanent Transfers (52%). On the other hand, 44% of respondents expect a reduction in the use of traditional LTAs, and 42% believe that it will remain the same. The diversification of assignment types directly brings us to the next trend; the need for flexibility. 

2 – Become More Flexible in Dealing With the Needs of a Diverse Workforce

Flexibility has dominated HR headlines for several years. It continues to be a trending topic, driven by several factors such as a constantly changing expat population and assignment types, employee expectations, modern technologies, and tools. This trend has also been driven lately by the unexpected global halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has been a severe stress test of flexible policies and has raised essential questions in the flexibility debate (Mercer, 2021a). 

For a GM program to be successful, it needs to work well both for the organization and the expats. But having a policy both flexible and defined enough to be used as the foundation for any mobility scenario is a big challenge even for the most evolved GM programs, as data from Mercer’s 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey report.

The expat population is changing. Nowadays, a more diverse population than ever is embarking on International Assignments. Employees are more diverse in cultural backgrounds, family situation, age, gender, etc. It is impossible to address all the needs of these various groups in a one-size-fits-all policy.

A more diverse workforce equals a larger variety of individual assignees’ expectations, with the result that a proposition might be very attractive for one employee while not being appealing at all for another. This is clearly pinpointed by the 2018 How Global Mobility is Responding to New Dilemmas Survey: expectations from millennial generation employees are impacting mobility programs for 43% of surveyed companies, while the aging workforce has 36% of companies re-evaluating their program policies.

The need for flexibility is clear, and organizations have come to understand its importance as 65% of respondents of the AIRINC Mobility Outlook Survey 2021 (MOS) believe that demand for flexibility from the business will increase. Furthermore, 33% of respondents state that increasing flexibility within policies is their top priority to focus on in the next couple of years. The survey also shows that the number of policies that companies support increased each year, with an average amount of 4.5 policies in 2017 to 6.2 in 2021. 

Flexibility is needed to cater to individual needs. According to the Mercer 2019 Flexible Mobility Policies Survey, the most popular policy elements for which the participants introduced flexibility are family-related: housing, spousal support, child education, and home leave tickets are all items that can help improve the Expat Experience while on assignment.

However, with the crisis, the importance of duty of care over excessive flexibility was acknowledged: policies should not be made flexible if they are essential for the wellbeing of employees. Flexible policies have prepared some companies to deal more efficiently with urgent repatriations and unforeseen mobility scenarios. Other companies adopting flexible policies have found them inapplicable and inappropriate in the context of urgency. 

3 – Expect more Balance in Dual-Career Expat Couples 

Dual-Career Expat couples have been a topic in GM for the past years. The 2017 Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies & Practices (WIAPP) survey report pinpointed dual-career/family-related issues and cost as the main barriers to mobility. Similarly, the expected advantages of a flexible mobility program were also closely related to these issues. Also, the report published by Crown (2019) highlights the same problem. But if this is not a new phenomenon, why is it considered a trend to watch in 2021?

Because nowadays many more households, globally, rely on two salaries. This means that when an employee is asked to take on an international assignment, the economic impact on the family is more significant than it used to be. Consequently, an increasing number of companies are struggling with the challenges posed by the dual-career demographic and are in search of creative solutions. According to the report published by Crown in 2020, dual-career couples are more the norm, and often the accompanying partner has left a career for the move. Interestingly, research also shows that often, the expat partner has the most challenging time adjusting. Lack of spousal/partner career support is, according to the latest AIRINC MOS (2021), even among the top five reasons why assignments fail. 

To deal with the dual-career factor, companies have put in place several strategies. Many have put in place policies to support split families, offering more frequent home leave. However, this is generally limited to 12-24 months, after which the employee runs a higher risk of suffering from burnout with a negative impact on work productivity as well. Another solution is the increase of commuter assignments, especially across the EU, where distances are limited. The downside of this could be that the commuter status will impact the employee and their family and the team’s morale in the home and host location after some time. Another strategy, the one for which we advocate, is putting Expat Spouse support at the core of GM policies. The most standard support comes in the form of reimbursements for job search assistance, professional affiliations, and credential maintenance.

4 – Facilitate and Organize “Virtual Assignments”

The first trend highlighting the continuous diversification of GM also encompasses a higher number of Virtual Assignments. Differently than managers who oversee a region or frequent Business Travelers who might occasionally be involved in operations abroad from remote, a virtual assignee does remotely the same job as an assignee who has relocated to the host country. Virtual Assignments have been the breakout topic since the pandemic (Crown, 2021). The COVID-19 crisis is changing all the debate around the possibilities of working from home and Virtual Assignments. Never in history have so many employees worked remotely to guarantee essential business continuity. Virtual Assignments also raise a lot of new questions. 

Virtual mobility does not necessarily imply that employees remain in the home country while being responsible for operations in other locations. It allows expats to ‘’work from anywhere’’, meaning that employees can also work in a third country of choice (not the home country or the location benefiting from the task performed). This possibility enables expats to become digital nomads as they are no longer bound to a specific location. Implementing a more significant number of Virtual Assignments also means acknowledging and accepting that working arrangements are changing fast in response to technology, generational changes, and sudden business disruptions. 

Of course, there are limits to this as well. The most obvious of which is that not all jobs can be performed remotely, which is also one of the reasons why virtual mobility will not replace traditional mobility. Tax and compliance issues can pose a risk too. The company having no existing operations and not wishing to have a permanent establishment in the location where the employee would like to be based is another possible barrier to Virtual Assignments. Some organizations are also concerned that Virtual Assignments could hinder company culture and teamwork, with the risk for the employee to feel like a perpetual outsider. The final point worth considering is that cost saving is not necessarily automatic. In some cases, the assignee wants to live in a high-cost country where sending them will cost the company much more (Mercer, 2021b). 

It is now easier to see how the popularity of virtual mobility is closely related to the increase of a more dispersed international workforce. As companies upgrade their technology and become more agile, they could decide to assign projects and tasks to mobile people rather than moving defined jobs as such. In other words, instead of trying to fit assignees into predefined boxes, the aim is to manage a diverse workforce in a more fluid and coordinated way (Mercer, 2021d). 

Moving jobs to people instead of moving people to jobs will not substitute the traditional way of thinking GM, but it is one more tool companies can use in their global operations. We live in an era where recruitment is not limited by geography, and hiring can occur in any global location to fill open positions. As organizations gradually embrace best practices to manage a distributed international workforce, it will be essential for Global Mobility teams to adapt to a new way of thinking and learn to implement Virtual Assignments successfully. 

5 – Expand Your Skills and Become More Agile 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, multi-skilling is “the practice of training employees to do several different things, or of using employees who can do several different things,” or, in other words, the ability to master a wide range of skills relevant for different types of functions and jobs. Research from Hershbein and Khan (2018) provides broad-based evidence of how firms demand even more upskilling from workers when the local economy suffers a recession. Thus, this practice will likely be even more helpful in the aftermath of the crisis, when more agility is required in all business areas. 

The “future of work” (#FoW) is skill-driven, and the expansion of the gig economy brings proof to the statement. Since organizations are becoming flattered and more digital, corporate positions or job titles will not matter as much as skills and the capacity to update and renew these skills. Mercer listed a series of skills that GM professionals should acquire to thrive under these conditions. Below is a summary. 

Now more than ever, global mobility teams are asked to be advisers to the business and help anticipate risks and compliance issues. Mobility professionals should function as bridges between departments and geographies and serve as facilitators to coordinate arising matters. One possibility is that the mobility functions will be gradually more oriented towards consultancy. In one sentence, Global Mobility teams need to master compliance issues.

Ensuring that the basics are in place in terms of metrics and cost tracking will be essential, but what will make a difference for HR professionals is turning the results of newly developed metrics into concrete suggestions to improve people management.

It is also fundamental that mobility professionals speak the same language as general management and finance departments, linking mobility with compelling business cases.

Another crucial point Global Mobility teams need to bring to the top of their agendas is developing the ability to be good storytellers. Explaining the bigger story behind talent mobility and to what extent employees’ tasks relate (even distantly) to the overall economy and the society’s well-being is a differentiator. Storytelling is also about clearly summarizing the mobility program policy’s main principles or what the very mobility program entails. 

Today we live in an unprecedented abundance of information. The crucial issue is determining which data are true and relevant and interpreting them to draw appropriate conclusions for the business. GM professionals also have a role to play in the digitalization of companies. They need to familiarize themselves with the concepts and technologies revolving around AI and develop statistical and technology literacy.

Now that companies diversify more and more their compensation approaches, GM professionals need to dig deeper into Expat base pay, benefits, short-term and long-term incentives to have a more comprehensive financial understanding of the implications of an international move. It’s time to broaden reward skills. 

6 – Consider Adding “Human Touch” 

The days when careers were only about moving up the ladder are forgone. Nowadays, it’s about moving across the structure and the expat experience (KPMG, 2021). For employees, this results in a heightened focus on wellbeing, development, and recognition. At the same time, expats have started perceiving the mobility experience differently: They once used to see compensation as the primary incentive for global relocations but now tend to value providing validation on both a personal and professional level. Nowadays, the global workforce is attracted and motivated by a more personalized, agile, and holistic experience. Therefore, adding the human touch is needed which predictably results in a better relationship between employees and employers.

Employers picked up this trend and refer to it as improving “employee experience.” 47% of respondents of the AIRINC MOS 2021 mentioned this as a top priority to focus on in the upcoming years. However, it would be unfair to deny that it is too often difficult to prioritize employee experience if teams are too busy focusing on the many operational aspects of the mobility program. A well-designed human-centric global mobility program does not simply consider individual employee needs but also considers all the people involved. 

If you wish to embrace the human touch in your global mobility program, you successfully should focus on the following four core aspects:

  • Operational Support. Structure of operations and satisfaction with external vendors.
  • Financial Welfare. Rewards, benefits, and other types of support provided to the employee. 
  • Professional Engagement. Successful integration into the host location and career progression.
  • Expat well-being. Employee resilience and focus outside of work life.

The COVID-19 crisis has particularly highlighted the very last aspect of the above list, expat well-being. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 80% of the respondents identified well-being as an important priority for their organization’s success over the next 12-18 months, making it this year’s top trend. Yet, only 12% feel “very ready” to address this issue, showing a clear “readiness gap.” Expat well-being does not stop at healthcare considerations and should not only be prioritized during emergencies. Expat well-being should also entail social, emotional, and financial aspects. Those are natural aspects in which highly mobile employees are automatically more at risk. Factors such as stress, mental health, family and financial issues, and demotivation or failed assignments should put the mobility team on full alert. We need to get back to providing a service that is essentially a human experience. Especially, to improve the expat’s well-being it is extremely important that they have contact with people from inside and outside the company to which they can talk to. 

Undoubtedly, the current crisis pushes companies to accelerate their strategies to ameliorate expat well-being, potentially enabling a better work-life balance. There are plenty of good reasons to make investments to improve well-being: Burnout impacts employee retention, employees with higher well-being are more likely to feel engaged at work and recommend their organizations, and to some extent, well-being drives organizational performance (Deloitte, 2020).

7 – Deal with Harder Immigration Compliance 

Even before this global pandemic, the waiting time organizations had to face before holding all the authorizations required for an employee to travel abroad for business was becoming increasingly longer. The quicker visa to obtain, that for short-term business travels, are not intended for productive work or long-term assignments. Many countries are enforcing measures more actively against illegal employment. A growing number of employees have to pay pricey fines, and some even undergo criminal punishments. 

Problems only increase when the employee is accompanied by their spouse who travels on a holiday visa and then tries to find a job in the new host country or get a local driver’s license. 

Undoubtedly, the unexpected crisis caused by the widespread presence of COVID-19 has made immigration compliance and timelines for assignments even more complicated for organizations wanting to send their employees abroad, repatriate or transfer them to a third country. Also, companies might be losing key talent now that the job market is picking up if they had to wait for their assignments, sitting on packed suitcases for more than a year.

In a world where business travel, secondments, and overseas relocations are routine, the resulting level of disruption caused by the restrictions on movement that governments set in place to combat the spread of the pandemic is unprecedented. With companies working hard to prioritize their staff’s well-being, another whole set of legal challenges arise. In such a rapidly changing scenario, some mobile employees might remain stranded in their host country or a transit country or even risk overstaying their visas. Some of the measures that governments around the world are enacting are temporary, but others could have a more negative effect on business in the near future. 

  1. Entry restrictions and an increased number of admission criteria for citizens of certain countries, including bans on some high-risk locations.
  2. Heightened eligibility criteria and application requirements where visas are issued, including suspension of visa waiver agreements and more detailed document requirements for new applications.
  3. Longer lead times for applications and discrimination in the selection leading to class systems of vaccinated versus non-vaccinated applicants.

8 – Embrace Digital Innovation

In the past 24 months, many organizations have focused on digitization (moving to more digital formats) and digitalization (strategically shifting to digital processes and activities) of the mobility function. Many consider technological breakouts to be a megatrend. One of the biggest challenges is to incorporate technology into the business in a way that adds value to the company and its employees. One positive example of digitalization is reporting assignees through an intuitive HR system and tracking assignees through security apps such as the International SOS assistance app.

Companies’ level of ‘digital engagement’ depends on how “digitally mature” their global mobility programs already are. Some might be just ‘exploring digital,’ using robotics to carry out simple and repetitive tasks, while others might be already ‘becoming digital’ with a formal digital strategy set in place. 

Mobility functions are already experiencing success where automation is implemented to perform tasks that humans would generally be assigned, such as ending routine emails or copying and pasting information from public or private sources. In turn, workers are given higher-value tasks for the benefit of the mobility function. By adopting and introducing those techniques into existing processes, GM teams will focus on diminishing costs, increasing productivity by improving operational efficiency, and retaining talent. Some of the latest HR systems like Success Factors or Workday offer basic workflow functions for international assignments but cannot yet run the full process with all the external vendors involved. Data needs to be shifted from the HR System to the vendor platform but an integrated solution has to be found to do this efficiently while still respecting GDPR and Data Security.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology is another interesting use of AI in the field. It is already being used to speed up administrative/transactional processes in mobility functions. Equally important is that automation can also reveal itself as crucial in reducing hierarchical thinking. If you want to read more about this topic then this article on our blog might be of interest to you. 

Core office technologies such as telephone, word processing platforms, and email have already evolved to expand connected and collaborative working possibilities. Expats can now access the latest information, join video conferences, share and work on the same documents or workspace at their convenience, from a device and location of their choice. It is a great aid tool for managing assignee package creation. It makes it possible for Global Mobility teams to stay in close communication with their assignees abroad. 

As for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR, respectively), they can transform the employee’s onboarding experience into the organization or allow them to meet and collaborate with colleagues in other countries. Additionally, it can be used to virtually recreate cities to immerse oneself in the new environment before deciding to move there.

According to Deloitte (2020), AI is projected to add US$13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. It is no wonder that in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Survey, 70% of the respondents stated that their organizations were exploring or using AI to some extent. At this point, the question is not whether AI will affect jobs but rather how. Reducing costs by replacing the workforce with AI technology is not the only viable path: 60% of the surveyed organizations use AI to assist rather than replace workers. 

By using smart devices to predict, detect and prevent risks in moving people around the globe, AI is already helping organizations go beyond traditional ways of managing the global workforce. With the massive increase of the data volume available to organizations, the emergence of advanced AI-based algorithms, and the growing availability of data scientists, systems become increasingly self-managing and potentially self-defending against risks.  

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References 

Websites

Dictionary.cambridge.org. (2021). multi-skilling. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/multi-skilling

Mercer. (2021a). Global mobility policy flexibility in practice. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Global-mobility-policy-flexibility-in-practice 

Mercer. (2021b).The rise of virtual assignments. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/insights/article/the-rise-of-virtual-assignments 

Mercer. (2021c). Upskilling the Mobility Function. (2021). Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Upskilling-the-Mobility-Function 

Mercer. (2021d). Talent mobility: looking ahead. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/Insights/article/Talent-mobility-looking-ahead

Books and Reports

AIRINC. (2021). Mobility Outlook Survey 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.air-inc.com/mobility-outlook-survey-2021/ 

Crown. (2019). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2019. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2019-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2020). Big Global Mobility Trends to Watch in 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Big-global-mobility-trends-to-watch-in-2020-CWM.pdf 

Crown. (2021). Five Standout Talent Mobility Trends for 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from  https://www.crownworldmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/5-standout-talent-mobility-trends-for-2021_digital-CWM.pdf

Deloitte. (2019). ’Global Workforce Insight 2019.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ch/Documents/tax/deloitte-ch-Back-to-the-future-global-workforce.pdf

Deloitte. (2020). ‘2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey. Deloitte.’ Deloitte. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/us43244_human-capital-trends-2020/di_hc-trends-2020.pdf 

FIDI. (2019). ‘2020 Vision: A Focus on Next Year’s Trends.’ FIDI Global Alliance. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.fidi.org/blog/2020-vision-focus-next-years-trends 

Hershbein, B. and Khan, L. B. (2018). ‘Do Recessions Accelerate Routine-Biased Technological Change? Evidence from Vacancy Postings.’ American Economic Review. Vol. 108, no. 7, pp. 1737-72. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20161570

KPMG. (2020). Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2020/10/gapp-2020-survey-web.pdf

KPMG. (2021). Global Mobility Forecast: Trends in Risk, Talent and Digital. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/02/global-mobility-forecast-trends-in-risk-talent-and-digital.pdf 

Mercer. (2017). Worldwide Survey of International Assignment Policies and Practices. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.imercer.com/products/WorldwideIAPP

Mercer, (2019). ‘Flexible Mobility Policies Survey.’ Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://mobilityexchange.mercer.com/solutions/data-solutions/policies-and-practices-surveys/flexible-mobility-policies-survey

PWC. (2016). Women of the World: Aligning Gender Diversity and International Mobility in Financial Services. Retrieved 18 August 2021, from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/financial-services/assets/women-of-the-world.pdf 

More Sources

Baker McKenzie. (2019). ‘The Global Employer: Focus on Global Immigration and Mobility.’ Baker McKenzie. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://www.bakermckenzie.com/en-/media/files/insight/publications/2019/12/the-global-employer-focus-on-immigration-and-mobility_041219.pdf

Beck, P., Eisenhut, P. and Thomas, L. (2018). „Fokus Arbeitsmarkt: Fit für die Zukunft?”. Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/publikationen/fokus-arbeitsmart-fit-fuer-die-zukunft 

Bertolino, M. (2020). ‘How Covid-19 Is Disrupting Immigration Policies and Worker Mobility: A Tracker’. Ernst and Young. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.ey.com/en_gl/tax/how-covid-19-is-disrupting-immigration-policies-and-worker-mobility-a-tracker

Hauri, D., Eisenhut, P., and Lorenz T. (2016). „Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung: Hintergründe und Zusammenhänge.” Stiftung Zukunft.li. Retrieved 28 May, 2020, from Knacknuss Wachstum und Zuwanderung

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017a). ‘Global Workforce Trends: The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-global-mobility-trends-latest.PDF 

Robb, A., Frewin, K. and Jagger, P. (2017b). ‘Global Workforce : Digital Innovation in Mobility.’ Deloitte. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/fi/Documents/tax/deloitte-uk-digital-innovation-in-mobility.pd