Bringing the “Human Touch” Back into Global Mobility

Human Touch

Human Touch in 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* regularly comment on our work. For example, when we analyze the process landscape or help expats with their immigration process, Virginia butts in with a comment about 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 I haven’t responded 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 a 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 I smell errors.

My contracts aren’t perfect either. I blame that because I haven’t learned basic administrative tasks, as I would usually have an assistant supporting me. I can draft, comment and edit, but I don’t 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 A few years back, the “Executive Assistant”  had been replaced by HR Software and “manager self-service.”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 worried.

The AI Hype versus Global Mobility Reality

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 must get our digitalization teething issues sorted out globally. On our wishlist is the “holy grail,” the site that rules them all.

The Digital Disruptors in Global Mobility are racing to develop collaborative platforms that speak to each other through API codes. It is, therefore, up to us as Global Mobility Managers to bring back the “Human Touch” in Global Mobility. Through digitalization, we will cut down on the middle person and establish more direct relationships between you and the vendors. We recommend that Global Mobility Professionals meet with you and your spouse before the move and one debriefing session after the return. Ideally, an intimate 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, and essentially, we are dealing with data.

Looking 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. 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 looking at risks, primarily through the intercultural, diversity, and inclusion glasses.

Focus on Making Constructive Advances in AI

On improving Global Mobility, we would also like to discuss possible ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be integrated into Global Mobility positively and constructively. Before we begin, we must realize that the technologies we usually discuss under AI are 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 it 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. Integrating recruitment with an algorithm is one possible way to bring AI to Global Mobility, which is already being researched. This algorithm would not be constrained by human biases – such as sexism or racism – and could focus solely on relevant 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 and 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 world’s elite and they exert their beliefs and biases on controlling the direction the development and usage takes. Their economic, skin color and gender privileges are often visible in these creations.

The Implicit Bias in Tech

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 failed to detect people without white or light skin. Later iterations of the product fixed this issue and worked in sub-optimal light.

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

Careful nurturing of this new technology will benefit Global Mobility and all aspects of work as we know it. AI-powered digital spaces already enable 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.

To some degree, this technology has also made its way 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. A frequent pushback to such decisions is the employees’ desire to have a suitable workplace that promotes comfort and familiarity, such as break spaces, meeting rooms, and workstations.

Human Touch in Global Mobility cannot be replaced (yet)

This brings me to my initial point: the “human touch.” That will be the determining factor to the success or failure of AI adoption. Maintaining the human touch while transitioning processes and systems to AI is critical. 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.

Currently, there are no easy solutions as most companies are treading new grounds in adoption and optimization. However, one thing organizations, 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.

Maintaining the human touch while transitioning processes and systems to AI is critical. 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. 

We will shortly publish “The Global Rockstar Album“, Angie Weinberger’s new book for managers and nomads who want to bring purpose, performance, and productivity to their work while becoming more inclusive servant leaders. Sign up here to learn more about our publications.



One thought on “Bringing the “Human Touch” Back into Global Mobility

  1. Pingback: Ten Commandments for the Global Mobility Manager

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