Author Archives: Luna Darrous
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 

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

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

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