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Are we ready to adapt to a new future?

Cameron Senior, Interim Head of Wealth & Personal Banking and Head of Distribution, HSBC Expat August 2021.

Learning from change can be a force for good.

None of us will ever forget the immense challenges of the last eighteen months. But the work done to turn the tide against the pandemic has raised the bar for what can be achieved when different nationalities and cultures come together for the common good.

I'm hopeful this is one of the lessons we will take from the pandemic. Clients have told me just how important those international links became in the darkest days of lockdown, and the economic hardship that followed. I'm not sure we quite realised how adaptable we are until early 2020. And if we can embrace this spirit of adaptability, the possibilities ahead of us are endless. Of course, adaptability is the single most important trait for any international secondee. But the past 18 months have demanded other qualities too, not least the determination to push through uncertainty and adversity on a scale few of us have experienced before.

As the world starts to open up again, we are rekindling our sense of international adventure. It's a great feeling and, armed with this newfound outlook, we have much to look forward to.

Embracing change to beat uncertainty

Uncertainty has become a daily challenge for all of us. The added pressure of new rules and regulations has placed a premium on agility and quick decision-making for those living and working abroad, everything from understanding local and ever-changing restrictions to managing the move back home when the time is right. I am so inspired by the way expats have continued to adapt, and redefined what home really means to them.

For expats, it's never been more important to have the right financial support and advice – with travel restrictions in place, international money transfers to support family and friends assume even greater importance. Which, of course, comes with increased exposure to currency instability and a heightened risk of fraud.

Likewise, mental health is a huge consideration. With travel restrictions in place, we have had to find new ways to connect. The isolation of lockdown has seen many of us rely on the networks built through work with colleagues and collaborators. And employers have had to take a far more personalised approach to the way they support secondees.

Delivering on the promise of flexible working

This shift in the way businesses think about employees is an encouraging foundation for the next generation. With a newfound need to work from home, businesses are beginning to deliver on the promise of flexible working. This has the potential to revolutionise expat's working lives. The ability to work in any time-zone or manage projects across multiple markets, while keeping in touch with family and friends is helping international workers become a more effective bridge between countries. Flexible working arrangements, with a mix of home and office working, will surely become a regular feature of contract discussions over the next 12-18 months.

The widespread adoption of workplace instant messaging, video conferencing and virtual collaboration tools will also ease the adjustment to working in a new country, allowing relationships to be built before leaving home and maintained once you return.

From my perspective, however, the biggest changes are cultural not technological. While the technology for remote working has been around for years, any experienced expat will tell you the pain of being "out of the room" when collaborating across borders. But, after a year of building relationships through a screen, there is a newfound empathy and understanding for remote workers – which has to be a good thing for those of us with a foot in two countries. These developments are reasons to be hopeful that the next generation of expats will not just be supported, but actively included, both in their host and home country.

The next generation

As I said earlier, we are more adaptable than we realised. As the post-pandemic world opens up there will be challenges but, armed with the experiences of the past 18 months – and of course that hard-earned grit and determination – we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future.

The world is emerging into an economic recovery full of interesting scenarios. There are talent shortages which can't be filled locally, supply chain disruptions hampering trade and a reinvigorated drive to reach net zero. None of this can be solved without international collaboration. And that's why I believe recent events have armed the next generation of international workers with resilience. In turn, they will go on to have an enormously positive impact on their businesses and on the world at large. The world may take its time to open up fully again, but as expats we should be proud of how we have grown over the past year and excited about what is to come.

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