Bringing the “Human Touch” Back in the Impending Age of AI and Digitization

“Human Touch” is Critical to the Future of Global Mobility.

We are robots. At least you could get this impression when you deal with us. Virginia Robot is an observer in our “Global Mobility Academy”. They* comment regularly on our work. For example, when we analyze the process landscape or helping expats with their immigration process Virginia butts in with a comment how AI could do all that faster, better and cheaper.

For the last three years we’ve been experimenting with digital global mobility coaching and transition support with you.

We are in a good position to criticize the digitalization buzz and AI hype. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of new and shiny tech tools and I get excited about apps, but somewhere down the line, they usually disappoint me. For example, on Saturday I tried to book a flight via my Swissair App while on a train. It seems I just entered another country when…the process failed. Now, I’m trying to find out if my booking was saved in an “interrupted” cart or something and haven’t had a response for 48 hours. When you are an entrepreneur time and health are your most critical assets and it frustrates me when I “waste” time.

In 1999, when I called our global tax provider I either received an answer right away or they would call back within 24 hours, because that was considered good client service. Now, when I call I often don’t get a chance to leave voicemail and when I email, I can be happy if I receive a response within seven days. In my book, that’s not good enough. Let alone, that contracts have typos all over and tax declarations need to be corrected. I’m not even a tax advisor but it seems that I smell errors.

My contracts aren’t perfect either. I blame that on the fact that I haven’t really learned basic administrative tasks as usually I would have an assistant supporting me. I can draft, comment and edit, but I don’t really have the energy to make it look perfect.

A few years back the “Executive Assistant”  had been replaced by HR Software and “manager self service”. BUT what if you are building a new team or function? Wouldn’t it help to have admin support or an outsourced virtual assistant sitting at a desk in a home office in Burkina Faso or Bangkok?

So yes, I am interested in exploring working with a colleague such as Virginia Robot as long as they don’t outsmart me in front of my clients. They will probably be better at cost projections while mine may  have formula errors and miss social security data. Virginia will also work 24/7. Maybe they have design skills and a knack for perfect templates.

And they won’t catch a coronavirus, or strain a leg in a skiing accident. At some point they could probably replace our assistant and maybe us as well.

Still, when I look at reality I’m not really worried.

Why we don’t jump on the AI Hype just yet


You may have noticed this yourself too, but in the past few years, Global Mobility has revolved around process segmentation, outsourcing and offshoring.

While this has resulted in tremendous optimization and cost saving, it has also  had the unintended but unfortunate effect of giving this perception and reputation of being “robotic” and “fragmented”.

Before we can teach AI we need to get our digitalization teething issues sorted out globally. On our wishlist is the “holy grail”, the site that rules them all. Disruptors  in this field such as INEOMobility, Topia, ReloTalent, VendiumGlobal, Benivo are racing for developing collaborative sites that speak to each other through API codes.

It is therefore up to us as Global Mobility professionals to bring back the “human touch” to our industry.

Our assumption is that through digitalization we will cut down on the middle person and establish more direct relationships between you and the vendors. We recommend to Global Mobility Professionals to have a personal meeting with you and your spouse before the move and one debriefing meeting after the return. Ideally, a personal catch-up during the home leave also helps.

Even if we cannot imagine a robot filing tax returns, sending social security applications and reviewing immigration documents, because of the complexity of the overall topics, we have to see that essentially we are dealing with data.

When I look at my current reality, I often feel thrown back to 1999 when I started in the field and we moved from net calculations on paper to excel. Due to IT security, GDPR and connectivity issues, I can use my hours on data distribution and entry essentially.

I prefer to sit down with clients in person and talk face-to-face, because then I feel productive. My team of researchers and I thought we should be open to innovation while also looking at risks especially through the intercultural, diversity and inclusion glasses.

Focus on Making Constructive Advances in AI

On the subject of improving Global Mobility, we would also like to discuss possible ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be integrated into Global Mobility in a positive and constructive manner.

Before we begin, it is important to realize that the technologies that we usually discuss under the label of AI are actually not examples of Artificial Intelligence, but a specific subfield called “machine learning”. Because the latter does not sound as exciting, the general term of AI continues to be used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be.

We also found more real-life examples related to global recruiting where in the past “Application Tracking Systems” left a lot of broken shards and many applicants felt as if their applications went into a black hole.

One possible way to bring AI to Global Mobility, and something that is already being researched, is integrating recruitment with an algorithm. This algorithm would not be constrained by human biases of any sort – such as sexism or racism – and could focus solely on pertinent skills, qualifications and experience.

Unfortunately, as with all new technologies, we must tread carefully. AI is created by and trained on human values, experiences and examples and can take up our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Some issues reared their heads recently with Google’s AI misbehaving and an AI art project turning racist due to bad training being input to the algorithms. So much of modern technology is influenced, primarily through various funding channels, by the elite of the world and they exert their beliefs and biases on controlling the direction the development and usage takes. In fact, their economic, skin-colour and gender privileges are often visible in these creations.

When the original Kinect was released, it had difficulty recognizing people with darker skin. It was discovered that the early code measured the contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. So, without optimal lighting conditions, that algorithm was failing to detect people without white or light skin. Later iterations of the product fixed this issue, and worked in sub-optimal light as well.

Another example of AI-gone-wrong was revealed with Amazon scrapping its internal AI-based hiring tool after it was revealed that it was somehow biased against women. Again, because the current AI is actually just machine learning, the recruitment tool learned from the historical data given to it. The professional workplace, like most other aspects of life, was male-dominated and the AI learned to be biased against women’s resumes as a result. Not a good look for AI, and Amazon.

Careful nurturing of this new technology will definitely have benefits not just for Global Mobility, but all aspects of work as we know it.
AI-powered digital spaces are already enabling whole groups of professionals to interact more efficiently and effectively, every social platform utilizes algorithmic data feeds and machine learning of your usage habits to connect you to relevant professionals. That is how thriving communities of artists form on Instagram, writing groups on Twitter and digital marketers on LinkedIn.

This technology has also made its way, to some degree, into strategic workforce planning and even transforming workspaces. The flip side, again, is that businesses need to be wary of adopting these changes too fast, or without any feedback from the employees who will be impacted. In fact, a frequent pushback to such decisions is the employees desire to have a suitable workplace that promotes comfort and familiarity for them, such as break spaces, meeting rooms and workstations.

This brings me full circle to my initial point: the “human touch”. That will be the determining factor to the success or failure of AI adoption. It is critical to maintain the human touch while transitioning processes and systems to AI. So as we rethink our business core and competencies to align with AI and technology, we should do our best to remember that at the heart of our work in Global Mobility are people, with emotions, feelings, skills and abilities, who are diverse and unique and deserve to thrive in the best work conditions. At least for a few years, parts of our brain aren’t yet reproducible according to this neuropsychologist.

At this point, there are no easy solutions as most companies are treading new grounds in adoption and optimization. However, one thing organisations, businesses and Global Mobility Teams can do is to remember to make this shift in a way that aligns with business needs and the needs of the people.

“Think Global People” ran a detailed discussion on this subject which you can read here to increase your knowledge, as AI adoption will soon become the hot topic in Global Mobility.

What’s your experience and preference when dealing with Global Mobility Professionals? How would you feel if you received an automated but personalized email from your colleague in HR instead of a phone call? 

References and further reading:

*They is considered the new default neutral pronoun. We decided to use it for our non-human friends as well as we learned that ‘They’ was called the word of the year for 2019, for this reason that it was inclusive of all genderfluid, humanoid or otherwise beings.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/sep/17/merriam-webster-they-nonbinary-pronoun

https://mindmatters.ai/2020/01/ai-in-the-courtroom-will-a-robot-sentence-you/

https://www.nzz.ch/zuerich/mensch-oder-maschine-interview-mit-neuropsychologe-lutz-jaencke-ld.1502927

https://www.un.org/en/gender-inclusive-language/guidelines.shtml

Any experience with these disruptors?

Topia

https://www.topia.com/

INEO

https://www.ineomobility.com/

Vendium Global

https://www.vendiumglobal.com/

Benivo 

https://www.benivo.com/global-mobility-teams

ReloTalent

https://www.relotalent.com/

VendiumGlobal

https://www.vendiumglobal.com/about

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