For many, the beginning of the year is about setting goals and making plans for how to reach them. But this year feels different — the uncertainty and disruptions we are still experiencing in the wake of the pandemic, make it difficult to know where to even begin. Old formulas and strategies that we are used to leaning on are not effective anymore, and it’s unclear what to apply in their place. The world of global mobility has been particularly beset with uncertainty as one of the most basic ideas behind it — the crossing of borders — has been impossible to predict and plan for these past couple of years. 

But, as uncertain as things are right now, there are many well-informed ideas about what the year (and beyond) might have in store and what to think about when it comes to charting a path for success and keeping a competitive edge. The most important idea, the one that works its way into almost all other aspects of how to create success in 2022 is this: taking care of “your people”, your employees. Without a healthy, invested employee base, success — however you define it — will be hard to come by.

KPMG’s Global Assignment Policies and Practices survey (published at the end of 2021) mentions in the very introduction of the report the role employees play in the success of a company as they write: “CEOs identified their employee value proposition as the top operational priority to achieve their growth objectives”. Employers will need to figure out how to meet employee needs, not only to ensure they are performing at the top of their abilities but to retain and attract talent as well. 

What Employees are Looking For

The complication here is that employees are not looking for the same things now as they were even a year ago. Life and work have been altered, and as people have had to adjust, their expectations and needs have changed. What that means in practical terms for employers will be different from company to company but there are some general trends to use as a guide.

Employees are looking for:

  • A clear plan for ESG goals (environmental, social, governance). It’s not enough for employers to craft a message of diversity goals or environmental engagement without action and follow-through. This extends to demanding accountability from vendors and includes reporting progress and results. 
  • A recognition that mental health is taken seriously and that there is adequate coverage, and that progressive policies are in place to promote better mental health.
  • A work environment that values work-life balance and real measures that allow for it.
  • Flexibility in when and where to work — at the office, at home, a combination of both.

What About Global Mobility?

Unsurprisingly, the basic question of what global mobility will look like going forward is still front and center for many global companies. The KPMG survey points out that one of the reasons for believing in the return of global mobility is that it’s an important recruitment tool — many employees still see the opportunity to work abroad as a career enhancer. It is also a way for companies to improve on diversity and social consciousness. 

The report says: “Evolving business models and the war for talent are expected to continue to drive the development of new and diverse talent mobility needs for organizations. Pandemic-related complications have led to more innovation and more reliance on flexible work options both domestically and abroad. As more borders open and viral infection rates decline globally, we fully expect business travel to resume albeit with less frequency and shorter trips.”

Building support for the altered circumstances in which global mobility operates will become a top priority in 2022. Some of the issues that employers are grappling with are:

Compliance Compliance has always been a concern when managing global talent and the pandemic has only complicated the matter. 

Greater need for real-time risk assessment/management — Risk assessment and management have become more complex and more urgent, as they cover a wider scope compared to pre-pandemic times, and as they are more time-sensitive than ever before. 

Distributed workforce The distributed workforce is here to stay and with that comes advantages as well as challenges. For employers, this means considering the effects on company culture, engagement, and communication, and implementing strategies for countering some of the possible negative outcomes such as feelings of isolation or broken communication. Some of the benefits of a distributed workforce include being able to hire from a greater talent pool, being a nimble company that can work across time zones, and greater opportunities for diversity.

Meeting the Demands of the Future

Many agree that the answers to meet the demands of the future will be found by combining hi-tech solutions with outsourcing for services while providing flexible support to fulfill new mobility needs. Employers are looking to:

  • Build flexible policies for relocation support.
  • Build cohesive vendor partnerships to support global talent in areas such as intercultural knowledge, as well as in tax, immigration, and employment laws, and for fulfilling duty of care.
  • Explore new technology and apply virtual solutions for collaboration, education, and communication. Vistage.com writes: “Nearly every industry needs to consider the impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digitization. Those who choose not to participate will be left behind.”

The new year may not have started off as we hoped and uncertainty may still be the prevailing feeling, but as Amir Husain writes on Forbes.com: “If there is one thing we should be certain of about the future, it is that it will indeed bring forth many surprises. Even trends we are aware of now and think we understand will, in time, drive outcomes at a scale hard for us to imagine.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amirhusain/2021/12/31/2022-a-look-ahead/?sh=7e3adc4c7900

https://www.vistage.com/research-center/business-financials/economic-trends/20211209-trends-facing-business-in-2022-and-beyond/

https://www.upwork.com/resources/distributed-workforce

Leadership is much-discussed in the world of business — how to recruit, train, and retain talent are perennial topics on the agenda, and most often, good leadership is defined by traits such as great communication skills, the ability to delegate, empowerment, and integrity. And while these are undoubtedly important attributes in order to lead successfully, being a leader in today’s world requires additional traits, such as those encompassed in the three C’s — Curiosity, Courage, and Collaboration.

They are needed because we have entered an era that is defined by the recognition that we all share a responsibility to shape the world we live in with regards to sustainability, diversity, and inclusion (and beyond) — and the responsibility doesn’t start and end at home, it carries over into all aspects of life, private and public, home and work, in big ways and small.

The reasons for this shift are many — awareness of issues facing our global society, demands by younger generations of workers to make sustainability, diversity, and inclusion a natural part of business, and of course, a realization that there are business opportunities to be had.

As Olio’s co-founder Tessa Clarke says on simplybusiness.co.uk with regards to the concept of profit with purpose: “There’s a whole new generation of consumers — Gen Z and millennials — who are recognizing that profit and purpose are inextricably linked.” She adds: “Any business that does not truly embed profit with purpose into its DNA will lose its license to exist, I’d like to say within the next five years, but certainly within the next 10-20 years.”

And things are changing — a number of companies have been launched in the last few years with the purpose of doing their bit when it comes to addressing sustainability and promoting inclusion and diversity as a business idea. In addition, more and more established companies are also seeing the benefits of incorporating these practices into regular operations — when it comes to long-term costs and marketability, for example, as well as in attracting and retaining employees.

The shift in mindset can best be described as “currently evolving”, as this is still an area of learning for many business leaders. There may not be a “manual” yet to follow but the increased awareness has led to a greater willingness to look at business practices from the perspective of sustainability and to change goals to also include actions and benchmarks in these areas.

Globiana coach Camilla Degerth has seen this first hand with an increased desire among clients to explore ways in which these issues can be not just discussed in the workplace but also championed and implemented. Many are uncertain about where to start and how to make sure they are heard.

Oftentimes, the concerns raised in coaching reflect the insecurity an employee feels about bringing up an issue that lies outside their realm of responsibility, or that a leader experiences thinking they need to have all the answers. Some of the common questions that come up in coaching include:

  • How can I bring up topics such as sustainability or inclusion in our business practices without losing credibility?
  • Will this be seen as an investment or a cost?
  • How will people look at me if I say we need to change our ways?
  • How can I ensure employees feel safe enough to share their thoughts and ideas?

Answering these questions is where the three C’s come into the picture because it’s the business leaders who are guided by the principles of the three C’s that are most likely to make progress and implement changes successfully. The three C’s break down as follows:

Curiosity — learn more about the issues and about ideas for how to tackle them. To have the awareness that you don’t have all the expertise.

Courage — be vulnerable and admit that you don’t have all the answers and solutions, and then the willingness to empower others to step up to the plate.

Collaboration — take the step to work together across hierarchies, ages, and roles. This is a big task but building allyships will help move projects forward.

It’s not easy to institute change — of any kind — whether it has to do with redefining how you do business, showing vulnerability as a leader, starting a new business partnership, or acknowledging that you don’t have the expertise needed to tackle a certain issue. The beauty is that in empowering — that is, letting people around you know that their voice is important and that they have something to contribute — you feed creativity and collaboration. And those are traits that are good for any business objective, period.

Much of what is discussed here is not news — from the dynamics of younger generations driving change — in the business world and beyond — to older generations being mentors and guides. What is different is perhaps the urgency felt by so many and the fact that leaders today are more visible to employees, and to the public, than ever before. The words and actions of a leader have the potential to reach far, making their sphere of influence large, which means they can impact change to a greater extent. So, the questions are what is the responsibility of business leaders, and how can they build organizations in which employees feel empowered to bring new ideas forward?

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://www.simplybusiness.co.uk/knowledge/articles/2021/10/tips-for-saving-the-planet-from-food-sharing-startup-olio/?ref_id=CPNXA&utm_source=email&utm_medium=olio_sustainable_business&utm_campaign=ots_pdc

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/11/generation-x–not-millennials–is-changing-the-nature-of-work.html

Often when talking or reading about how global mobility fits into the structure of a business, it’s done from a numbers perspective. There is no doubt that the economy of global mobility is important. However, there is another, less examined key aspect to consider — the people involved — those supporting global mobility efforts, and those being supported by global mobility programs.

These are the human resource teams and service providers who have to balance cost vs value on a daily basis, and who have to keep up to date on conditions, policies, and regulations, domestically and across the world. They are the ones who know that every implemented policy and crunched number will ultimately affect not just the directly impacted employee or business unit, but also the greater “ecosystem” surrounding them.

They are the employees who work, travel, and move across borders, and who are asked to produce at a high level regardless of where in the world they are, or how attuned to a new culture they are. These are the employees who are asked to work remotely in a multicultural group, across time zones and language barriers without missing a beat. They are the ones traversing continents to represent, give presentations, and negotiate deals in culturally appropriate and effective ways.

In short, they are the very diverse group of individuals behind the catchall term “Global Mobility”.

Spending time on the finer points of global mobility at this juncture may seem counterintuitive to some considering the recent struggles the industry has experienced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And, yes, it’s true that cross-border movement has been hampered. But, cross-border collaboration has not.

Thought exchange and teamwork across borders are as commonplace now, if not more so, as before the pandemic — technology has made sure of that. The need for intercultural knowledge and understanding of how to collaborate across borders and across cultures has not diminished, if anything, it has increased. As a global mobility service provider, Globiana has seen this first hand.

“Keeping a global view of the process of global mobility is as important now as it ever has been,” says Globiana CEO and Founder Elena Mosko. She points out that it’s easy to forget that cross-border collaboration, whether in person or virtual, is a high-stakes venture. It is well known that the negative effects of failed cross-cultural communication and adaptation are many and can be severe — for individuals, their families, and businesses alike. What is less well known are the greater cultural impacts and how those shape how we as people — and by extension businesses — view each other. How we lay the groundwork for trust and understanding. How we build for the future.

So, what is the responsibility of individual companies and global mobility service providers when it comes to the bigger picture of promoting understanding and bringing in the human aspect in what is traditionally a transactional part of business? Do individual companies have a responsibility at all?

As a company with the tagline “Humanizing Global Mobility”, it may be clear where Globiana stands on that question. But what does that tagline actually mean and how does it translate to what we do and how we approach clients? “Globiana was originally developed as a complement to the benefits side of the global mobility business, but as time has gone on, there has been a recognition within the leadership and the broader team alike, that we have a role to play in filling a bigger gap,” says Elena.

The core of what we do is to bring down cultural barriers — within our team, which is multicultural and based all over the world, and through the products and services we offer. But a recent internal survey shows that to truly live up to our tagline we have to do more than break down barriers, we also have to promote an inclusive worldview, we have to help build bridges.  

As one team member put it: “This includes remembering that people are much more than their job titles or where they come from. It touches on how we form relationships with people who are not in our physical vicinity and how those relationships affect our lives.”

And yet another said this: “The attitude that there is always something wonderful to learn from each place and person, and that there is much to contribute without the fear of judgment.”

Likewise, living up to the tagline means being deliberate in how we choose to grow our team and how we support other vendors and clients who share our vision, awareness, and agreed-upon engagement.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because, for one, the way we see it, it’s just good business sense to invest in cultural understanding and outreach — that’s how you build lasting networks, make deals, and forge relationships. It matters because it is a validation of the importance of the diversity on our own team, as well as of the diversity of the clients we serve. And it matters because ultimately, it’s about worldview.

By: Felicia Shermis

It is well-known that merging two companies is a difficult undertaking, and international mergers count as some of the trickiest of all to pull off, as here you are not only merging company cultures and office structures, you are also combining cultural heritage patterns, both big and small. And while the reasons for why mergers don’t live up to expectations (or fail outright) can be many, integration is generally considered to be one of the biggest hurdles. To put some numbers on it, between 50-85% of all mergers fail, and a study by A.T. Kearney concluded that total returns to shareholders on mergers and acquisitions are negative.

Considering that integration issues encompass everything from company hierarchy to performance drivers to internal and external communication, it makes sense that it’s an important piece in ensuring a successful merger. The results of failing to address integration matters span the spectrum of, at best, an inefficient work environment to one that is downright toxic. Nowhere on that scale is there a positive outcome.

Because the topic of integration speaks to the very fabric of what makes a company function, it is vital that cultural integration is part of discussions early in the process of a merger and that the leadership have clear action plans for how to address it. Ideally, it should be an ongoing effort that has employees actively involved.

A famous example of a merger gone wrong is the one between German automaker Daimler and US-based Chrysler. On paper, this was a match with all kinds of positive upside — they operated in the same sphere and produced the same products. However, the two companies had completely different cultures. Daimler was conservative and known for having low risk tolerance, while Chrysler was diverse and creative. One was formal and the other looser in its structure. It didn’t take long before employee satisfaction dropped to all-time lows, and within a couple of years, they were recording major losses. What was thought to bring fortune to both companies ended up bringing chaos instead. Daimler eventually sold Chrysler. 

As an intercultural services company, Globiana has seen firsthand the difference cultural integration training makes. A recent survey conducted after completing trainings for a large international company based in Germany, which had merged with a large company in the US, highlighted why it’s so important to be intentional about integration training. 

As an example, take this observation by one of the participants when asked about future learning topics to cover: “The other company has a results-driven culture where compensation is tied to personal results, this is not the case in our company, and I’m not even sure that’s allowed by our workers’ council. What does that mean for our combined workforce?” And an answer to the question of what new perspectives had been gained through trainings was: “Most important to me was to learn why Americans are more focused on short-term results, which is different from how I am acting.”

Looking at these two responses, you get a good idea of why integration is so important, and also why it’s so thorny. Because, of course, not only do the answers reflect divergent compensation systems (which in itself can become a problem) but they also bring into focus the questions of larger cultural tendencies such as performance drivers and goal setting. It’s not hard to imagine the collaboration difficulties that can spring from leaving issues like these unaddressed.

A common mistake in mergers is to task employees, often managers, to lead the way in integration. This is problematic because they typically lack the expertise to address all that integration entails. And in addition, they most often don’t have the time, or the resources, to spearhead this type of effort in a sustained way.  

Using an expert is a cost-effective way of getting targeted training. Globiana for example has a global network of trainers, who in addition to country-specific knowledge also have expertise in how to bridge the cross-cultural aspects of a merger and how to facilitate collaboration and communication between groups.

Further proof of the impact of integration training can be found in Globiana’s post-training survey where 84% responded that they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” with the statement: “I am confident that I can apply part of what I have learned today in my upcoming work.” On the question about interest in a facilitated follow-up, 80% responded that they would like to see that happen.

Perhaps the most important point of all brought forward in the survey was the sentiment that simply knowing that intercultural integration is prioritized by the “new company” gives employees confidence that it’s important for the company to not just merge business but to merge people as well. One participant said: “It felt good to see that my passion for intercultural awareness and the importance of culture, diversity, and inclusion is shared by others and is top focus for ‘the new company’”. And another employee said this: “The effort and thought being put into the integration of the two companies is refreshing. Not only is it teaching me and others, but it is also instilling a sense of belonging in a very short span, which takes years to achieve.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://dealroom.net/blog/challenges-during-m-a

​​https://www.impraise.com/blog/employee-engagement-challenges-with-mergers-acquisitions

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-mergers-fail/

A while back, the team at Globiana started talking about how we can make a difference when it comes to the issue of sustainability. The question posed was something along the lines of how we can work to incorporate both environmentally and socially sustainable values and actions into our offerings while maintaining the same quality of products and services (or, make them even better). What would that look like for a company like ours, and why is it important? 

The initial query led to additional questions such as what is our broader responsibility in the world of global mobility — sustainability is, after all, a global issue. Part of our “job description”, for example, is to educate and support companies and their employees on everything surrounding working and living abroad. It seems natural that that should include environmental, social, and governance (ESG, for short) sustainability issues. And, to some degree, these have always been present in our work. However, they have never been a spelled out priority. 

Likewise, there has long been individual involvement in sustainability among the team members at Globiana, but there has not been a coordinated company-wide effort, and, while there has been an ongoing informal discussion among individuals, there has never been a clear company goal of how we want to address the issues.

So, now the question is, how can Globiana — or any company for that matter — make a commitment to make a difference? And why should we take this on as a company (beyond the obvious reasons why we all need to be working for a more sustainable world)? 

Camilla Degerth, a coach for Globiana who is also a member of the Climate Coaching Alliance says that the first thing to know is that there is no one way to do this. Many who work in the field of sustainability are still trying to determine the best ways to tackle ESG from a corporate point of view. What is clear is that implementation will be different depending on who you are. Camilla points out that the key is to make your efforts operational and not just paper products. In order to do that, she suggests starting with a discussion about what this would look like specifically for your company, in your business sphere. What makes sense based on your products/services/employees/customers? The more well-defined, the better. 

We all know that sustainability is a critical issue — for our environment, for social equity, and for governance — in short, for a functioning society and a living planet. But there are also business reasons for why implementing sustainability into operations makes sense. 

Consider research from Lightspeed that found that 90% of millennials see sustainable practices as crucial when choosing an employer, and it is clear that this is a tool to improve retention as well as to attract new hires. The retailer Patagonia is an example of a company that has a sustainable profile and a company culture that incorporates its values in practical ways with a range of green programs and ways for employees to engage. They attribute their low turnover rate (4%) in large part to their sustainability efforts.

You can save resources and money by implementing sustainable practices in everyday operations. Disney, for example, has a biogas facility that produces heat and electricity from their organic waste that helps power homes and that reduces Disney’s power consumption. Another approach comes from Intel which has tied some of its employees’ compensation to individual recycling metrics in a goal to become a zero-waste company. 

Camilla uses her own experience as a coach as an example of how you can apply your expertise and have an impact. In coaching people who are looking to make a difference in their organizations, she has found that one of the most powerful tools she can provide is confidence — the confidence to talk to senior people about sustainability issues, for example, or the confidence to institute a change or the confidence to set a goal. 

So, as we continue our efforts of incorporating sustainability into our business, we do so with the recognition that our steps and commitments are unique to us. However, we do believe that the responsibility to work towards a more sustainable world is universal.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources: 

https://www.osha.gov/sustainability

https://recyclecoach.com/blog/6-examples-of-sustainability-in-the-workplace-and-their-impact/#:~:text=Sustainability%20in%20the%20workplace%20is,waste%20future%20for%20your%20company.

https://talentmobilitysearch.com/is-it-the-right-time-for-mobility-to-contribute-to-the-esg-agenda/

 

The topic of intercultural awareness and competence in the work world has never been more crucial. In a time when remote work has become commonplace, and where multicultural teams are increasingly prevalent, building awareness and knowledge across cultures have become a must. As many companies with a global footprint know, one of the big challenges is how to create an organizational culture that resonates with employees in different parts of the world. It turns out that it’s almost impossible to establish a common work style across cultures without first ensuring knowledge of our own, and each other’s, “cultural entry points”.

The simplified reason for why this is difficult is that we all have some measure of pre-programmed cultural propensities when it comes to how we communicate, collaborate, and function within a group or a hierarchy. Most of us are unaware of our own cultural tendencies, and how they inform how we interact with others, or how we behave in certain circumstances. Likewise, we often lack knowledge about what our counterpart’s cultural background means. As Globiana’s COO, Steffen Henkel puts it: “The level of awareness of cultural differences is a culture difference in itself”.

That’s because our cultural biases impact everything from how we view time, to hierarchies, to communication, etc. Consider the simple example of a workgroup where employees on a team see the importance of adhering to a set timeline differently — some come from a culture where timelines are strictly followed, and others from a culture where they are considered loose guidelines. It’s not hard to imagine the miscommunication and frustration among the employees once a project is underway and the parties who are supposed to collaborate are not on the same page about what needs to be done when. When this kind of discord takes hold, it is ultimately the quality of work that suffers.   

Intercultural Training is not the Same as Common Sense

A misconception about how to address cultural differences is that it’s just a matter of applying common sense. And since everyone can do that (in theory), investing in intercultural training is not necessary. The problem with that thinking is that common sense is in itself based on cultural assumptions, or as Steffen Henkel says: “Common sense does not exist. There is what one perceives as common sense in one’s own reference system, whether this also applies to other reference systems, one can’t know.” 

When it comes to the impact of gaps in intercultural knowledge, it is typically the case that something has to go wrong before the stakeholders take notice and decide to act. One such example comes from a recent Globiana client. 

The client was getting poor feedback in a customer-facing support division where the workgroups were spread out across Europe, Asia, and the US. The groups were not able to perform according to protocol, and they had communication issues that manifested in frequent miscommunication and unnecessary escalation of support issues. Their customers suffered the consequences as support was halting. 

A needs analysis by Globiana’s intercultural trainers identified the overarching issues affecting the support team as:

  • a lack of cross-cultural awareness within, and between the workgroups in different parts of the world.
  • a lack of understanding of how to communicate between groups located in different parts of the world.
  • a lack of feeling empowered in, and aligned with, company culture, as well as the other teams — in particular on part of employees in one geographic location.

Solutions to Address Intercultural Issues

Based on the needs analysis, Globiana’s trainers came up with a strategy for how to address the identified problems. They designed a segmented training program that included all affected workgroups. In a simplified breakdown, it looked something like this:

  1. Overview of the other cultures, including stereotypes, regional and generational differences, along with language biases. These sessions included active participation exercises.
  2. Combine the various groups in global virtual mixed team sessions to get the teams to speak to each other and not just about each other. Employees did exercises together to illustrate where and why their communication would break down.
  3. Collaboration between groups to develop a joint understanding of what the company values and culture are, and how they relate to the team — as a group and as individuals. This was also done virtually with teams from across the globe meeting online where a trainer served as a guide/moderator.

What Intercultural Training Can Lead To

As the training program progressed, improvements started happening in several areas. There was increased understanding and adoption of company values across the groups, and as they gained insight into how to communicate with each other, and knowledge about what it was that guided the different cultures in such things as decision-making, for example, collaboration across borders became easier. Gradually, the performance improved and the groups could provide customer support according to protocol, and up to company standard. The workgroups adopted a “we” mindset as opposed to differentiating themselves depending on their physical location. 

Ultimately, It’s a Matter of Quality of Work and Competitiveness 

Investing in intercultural training is crucial for global companies who want a strong company culture to guide the work of employees who come from disparate cultural backgrounds. It’s equally important in order to ensure effective communication and productive collaboration. 

Going forward, in an increasingly global work world, whether in person or via virtual collaboration, having knowledge about your counterparts from across the world, and a shared understanding of company values and goals, is not going to be a luxury that is a “nice-to-have” — it’s going to be a necessity to stay competitive. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Recent studies show that anxiety and depressive disorders have increased steeply in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, as we are nearing a year and a half of pandemic living, robust discussions around the subject of mental health have started taking place, both in the context of work, and in society at large — what it is, what the effects of bad mental health are, and how we seek and provide treatment. Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic has changed how we talk about mental health — as more and more people are affected by poor mental health, it has gone from a “they” problem to a “we” problem. The deeply rooted stigma surrounding the topic is slowly dissipating, and in the professional world, there is a realization that this is not just affecting individuals, but it’s a whole workplace problem. 

The discussions are to a great extent driven and shaped by younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Zers, who are gaining influence in the workplace and in society at large, and who are making their voices heard. These generations see mental health as a natural part of overall health, and as such, they are demanding more from employers in terms of options for access to mental health care, as well as overall workplace culture and how mental health is viewed, treated, and talked about. 

In the workplace, mental health has long been a subject most people have shied away from talking about for fear of being overlooked for a promotion or being seen as unreliable or difficult. As a result, mental health, and mental health care, have been a low priority when it comes to health care options and duty of care packages. It has been close to a non-existent subject in company culture as a whole. 

Employers who want to stay competitive going forward will have to do better. Not only does it make sense from a purely human perspective to shift how we relate to, and act on, mental health, it also makes sense from a business perspective. That’s because the impact of mental health on work is significant. 

Pre-pandemic research, published in the Harvard Health newsletter, found that workers with depression reported the equivalent of 27 lost workdays per year. Out of these, nine were sick days or other time off, and the remaining 18 days reflected a loss of productivity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy around one trillion dollars a year in lost productivity. 

Other research shows that employees with depression are more likely than others to change jobs frequently. And when it comes to the expat population, studies indicate that mental health concerns are greater with employees working abroad than with domestic ones. 

Overall, the numbers are clear — not only can mental health issues such as depression and anxiety lead to lowered productivity but they also impact retention, and considering the pace at which mental health has declined this past year, the effects on work going forward can end up being significant.

In the US, for example, a tracking poll from Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder has gone from 11% in the first half of 2019 to 41.1% in January of 2021. Many other countries are reporting similar statistics. Additional data show that it is the younger generations that are proportionally more impacted by mental health concerns. They are also the ones driving the call for change in how we relate to and address mental health. 

A study by Businessolver, presented at a recent webinar, shows that 87% of millennials and 82% of Gen Zers believe their employer should do more to promote mental health. The same study reports that about 95% of people — employees, HR pros, and CEOs — say that mental health is as important as physical health, and yet 64% of employees believe that if someone reached out to HR about a mental health issue, it would negatively impact their job security. Clearly, there is still a gap between how we think and feel about mental health, and how we act on it. 

Taking all the factors above into consideration, it’s easy to see that for employers to stay competitive, mental health, and mental health care will have to be a priority going forward. Areas to address include:

  • incorporating mental health into company culture, meaning company culture will have to be open and supportive of mental health struggles and mental health care. This includes communicating clearly about what mental health resources are available.
  • analyzing data around mental and physical health care programs to see how they are being used, and then build wellness programs so that they relate to both physical and mental health in a meaningful way.
  • ensuring easy and affordable access to mental health care.

We’re in an extraordinary time right now where how and where we work has changed to a great extent in a short period of time. As a result, employers are actively reassessing support programs and employee benefits. Mental health — care and well-being — should be a natural part of this shift. As Adam Grant writes in this NYT article about languishing: “As we head into a new post-pandemic reality, it’s time to rethink our understanding of mental health and well-being. ‘Not depressed’ doesn’t mean you are not struggling. ‘Not burned out’ doesn’t mean you’re fired up.” 

There are still hurdles to overcome with how mental health is viewed — at work and in private life. Aside from the fact that we are talking about the health of employees, colleagues, friends, and family, the incentive to make sure mental health and mental health care are adequately and openly addressed and covered by employers should be obvious  — not only will it be a way to attract the best talent, but it will also increase productivity and retention. It will be a win — for the company, its people, and society at large. In short, it’s a win for all of us!

By: Felicia Shermis

Resources:

NYT — Languishing article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

Flexjobs, Mental Health America study:

https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/flexjobs-mha-mental-health-workplace-pandemic/

Kaiser Family Foundation:

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

Businesssolver:

https://www.businessolver.com/resources/resource-library

Harvard Health Publishing:

Resources

The coronavirus pandemic has left a mark on all aspects of life. And when it comes to worklife, it’s clear that exiting our “Covid-state-of-being” does not mean going back to the office/factory/school as if nothing has happened. Too much has transpired since the pandemic started. Now, a little more than a year in, a number of surveys and reports are being published on the state of work — some tracking the current situation and others trying to gauge what’s in store for the future. 

While the studies vary in objective, the findings point to a common thread — the pandemic has been impactful not just on how and where we work, but how much we work, how we perceive office culture, hierarchical structures, and work/life boundaries. The studies also highlight pressing issues such as zoom fatigue, lack of motivation, and burnout. And while it’s not news that things have changed in the past year, the degree to which they have changed may not be as widely understood. One of the expected effects of the altered work landscape is a big movement of talent once life starts looking more like pre-pandemic times.

We are at a crossroads of sorts as employers are in the position of needing to support a workforce under current extraordinary circumstances, while also keeping an eye on the future. Employees, meanwhile, see work, and how it fits into life in general, in a new light after a year of changed working conditions. 

Many employees are now asking for greater flexibility, better health offerings, career counseling, and mentorship opportunities. The million-dollar question for businesses is how to support the current needs of employees while also building for the future. Some clues for where to start can be found in the many studies published lately. 

What Studies Show

Some of the most alarming results have to do with employee burnout rates. Eagle Hill Consulting reported that 58% of employees were burned out, while a Spring Health study found that a whopping 76% were currently experiencing burnout. Burnout is generally defined as “chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed”. Some of the reasons for burnout include trying to balance work and private life, heavy workloads, and lack of communication and support from the employer. 

One of the feared effects of burnout is a high rate of post-pandemic employee turnover. A survey in hrexecutive.com shows that one in four employees plans to leave their employer once the pandemic is over. The number is even higher — one in three — for those who have children at home with remote learning situations. And a study by WerkLabs highlighted on hrexecutive.com shows that twice as many women as men are likely to leave their employer within a year following the pandemic. 

The symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, negative thoughts, detachment from work, and reduced work performance, to name a few. Employers wanting to prevent a decline in productivity and creativity, or a loss of talent entirely, will have to actively work to mitigate burnout. 

What Employees Want 

When employees are asked about what they want their post-pandemic worklife to be like, a hybrid work model seems to be high on many people’s lists. A recent Envoy survey shows that 48% of respondents want to work some days remotely and some days from the office. The interest in hybrid work is not just strong among knowledge workers but in other industries as well, such as construction and manufacturing, for example, where some 41% say they would prefer a hybrid model. 

47% of employees say they are inclined to leave their job if their employer does not offer a hybrid work model once the pandemic ends, and 41% say they would be willing to take a job with a lower salary if they could work within a hybrid model.

One of the reasons for the desire to work away from the office is safety concerns. The Envoy study reports that 66% of employees are worried about their health and safety when it comes time to return to the workplace, they fear their employers won’t protect their health to a sufficient degree. 62% also indicate that they think companies should require workers to get a Covid-vaccine before being allowed to go back to work. 

Employer Concerns

Employers worry that implementing a more permanent hybrid work model will impact office culture negatively, that there will be a disconnect between people who are in the office more and those who are not. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Deniz Caglar, partner at PwC and co-author of Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, and Renewal (Wiley, 2016), says: “Your culture is not your office; it’s what you do as an organization, how you work together. What you do does not change because you’re working virtually.” 

Many organizations are also concerned that productivity will go down and that engagement and loyalty will wane if more people are working from home more often. An article on SHRM.org details steps an organization can take to develop a successful hybrid work model to avoid some of the possible negative effects of a more remote workforce. The article points out that not everyone is going to be suited for remote work. That’s why it’s important to have a robust process for determining who is a good candidate — it comes down to things such as the specific job someone performs, personality, experience, and timing, for example. 

The issue of demanding vaccinations from employees before being able to go back to the office comes with several considerations — legal, cultural, and ethical (as outlined in this Globiana article), as well as questions of access. So while vaccinations may seem to be the most straightforward solution to protecting people at work, they may not be the most workable solution at this point in time. 

There may be some apprehension on the part of employers to make the hybrid work model more standard, yet, there are signs indicating that that’s where we are headed. Perhaps the biggest sign is that many leading companies, such as Ford, Citigroup, and Target, among others, in presenting their “return-to-work” plans have announced that a substantial number of their white-collar employees will be working according to a hybrid schedule and that this is to be considered the “new normal”.

As has been noted on so many occasions during this pandemic, there still seem to be more questions than answers. What is known, however, is that work has changed and employees have changed. It’s the employer who figures out a model to meet current employee needs while implementing changes to satisfy future demands, who will be successful in retaining employees going forward. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Resources: 

SHRM: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/hybrid-work-model-likely-to-be-new-norm-in-2021.aspx

Envoy: https://envoy.com/blog/envoy-survey-finds-employees-want-companies-to-embrace-hybrid-work-and-mandate-covid-vaccines/

HR Exec newsletter:

https://hrexecutive.com/are-we-about-to-see-a-mass-exodus-of-female-workers/

https://hrexecutive.com/a-year-after-lockdown-5-ways-the-world-of-work-has-changed-for-good/?eml=20210312&oly_enc_id=2026C8603090A8W

https://hrexecutive.com/one-in-4-workers-plans-to-quit-post-pandemic/?eml=20210302&oly_enc_id=2026C8603090A8W

The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/03/30/hybrid-office-remote-work-citigroup-ford-target/?utm_campaign=wp_evening_edition&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_evening

For many companies, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t only impacted how and where work is being done, it has also put into focus what a company can demand of its employees and what its rights and responsibilities are when it comes to safeguarding employees. 

The legal questions during the coronavirus pandemic (and beyond) are many, and the answers are far from uniform. For multi-national, multi-jurisdictional companies, cultural norms and the laws of individual countries may differ greatly and even be completely at odds. In the US, the laws and pandemic responses that companies are required to abide by may vary from state to state. Simply put — there is no universal Covid-response guidebook to follow.

These factors combined with the rapidly-changing conditions and information regarding Covid response have meant that companies have been challenged to address employee health and safety, maintain their businesses, and comply with legal requirements.  

Privacy Rights vs. Collective Health and Safety

One of the overarching legal issues relates to the pinch point of an individual’s privacy rights vs the collective health and safety of employees. Companies are balancing protecting the rights of individuals who don’t want to share their information with the fact that having more personal health information is key to fighting the spread of coronavirus. Understanding privacy law questions and implementing appropriate Covid responses have become imperative in protecting the health and safety of a company’s employees. 

Monica Winghart is a lawyer who has worked on these issues for the better part of the pandemic as a member of a Covid-response team for a multinational company based in the US, with a large number of employees in Europe and Asia. 

Regional Differences

As a multinational company, one of the biggest challenges has been designing and implementing Covid responses that adapt to individual countries’ cultural norms, comply with privacy and labor laws, and respond to regulatory agency requirements specific to the pandemic. The strategies used to protect employee health and safety have varied from region to region and have spanned everything from paper questionnaires to mobile phone applications, temperature scanners and sanitization stations, to interfaces with governmental agencies, and employee self-reporting. 

The differences in regulations and response have meant that in some regions, companies have been required to share their employee information with various governmental agencies, while elsewhere, the simple act of taking someone’s temperature using a handheld scanner is seen as too intrusive.  

In Europe, for example, where privacy and labor laws are strong and where individuals tend to not voluntarily share their personal information, Monica says her company struggled with how to keep their employees safe while operating within the legal frameworks and the cultural norms that guide them. Ultimately, the company decided to close many of its operations and implement remote work situations wherever possible. This tactic was not necessarily ideal from a business standpoint as an “essential” services company, but with conflicting laws and regulatory instructions, as well as a lack of real-time health information on its workforce, the company opted to put the health and safety of its employees first.

In Asia, laws and cultural norms have had a different impact than in Europe and elsewhere. The actions from federal governments instructing individuals and companies to share personal information have generally been stronger. Because people are culturally more predisposed to listen to and trust authorities, the response has been one of compliance. In addition, the culture surrounding sharing personal data is more open, which has made tracking and mitigating outbreaks easier. As an example, Monica points out that in Asia the company saw around a 96% adoption rate of governmental health sharing apps by its employees, whereas in Europe the same rate was less than 30%.  

The Practical Effects of Differing Cultures and Laws are Stark

The practical effects of how the differences in culture and legal frameworks have played out are stark. In Asia, Monica’s company is required not only to have employees report their temperature on a daily basis, but they may also ask questions such as where the employee has been, who they have seen, if they have been potentially exposed, and if they have been feeling sick or have a temperature.

In much of Europe, the company has not been allowed to ask these types of questions as that would constitute a violation of privacy and other laws. However, as death rates spiked, the policy shifted a bit and a few countries made exceptions to loosen their laws and regulations. 

For example, in some European countries, the company can now ask workers to voluntarily answer questions about health status, do thermal scans, and implement other measures to promote social distancing. Still, they struggle with many European labor laws as they are not designed to accommodate “work from home” or “stay home when sick or exposed” policies. Likewise, the laws also largely prevent the company from taking other actions against non-participatory or non-compliant employees. 

In the US, Covid responses and what companies can or must do differ widely from state to state. For example, some states have required masks, supported sharing test and vaccination results, and aggressively closed workplaces, while others haven’t. But, says Monica, “because there aren’t as many cohesive privacy laws in place in the US, and the labor laws are generally not as restrictive as those in Europe, we have had greater freedom in how we protect our workforce.” She continues: “We can require our employees to wear masks, socially distance, work from home, and take their temperature, for example. For those employees who do not wish to comply and where no work accommodations can be made, such as work from home, suspension or termination of employment may ultimately be an option. This sort of latitude could not happen in many of the European countries, or others, in which we operate.”

The Next Stage of Covid Response

At this point in time, with a greater understanding of how to minimize the spread of Covid-19, and vaccines becoming available, the next stage of the response is looming. It is clear that there are still legal, cultural, and ethical considerations in determining how to move forward. One of the biggest questions concerns vaccination policies. Another impactful issue for companies with a global footprint is how duty of care packages will be shaped by the pandemic.

When it comes to requiring vaccinations, Monica believes there is legal ground for doing so but points out that there are details to work out in how to implement such a policy and that will need to occur on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. Not everyone can safely take a vaccine, for example — companies will have to resolve what exceptions are acceptable, and what actions they can take within a given country’s legal framework for those who do not wish to comply for other reasons than those deemed legitimate.

The question of how duty of care will change is not as clear yet. Monica says: “It’s a topic that is discussed frequently, but it’s probably prudent to take intermediary measures for now and wait to put anything firm in place as there are still many moving parts.”

Looking back, it’s easy to see that the pandemic caught most companies off guard — few, if any, had the preparedness to respond to an aggressive and fast-spreading virus like the coronavirus. Monica says: “There was little in place in terms of plans, infrastructure, or procedures to quickly mobilize a team and make decisions anchored in any kind of base knowledge. However, we have worked hard and now have a solid pandemic response plan for quicker action and decision-making.”

Some of the mitigation strategies implemented by the company Monica works for include a symptom checker app, offering Covid-19 tests on-site, PPE at the entrance of all buildings, as well as informational mailers. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a total travel ban but, as Monica points out, “that is not feasible in the long term for a company with a global footprint”. Instead, they have worked deliberately to minimize travel and utilize video and virtual channels as much as possible to avoid all but the most essential trips.

The coronavirus pandemic is perhaps still producing more questions than answers, and trying to forge a clear path forward is not easy at this point in time. Monica’s reflection on what this year has been like working on a Covid-response team takes root in the knowledge that people’s lives are at stake: “This has been a very humanizing experience because, across the globe, the question ultimately has boiled down to how our decisions impact the health, safety, and lives of the people we work with every day.”

By: Felicia Shermis

As we enter the new year in much the same fashion that we exited 2020 — with surging coronavirus cases, and extended lockdowns in many parts of the world — it is clear that a return to work as “normal” is still far off for many of us. As our altered state of being and working drags on, one of the big questions is how to keep employees healthy, motivated, and engaged going forward. The Moodbeam wristband, highlighted in the news lately as a simple tool for employers to check on the happiness of remote workers, serves as just one example of how employee well-being has become one of the dominant topics of discussion surrounding work.

And it’s not so strange that this is happening now. The strategies used to navigate work at the beginning of the pandemic are not going to be as effective almost a year in, with Zoom fatigue setting in, and the effects of social isolation manifesting, along with the grim realities of the pandemic in terms of lives and livelihoods lost.

A recent study by Spring Health shows that 76% of American employees are burned out. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that it’s not going to be enough to simply gather data about how employees are feeling — practical measures will also have to be put in place. Our new way of living has to be matched with a new way of working.

The “ABCD” of Human Motivation

A recent Harvard Business School article looks at our current situation from the perspective of four basic emotional human needs. The four needs, also called the “ABCD” of human motivation, are:

  • Acquire — obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status
  • Bond — form connections with individuals and groups
  • Comprehend — satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us
  • Defend — protect against external threats and promote justice

The authors of the article, Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams, argue that keeping employees motivated and productive under our current circumstances will require managing based on the recognition that the four drives, which are fundamental to human psychology, have not changed — what has changed is how they are being fulfilled.

Satisfying the need to Bond, for example, means fostering mutual reliance and friendship among coworkers — how do you do that effectively and naturally when team members are working from home and there are no watercooler moments, no shared lunches, or brief informal meetings in the hallway to solve an issue on the fly? Managers will have to think of creative bonding experiences to meet the need, and Groysberg and Abrahams suggest things such as online talent shows, recipe contests, or a game night, adding that: “These might even be ways for team members to show new skills or facets of their personality.”

To the point of bonding, at Globiana, for example, we recently started a program where one employee takes about 15 minutes at the end of our weekly round-up meeting and share about themselves — there are no rules for what to share, and no guidelines for how to do it. The point is to let people learn about more than what is visible in the purely professional sense. The hope is that by doing this, not only will we feel more bonded and engaged, but also find new points of connection between people. An added positive effect of this kind of sharing is the possibility of unexpected and creative collaborations as we learn new things about each other.

As a matter of fact, Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how remote work has in some ways had a leveling effect on organizations. Now that our physical boundaries of designated office space are no longer visible, people become more approachable, which means that this could be a good time for cross-team collaborations, assignment rotations, and peer mentoring.

Combating Zoom Fatigue

There is no way to get around the topic of Zoom fatigue when discussing how to manage employee well-being in the era of remote work. Much has been written about the subject and there are good reasons why. For those who have been working from home, video calls have become a staple of the workday. And while being able to meet online in some ways has been what has allowed companies and employees to keep working, as time has gone on, video calls have also had a draining effect on an individual level. For many, it’s the sheer number of meetings and the fact that not only are we conducting work this way but also, to some extent, our social lives.  

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines simple steps to take to minimize the negative effects of video conferencing, such as avoiding multitasking and building in breaks. The simple act of asking participants in a meeting to use plain backgrounds in order to reduce onscreen stimuli can make a big difference in combating mental fatigue linked to video meetings. And, as Groysberg and Abrahams point out in their article, while many meetings have to be live, not everything has to take place in the moment. They suggest relying on asynchronous communication as well, such as a slack channel, for example.

Redefining the Concepts of Achievement and Recognition 

Managing in the pandemic era doesn’t only mean recognizing that needs have to be met differently, it also means that some of the ways in which we measure progress and success will have to change. Groysberg and Abrahams talk about how during the pandemic, you need to acknowledge not only the obvious wins a person or a group accomplishes but the regular business-as-usual activities too. Those things that just require focus and staying on track that we normally don’t pay attention to but that now constitute achievements in themselves, considering the obstacles many of us face during a workday at home, such as lack of private space, children who need help with school assignments, etc.

Coaching as a Tool to Increase Engagement

One of the strategies Globiana is trying out to increase employee engagement and motivation is to offer professional coaching to its employees. Coaching is a known tool for many c-suite executives who want to further their careers, sharpen managing skills, or break through in a new setting. 

However, coaching can be an effective way to help employees at all levels sort through what their goals are, what the hindrances to achieving them are, and how to take the steps necessary to accomplish them. For employees who are struggling with motivation, or who are weary and overwhelmed by the current work situation, coaching can serve as a needed boost.

Company Culture as an Asset

Erica Pandey of Axios has said that “culture” is a company’s “strongest asset”, and right now, with our severely altered state of work, company cultures everywhere are being tested. When looking at how to go forward from here, a good place to start might be to identify what the core values of the company are and how they can be met in the current climate. Because, while many of the difficulties of remote work are universal, the implementation and execution of support strategies will look different at different companies, as needs and resources vary.

But by being mindful of the effects of the pandemic in areas such as communication, achievement, reward, and personal development, it is possible to build a strong workforce — one that will not only thrive in the moment but one that is also ready for post-pandemic worklife — whatever that looks like.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/arianna-huffington-employee-well-being-leadership-crisis/?utm_source=Newsletter_General&utm_medium=Thrive

https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/keep-covid-weary-employees-engaged-and-motivated

https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

Having to improvise during the holidays is nothing new to the expat population. Most know what it’s like to have to hunt for favorite foods and come up with creative substitutes if need be. They are used to having to modify holiday traditions or create new ones altogether to fit their circumstances and surroundings. And perhaps most importantly, those who live abroad know what it feels like to be separated from friends and family during a time when so much revolves around being with loved ones. And while none of it is easy, most expats will say that you just learn to make the best of it.

This year, the whole planet is in a state of having to “make the best of it”. And pretty much everything has called for improvisation and modification — the coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that! Facing one of the most tradition-bound times of the year under these pandemic-circumstances has thrown many of us for an extra loop in this already turbulent year.

As Kate Murphy writes about in her NYT article “Pandemic-Proof Your Habits”, there are biological explanations for why routines and habits are so important for our well-being. And while we may be naturally predisposed to not like change, Murphy also points out that there are simple steps we can take to mitigate some of the feelings of stress and discomfort. She says:

“When there are discrepancies between expectations and reality, all kinds of distress signals go off in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday ritual or more mundane habit like how you tie your shoes; if you can’t do it the way you normally do it, you’re biologically engineered to get upset. This in part explains people’s grief and longing for the routines that were the background melodies of their lives before the pandemic — and also their sense of unease as we enter a holiday season unlike any other. The good news is that much of what we miss about our routines and customs, and what makes them beneficial to us as a species, has more to do with their comforting regularity than the actual behaviors. The key to coping during this, or any, time of upheaval is to quickly establish new routines so that, even if the world is uncertain, there are still things you can count on.”

So, in the spirit of creating new routines, I asked my coworkers at Globiana, who are spread out across the globe, for their best tips on how to cope this holiday season. While I got a wide array of answers, everyone seemed to agree that decorating with lights — and lots of them — is a surefire pick-me-up! Here is what else was shared:

Monica: We usually have a “robust” game of gift swapping followed by a massive paper ball fight. This year, since none of us can travel home, we’re doing a virtual White Elephant swap.

Marlies: We will be setting up a 10ft Christmas tree, and use fresh pine throughout the house so that we can really “smell” the season. Lots of candles and baking cookies are a must, as well as zooming with family and friends overseas.

Elena: We are missing our beloved “Soup and Song” evening this year for the first time in the last decade. But the spirit is alive and demands a creative approach — we will have a socially distanced evening around a big bonfire in our ranch meadow with hot wine and cookies, and maybe some caroling with our neighbors. And for sure, we’ll go all out on decorations. What can lift the spirit better than Christmas lights?

Camilla: We actually changed our traditions regarding preparations last year from having everything ready the day before Christmas to working on them together on Christmas eve (when we celebrate). This makes it a bit more chaotic and less formal, but it really fits the need right now. On top of that, we will choose the family game for the year, and we are leaning towards having a virtual White Elephant gift swap. Could be a fun addition for all those extended family members who are not used to a more ”lonely” Christmas celebration, the way we as expats are, after having lived abroad for many years.

Desiree: One of our Christmas traditions is to go see a “Cirque du Soleil” performance the day after Christmas — the show has been in our area the last few years. This is my Christmas present to my family. This year, all shows are canceled of course, so, what to do? I figured we’ll have our own “circus” — I ordered rollerblades for all of us and maybe we can come up with our own choreography in the backyard, or just a fun skate along the creek trail. And yes, knee pads, elbow and wrist protectors are included! 

Trixi: We switched to a virtual wish box a few years ago when the kids moved out — we have a shared google drive where everyone can deposit their Christmas wish and then a trusted friend will randomly assign the giver to the recipient via email. A tradition missed is the family Christmas trip — either to the snow or the beach, neither of which is possible right now. I think of this as taking it back to the old times, generations ago when travel was a luxury of the super-wealthy only. So, we will stay and enjoy a slow time at home. Lastly, don’t forget about all the fun games you can play on zoom — we did a lot of that in the spring when we were in the initial lockdown. The upside is that you can play and hang out with friends across the country and the world — we got used to sipping morning coffee while our family in Europe was having an evening drink!

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to my mind when reflecting on what this year has brought to the table — we have been forced to come up with alternative ways of doing things in most areas of our lives, big and small, personal and professional, and in society at large. When I try to make sense of life right now, which I admit is hard to do, I keep landing on the opportunities for building better habits, not just as individuals but as a society. If we can do that, then surely something has also been gained amidst all that has been lost this year. And that is a comforting thought this holiday season. Here is to a better 2021, and beyond!

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/28/sunday-review/pandemic-habits-routine-brain.html?searchResultPosition=1

Globally, it’s estimated that some 2.7 billion people, or more than 4 out of 5 workers, have been affected by restrictions and lockdown orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic. While large parts of Europe and the United States are imposing new shut down-orders because of rapidly rising cases of Covid-19, Asia Pacific has largely managed to avoid a second wave and is moving forward with the recovery and reopening of society.

The situation in Asia Pacific offers a good opportunity to assess what a sustained recovery process might look like, and what some of the issues and bright spots are that are likely to impact how we move forward in the rest of the world, with regards to cross-border collaboration and global mobility.

The Three Stages of Crisis Response

A Deloitte study on Covid-19 and the resilience of global mobility in Asia Pacific looks at the process from the point of view of a typical crisis response, which plays out in three stages:

  • Respond
  • Recover
  • Thrive

 In Asia Pacific, companies are moving out of the crisis-response stage and into the recovery phase, and with that comes a renewed look at the return of cross-border mobility.

The study notes that the transition from the response phase to the recovery phase is not linear and will have setbacks followed by progress. Progress will vary between regions and industries. What is clear is that there is a whole set of logistical challenges to overcome when going from crisis response mode to recovery mode, and beyond.

The Challenges

From a mobility perspective, the Deloitte study concludes that the main practical challenges once the workforce is back to work, include how to manage travel restrictions and immigration requirements, as well as how to take care of stranded employees.

In addition, companies are likely to place an even sharper focus on purpose, cost, and ROI of each assignment. As is often the case when talking about cross-border assignments, duty of care and employee well-being programs, are being studied in order to better understand what is needed going forward.

The recovery phase has also brought a discussion around how to handle policies that have to do with privacy concerns such as the disclosure of personal information by employees to employers for purposes of contact tracing, for example.

Globiana’s COO, Steffen Henkel, echoes the Deloitte study when he points out some of the logistical problems companies are grappling with. He notes that the difficulties start at a very basic level, with transfer days being postponed because of travel concerns and visa restrictions, for example. “What is perhaps the most frustrating is that there is no real pattern for who is let into a country. Sometimes, it appears to have more to do with the position the employee holds than set visa rules. Companies may have more leverage than they believe in these cases.”

Steffen can tell that many clients are in a state of uncertainty regarding cross-border assignments but at the same time, he has noticed that there appears to be a difference between the turmoil many feel and perceive and what is actually happening on the ground. He says: “When I talk to clients, it’s clear that people are still being sent abroad. And at Globiana for example, we have large projects in both Malaysia and South Korea where we are holding cross-cultural trainings and are providing relocation support. The scale is smaller, and our delivery format has been different. But the need for support is still strong, which is an indicator that cross-cultural collaboration continues to be an important part of business development.”

Technology-Enabled Virtual Work — The New Measuring Stick

To some degree, many of the issues that have surfaced in the recovery phase can be measured against the emergence of virtual work and virtual cross-border collaboration as the replacement for in-person work and cross-border mobility. The technology aspect can’t be ignored when looking at what global mobility/global collaboration will look like in a post-pandemic world.

Many companies have pivoted to virtual work and virtual cross-border collaboration, and as technology keeps improving, and organizations build better structures for collaborating virtually, it’s reasonable to assume that this form of employment will become a more permanent arrangement for a greater part of the population — the question is to what degree? One survey quoted by the Deloitte study found that 74% of CFOs are considering moving previous on-site employees to remote work post-pandemic.

Another trend that is emerging is the introduction of flexible cross-border arrangements where employees are able to “work on a team abroad” without physically having to be in the country, as well as blended assignments where there is a mix of face-to-face and remote work.

In general, workforce mobility strategy is likely to become more purpose-driven, as not only are the needs being measured against the possibility of the work being done remotely but also because the overall desire by employees to take on international assignments may not be as great in the future.

The Future

When looking to the future, Steffen sees that the pandemic, as hard and disruptive as it has been and still is, also offers opportunities for growth and innovation. He mentions the cross-cultural trainings as an example of that.

The adjustment from in-person to virtual trainings was difficult and many rejected the idea at first. But, says Steffen, by seeking and analyzing customer feedback, and by being willing to try new technology and delivery formats, Globiana ended up developing better, more flexible programs, that not only serve as a bridge in difficult times, but that can actually be seen as an overall improvement in product offering. “We learned that we can do more virtually than we thought and that gives us tremendous flexibility in the future when we can combine the two formats — virtual and in-person — freely.”

And when speaking of providing intercultural support, Steffen notes that one of the surprising things to come out of these past few months is that clients are not questioning the need for this kind of service, even in the face of uncertainty and hardship. There appears to be a basic need that remains intact and that says something about the importance of cross-border collaboration.

What About the Thrive Stage?

We don’t know yet what the Thrive stage will look like, but the Deloitte study points out that global mobility teams will have to rethink and redesign their global mobility models to be more agile in a more uncertain future. They write: “It will be important to identify and capture lessons learned to identify organisational improvement opportunities. Often, many lessons learnt are forgotten in the aftermath of a crisis because all energies are devoted to recover operations as soon as possible.”

Sir Winston Churchill said at the end of WW II: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. With the pandemic upending life as we know it, and with much still unknown, at least one thing seems clear — it has forced us to think hard about how we do business. Aiming for meaningful change in the Thrive phase, such as technology improvement, greater scrutiny on the need for physical relocation, more cross-border/intercultural collaboration enabled by technology, etc., can help serve us all for a long time to come.

By: Felicia Shermis

Sources

Deloitte study:

https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/tax/deloitte-cn-tax-the-resilience-of-global-mobility-in-asia-pacific-en-200611.pdf