There are many challenges and opportunities involved in managing a global workforce, however there are some common aspects which occur time and again.
For good reasons, the focus of employers is often on tactical matters – deciding who to deploy, where and when. These decisions can be based on several factors, such as how they can best service customers or explore new markets. The challenge is in enabling a more strategic form of mobility that supports, for example, the development of their employees, as the success of these developmental assignments is more difficult to quantify. The extent of employee development cannot be properly gauged at the conclusion of an assignment, rather this can only be determined by observing the foreign assignee’s career and progression for some time after the assignment ends.
The world is changing and at quite a rapid pace. Demographic change (ageing workforces in the developed world), the rise of labour workforce protectionism in some major economies, and an increase in artificial intelligence and robotics are major disruptors to the global workforce. Such factors suggest that the future workforce will need different skills and will be in different locations than the workforce of today. Companies that can understand the impact of these changes can proactively plan for them, rather than react to them as they occur.
At Crowe, we always tell clients and colleagues – late compliance is costly compliance. Aspects such as immigration, tax, payroll, and social security need to be addressed up front, but businesses are often unprepared for the complexity involved and the lead time that may be required. The only way to overcome these challenges is to be organised and get the necessary processes underway as soon as possible. Doing so is not easy unless the global mobility team has effective processes in place and a healthy partnership with the company, so that they are brought in from the early planning stages.
As well as facilitating strategic mobility, planning for the impacts of the changing global workforce, and addressing compliance issues in a timely manner, companies also need to understand what creates value for the business and connect their current global mobility and talent deployment strategies to their future goals. A relatively simple workforce plan shouldn’t need input from lots of different consultants and require months or years to develop. Employers need to understand the skills and experience of their current workforce, look at their future goals to identify what is missing, and focus their talent mobility strategy on addressing and filling these gaps.
Local knowledge surrounding assignment locations is essential to understanding safety and security risks. However, while some countries may be considered more dangerous than others, safety is often quite a fluid concept. Government guidance is a good starting point, but it is critical that foreign assignees also receive local insights and on-the-ground knowledge.
Employers must also recognise the unique challenges that a foreign assignment presents, with the employee being taken from their familiar surroundings, robust personal support network, and regular routine. This can take a toll on even the most experienced foreign assignees, and employers need to ensure that they provide the necessary support. Wellness aspects – such as socialising opportunities, exercise activities, and leisure time – need to be provided for. If these things aren’t addressed, they will have a detrimental impact on both the employee and the company in the long run.
One of the biggest issues when discussing the success of foreign assignments is how we define assignment ‘failure’. A failed assignment is more than just an assignment that didn’t deliver the business case, or one that was terminated early. Companies need to define the expected outcomes of an assignment – both quantitative and qualitative – and determine how these can be measured. It is only then that they can understand whether an assignment can be considered a success or a failure.
Where assignments do fail, the following are common contributing factors:
From these contributing factors, assignee selection, preparation, and ongoing support are critical to assignment success.
The financial implications of a failed assignment are reasonably clear, such as failed customer contracts, a market not being properly exploited, or a development opportunity not being seized.
Less obvious repercussions would be the wasted time and energy spent on a failed assignment. Those that work outside of the global mobility field may be unaware of the complex technical and process-critical success factors behind deploying an individual from one country to another. The enormous amount of time and energy invested into a failed assignment represent valuable resources that could have been deployed elsewhere.
There are many different support components that employers need to consider when putting together a comprehensive relocation package.
Compliance support – covering aspects such as immigration, payroll, tax, social security, and labour law analysis – is critical to avoid illegal or uncompliant practices. Medical support is equally important, and can be a deal breaker if not appropriately addressed.
Compensation needs to be approached with the bigger picture in mind – is this a long-term local market role or a shorter tactical requirement? How are they compensated in their home country, and what benefits do they receive? Will they be compensated using a home-based or host-based approach? Where will the employee work next? Compensation needs to be determined on an individual level, taking all these factors into consideration.
Foreign assignees normally receive some support to settle into the host country, however most of this is likely to be business-driven. The more practical and personal elements of support – such as assistance to socially integrate, find local information and tips, and build up a support network – are not going to be found in the company handbook. Such aspects are key to making everyday life in the host location work, and can be even more vital for relocating spouses who are often not working and therefore miss out on valuable workplace support.
My personal predictions for the future of global assignments relate somewhat to technology, and I see service intimacy as a big opportunity. The march towards offshoring and automation in the last decade or so has resulted in many efficiencies. But the question remains, how can technology be used to enhance the personal aspects of support? This has huge impact potential, and moving forward I see global mobility teams finding new and innovative ways to use technology to support their employees, ultimately enhancing assignee performance and increasing assignment success.
This article first appeared on the InterNations Business Solutions website in March 2019. InterNations Business Solutions provides expert insights and personalised solutions for global mobility and HR professionals to ensure successful foreign assignments and improved international talent retention. InterNations is the world's largest expat network with 3.4 million members and 420 communities worldwide. Through the InterNations Corporate Membership, expat employees are empowered to quickly and easily integrate abroad through peer-to-peer support.