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The evolution of global mobility

An overview from Cameron Senior, Head of Distribution, HSBC Expat, June 2021.

Adaptability is the single most important trait for any international employee.

But this past year has demanded far more than that. It's taken grit and a determination to push through uncertainty when global mobility became much more complex. Now, the world is starting to open up once again, and a sense of international adventure is re-emerging. This perseverance has revolutionised the way we collaborate across borders, and will set us up for success in the years to come.

Helping international employees through the pandemic has fundamentally changed the role of global mobility professionals. It's been an opportunity for HR and global mobility teams to shine, adapt to the new environment and keep up with changing regulations. To support their assignees and the businesses with which they work.

Embracing change to beat uncertainty

One of the greatest obstacles for international assignees can be uncertainty. The ability of teams to operate in a more agile way and make decisions quickly, often under pressure, has been a key advantage. While we've found our way through new rules and regulations, HR and global mobility practitioners have played a critical role in providing reassurance and stability to those living and working abroad. Central to this has been helping assignees understand local restrictions and managing repatriation requirements for those who decide to move back home.

Travel restrictions have seen people more reliant on transferring money overseas to support family and friends, which has exposed them to currency instability and a heightened risk of fraud. As a result, for expats, getting the necessary support to guide them through financial uncertainty has become even more important. Ultimately, this has created new ways for international professionals to manage their money and ensure they can support loved ones, no matter the distance between them.

Wellbeing has perhaps never been so important, and mental health has become front and centre as our work lives were turned upside down. With travel restrictions in place, the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to connect, and this is especially true of those living in a new country. As I reflect on what the international community has overcome, I'm inspired by the way expats have adapted and redefined what home really means to them.

Feeling connected to home, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, has been so vital for assignees, which has forced businesses to shift focus onto the needs of the individual. Not only will this benefit assignees and their families, taking into greater consideration their personal circumstances, but it will help businesses to access the right international talent.

Delivering on the promise of flexible working

With a newfound need to work from home, businesses are beginning to deliver on the promise of flexible working. While for many around the world this has been a difficult adjustment, it has the potential to revolutionise how expats work. Being able to work in any time zone, whether to keep in touch with family and friends back home or manage projects across more than one market, promises to make international workers become a more effective bridge between countries. I'm sure we'll see flexible working arrangements as part of contract discussions more often over the next 12-18 months.

From my point of view, it's interesting to see the most significant changes experienced by global mobility professionals have been cultural not technological. While the technology for remote working has been around for years, the difference is more employees and businesses now see its value. Collaboration is no longer something that must occur in a meeting room. Although there are real benefits to spending time face to face as a team, we're now more willing to join a virtual brainstorm or jump on a video conference if needed. That can only be good for assignees with a foot in two countries. These developments are reasons to be hopeful the next generation of expats will feel supported with more options than the last.

As offices reopen across the world, we need to address the complex and often very different needs of individual assignees across multiple markets. People working in consultancy or digital-based roles for example, are more likely to push for a remote working policy than those who are needed on site. Each country has different regulations and constraints, which make it incredibly difficult for multinational organisations to have a simple or consistent policy. Our recent event in partnership with Global Mobility Executive confirmed there's no 'one size fits all' approach to introducing remote working policies or the transition back to the office. This is partly due to the pace at which we need to adapt, but also because there are so many competing needs when considering a flexible working population.

The next generation

Undoubtedly, there will still be uncertainty over the coming months. But this year the international community has proven determination and ability to adapt is in their DNA. I'm excited to see the impact this has on inspiring the next generation of international workers. We're already seeing many people reset their goals and I anticipate even more will take the plunge to move abroad in the months ahead. As the economic recovery picks up pace, employers will focus on the value of international workers to help solve skill shortages and bring in new and fresh ideas. Those businesses that get their global mobility strategies right today, will be front in line to source the best talent tomorrow.

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