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


NYT — Languishing article:

Flexjobs, Mental Health America study:

Kaiser Family Foundation:


Harvard Health Publishing:


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 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 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 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




HR Exec newsletter:

The Washington Post:

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


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


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


Deloitte study:

With World Mental Health Day coming up on October 10, it’s important to recognize that mental health is an ongoing global issue impacting all facets of society — some 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression alone. The World Economic Forum reported in 2018 that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if there is no action taken.

As a society, we tend to think of mental health problems as a sign of personal weakness, or something that only happens to others. And with that as our basic mindset, it’s no wonder many are hesitant to admit they are feeling mentally unwell or that they won’t seek help for their condition. It’s no wonder that the discussion surrounding mental health is halting, and that there is a stigma attached.

It’s well known that the expat population is particularly reluctant to acknowledge mental health issues. Part of the reason is that the employees who are sent abroad are typically those considered highly skilled, as well as high-functioning. Many are in leadership positions. Admitting mental health issues under those premises is difficult.

Yet, relocating abroad and working in a cross-cultural environment is known to be very mentally taxing. Not only are you leaving behind your traditional support network of friends and family, but you are also facing a whole new set of societal and work-related rules and norms. As a result, many end up feeling lonely and isolated which takes a toll on mental health.

A study published in 2018 by IJHP (International Journal of Health & Productivity) concluded that expats are 50% more likely to develop anxiety and depression compared to US domestic workers. Inevitably, these are issues that impact performance at work, and may even lead to early termination of an international assignment.

Data shows that workers with depression miss the equivalent of 27 workdays per year, and the cost of a failed, or early termination-assignment can be as much as $500 000. The cost of sub-par performance because of mental health issues can be measured not just in money, but in lesser outcomes and missed future business opportunities.

The figures for the potential impact of mental health disorders are daunting, but there are effective mitigation strategies that can be put in place. On a corporate level, building support programs, and actively promoting them, is crucial in supporting mental health. In addition, building a company culture that is accepting of showing vulnerabilities is a powerful way of championing mental health.

For the expat population specifically, cross-cultural training is an important piece to being able to settle well, and by extension performing well — in life and at work. Support packages for intercultural training can consist of various components such as online programs, in-person training, and coaching, all in combination with access to healthcare (including mental healthcare).

Equally important is making sure that the employee knows what kind of support is available and how to leverage the resources when needed. It’s not uncommon for this kind of information to get lost in the general hustle and bustle of onboarding/relocating, so, it’s crucial to

  • have a plan for how to communicate what resources are available, and
  • making sure the employee knows where and how to access the resources.

Perhaps the best tool of all in fighting mental health issues is one that is available to all of us — to talk openly about struggles and to recognize that mental health, like physical health, is a part of the human condition. Removing the stigma is in itself an act that can lead to better mental health outcomes.

By: Felicia Shermis 

When asked what will happen to globalization in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, there are two things that most global experts seem to agree on — globalization is here to stay and it will look different going forward. These sentiments stem from an outlook that goes beyond current dismal travel data, and economic downturns, and are rooted in a strong belief that we are an interconnected world that is irreversibly global in nature. 

The Simple Argument for Globalization

The simplified core argument for globalization is that without global collaboration and exchange, we lose the engine that drives innovation and forward movement, which industry and organizations of all kinds, as well as societies across the globe, rely on not just to flourish but to function on basic levels. 

The argument for why globalization will change is even simpler — it has to in order to survive. As a matter of fact, while it may seem like globalization has more or less died in recent months, what it has actually done is changed.

Collaboration is still going on across borders. Countries are exchanging goods, services, and information, albeit in different capacities and ways compared to pre-pandemic days. People may not travel physically for business meetings right now, but we are still holding them virtually. Companies may not be sending employees to conventions across the globe, but many are attending online events because we know that the information exchange is critical, the view from the other side invaluable. We are a globally-minded world that has had to push the pause button on some of the more overt expressions of that globalism. 

Stark Data to Suggest Troubled Times

There is, of course, data that shows that some of these overt markers are struggling right now. The most obvious — the number of international airline passengers — is in steep decline. Once the year is over, the decline is thought to be somewhere between 44-80% according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). (For some perspective consider this — even if international airline passengers fall by two-thirds, there would still be more people flying abroad now than there were in 2003, according to HBR.) In addition, HBR is forecasting a 13-32% decline in merchandise trade and a 30-40% reduction in foreign direct investment. 

But, as stark as these numbers are, there is also an acknowledgment that these are extreme circumstances that won’t last forever. The question is what globalization will look like coming out on the other end, and perhaps more importantly, what companies, organizations, and countries can do now to impact and shape how we go forward?

Globalization Has Been Questioned Since the Great Recession

When discussing the future of globalization at this moment in time, it’s important to remember that globalization as a concept started to be questioned well before the coronavirus pandemic closed down borders, disrupted trade, and put planes on the ground. Protectionist attitudes have been building in various parts of the world since the great recession, and the international business environment has been gradually destabilizing — the US and China trade war is just one example of this trend.

In addition, it’s clear that the pandemic has given a platform to those who are interested in building strong nation-states and aligning economies along regional lines, as opposed to working for international openness and movement of goods and services. In Covid-19, the nationalist voices that argue for closed borders and limited exchange have something concrete to put forth as evidence of the dangers of globalization. 

In a Global World, We Need Global Solutions

On the other end of that spectrum is the recognition that the fighting of the pandemic itself requires collaboration across borders. In an article on Arjun Appadurai argues that the recent crisis has shown that neither science nor technology can succeed without globalization. 

Arjun writes: “The best virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts are constantly in touch with one another across national boundaries. Drug companies rely on globally conducted trials and scientific talent drawn from a global pool. Emergency equipment is sent from various countries to one another. Although there is still a competitive race to find the best tests, equipment, vaccines and cures, the globalized model of corporate collaboration in the big pharma corporate world is sure to continue. And nation states that treat the pandemic as a zero-sum game, to be won or lost, are sure to fail.”

The worry about the economic damage, and its lasting effects, is real. Not knowing when international flows will start growing again is the type of uncertainty that no business likes. However, business leaders have some agency in shaping how we go forward. HBR writes: “Global business leaders can go beyond just watching disease trends and economic data — they can help tilt the balance from negative to positive feedback loops by contributing to health, growth, and international cooperation.” 

Looking at it from a business perspective, there is a case to be made that the pandemic itself is providing strong business and export opportunities. Think of e-commerce, for example, or the remote work experience, both have flourished during Covid-19, and both have lots to offer globally for those who can perfect their offerings in their fields of business and expertise. 

The Expectations of Business Leaders Have Changed

Another force that has emerged as a player in impacting the future of globalization is public opinion. The awareness in society of the forces that shape our existence is growing and customers and employees alike are to a greater extent expecting corporate leaders to take a stand on issues that arise. This means that companies who want to thrive in the post-pandemic business landscape will have to look at the bigger picture and take into account the driving forces of globalization — not just on a business level, but on a societal level, as well as a human level.

It’s undeniable that globalization has taken a hit and that the international movement of goods, people, and services have been disrupted because of the coronavirus pandemic. But whether globalization will survive or not, in the end, will have more to do with how we approach two opposing world views —  protectionism vs. globalization — these two worldviews will likely continue to be debated long past Covid-19 has passed. 

By: Felicia Shermis



Washington Post

Foreign Policy

World Bank


In normal times, we think of resilience as a personal challenge — when one faces a crisis, such as job loss or illness. These events are hard and can bring out a new resilient self once the person has navigated them. I recently discussed with a coaching client how their past resilience experiences have made them stronger, and thus they are able to face the next challenge with more confidence. As a metaphor, anyone can sail a ship in calm waters but steering through a storm requires resilience, and while we do not hope for future storms, they are easier to face knowing you have done it in the past.

What’s different during COVID-19 is that we are all facing a resilience challenge at the same time — as a family, as an organization, as a country, as a world. The need for leadership is heightened, and leaders often cannot find respite from a challenging workday. If you are working out of a bedroom closet, or hear your toddler romp on the other side of the wall, all barriers between work and family have come down.

Gallup is doing a great job of providing data on the workplace during COVID-19.

What does resilience look like?

One of my mentors compared it to flying a plane — once you take off you have to land again, there is no choice. If you encounter turbulence or engine trouble, you cannot roll up in a ball on the cabin floor and hope for a miracle. Let’s apply this metaphor to your workday: do you catch yourself feeling lost and wishing for all of this to be over, let’s just close our eyes and wake up post-COVID? Our world has been changed forever, and when we look at climate change, there will be no going back to the fast-paced lives pre 2020.

Watch this five-minute video by Simon Sinek, reminding us that pandemics and new normals have happened before.

In talking to clients, they have come up with some amazing strategies to build up their resilience, and while coaching is always confidential, I can share some general ideas:

  • Increase your downtime to come back fully charged — eat lunch with the kids, work out, walk in the woods, meditate, or just look at the world through your pet’s eyes for ten minutes.
  • Self-care is not selfish, self-care is essential to be your best for the people you care about — your family, your team, the mission of your company.
  • Acknowledge what has changed for the better during COVID-19 — no commute, no airplane middle seat, seeing your kids throughout the day. Many people have moved to places they could not live before because of an in-office policy. These are important learnings to hold on to.
  • Flattening of corporate hierarchies — in order to get stuff done remotely, it’s all hands on deck and much more focus on outcomes over organizational charts.
  • Increased hiring of talent regardless of where they live. The tech giants, for example, have made a complete turnaround on work from home after seeing how smoothly remote work is going.

What seems to be the biggest missing item is the water cooler moment — that informal chat in the hallway or a quick coffee together. These events cannot be replaced by scheduling yet another online meeting — however, people have come up with great ideas for how to continue to make those informal connections — drop a text or a slack message, asking the person how their day is going and whether you can be of help; organize your outreach — make time on your calendar, this is part of your job.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. One of my favorite readings is the FDR biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin “No Ordinary Times”. When the world faced the prospect of WWII, FDR goes on an extended weekend stay to his country home. He understands there is no quick fix to the situation, and he needs all his resilience to lead the US and ultimately the world to peace. Incidentally, he had plenty of time to build his own resilience by overcoming polio and struggling to accept his new normal.

By: Trixi Menhardt
Head of Coaching Services at Globiana

In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, business travel has come to a near standstill. While virtual meetings can serve as a good substitute in the short run, it’s widely recognized that face-to-face meetings, whether to collaborate, strike a deal, or to educate, are crucial to the success of a company in the long run. An Oxford Economics study found that each dollar invested in business travel can result in as much as $12.50 in revenue. This is one of the reasons business leaders believe that business travel will resume once conditions allow (although most also believe reaching pre-pandemic levels will take a long time) — meeting in person is simply too important to the growth and success of a company. 

As important as business travel is, it will undoubtedly be different going forward. The criteria for who goes and what warrants a trip will change, and perhaps more importantly, the protocols and safeguards that have previously been in place to inform and protect travelers, will have to be refined. Having a comprehensive duty of care-program has always been an integral part of keeping globally mobile employees safe — it will become even more so in the future. 

Factors for deciding the extent and frequency of business travel typically include such things as cost, capacity, and perceived value. These now have to be evaluated with traveler safety and well-being in mind.

Now Is the Time to Look Over Travel Policies

Traditionally, corporate travel policies have mostly included provisos for spending and reimbursement, and what preferred providers to use for travel and accommodation. To meet the needs of business travelers in the future, these policies will have to address a host of additional issues pertaining to traveler communication and safety. 

Because business travel is not likely to resume in any meaningful way for many months — a recent survey by the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) shows that about 40% of their members believe that international business travel won’t resume for another six to eight months — this is an ideal time to evaluate and build policies. 

For many companies, the first thing to do when updating travel policies will be to develop a protocol for determining what travel is considered essential, and what expenses are reasonable to absorb. For example, are the costs of having an employee quarantining at a hotel for two weeks feasible? This is also a good opportunity to get the input of employees, to find out what needs they most want to be met when considering business travel. Once a baseline is set, it’s easier to build strong policies to match travel needs.

Travel Policies will Look Different

As companies put the safety of the traveler in focus, they will have to augment existing traveler policies, or create new ones (according to the Egencia Business Travel and Technology Study, only some 60% of companies have an official policy in place to guide business travelers), to include such things as real-time travel updates and risk assessment, implement strategies for tracking employees, as well as develop communication plans that are efficient and customizable. These categories break down as follows: 

  • Travel updates — A big piece of the puzzle to ensure travel safety and business continuity will be how to stay on top of travel information as it develops. Ideally, travel managers will identify reliable sources for the latest news. Depending on the company, the type of travel, and the destination, these sources will vary. There are of course companies that do travel tracking and news, whose services can be purchased. There are individual countries’ travel advisory websites, as well as direct contacts on the ground. Resources, as well as the nature and scope of the travel program, will likely determine an organization’s most suitable source(s). 
  • Employee tracking — Companies will need to be able to track employees to determine what the implications of changes to travel restrictions are for individual employees. This will be crucial to maintaining a safe work environment. 
  • Communication — Communication protocols will have to include several pieces. First, a solid communication system starts with making sure employees are aware that the information exists, and then educating them on how to access it, and relaying what to expect in terms of direct communication. Second, developing “communication action plans” for what to do in case an employee needs assistance, health care, be in quarantine, etc. will become ever more important as business travel ramps up.  

Ensuring the Wellbeing of Traveling Employees

In addition to augmenting and modifying their own travel policies, travel managers will also have to look closely at their suppliers’ policies and practices for cleanliness and distancing, for example. Compiling a list of vetted and approved providers they feel confident about will be important in keeping employees safe. Likewise, health care policies and procedures will have to be examined and updated. 

It’s clear that business travel going forward will require a multi-pronged approach where economic factors are considered alongside the physical and mental health of traveling employees, as well as practical matters such as safe transportation and accommodation — paying attention to all of these aspects is how companies can keep their employees protected and productive while on the road. 

By: Felicia Shermis


How COVID-19 will change business travel (Conde Nast)

The Future of Work (Business Insider)

Business Travel Statistics (Financesonline)

How to enable business continuity (TripActions)

Getting ready to restart travel (TripActions)


The need to measure the effectiveness of a product or service is almost universal in business, regardless of field of service or type of product. Getting feedback is not only how you know if what you are doing is working, but it’s also how you improve and grow. And — it can’t be denied — customer satisfaction data is an effective marketing tool.

But few things can be as hard to do well as to gather feedback and measure and report outcomes — for several reasons. For one, designing feedback programs that measure relevant information is complex. Also, measuring outcomes is rarely a single-objective undertaking, as data gathered serves many purposes. This means you have to be clear about what you are going to use the data for. In addition, getting people to respond/give useful information is a well-known challenge, and using the information you have gathered, whether for product improvement, customer reporting, or marketing, requires analytical insights.

Globiana’s COO and Co-Founder, Steffen Henkel, has long experience of measuring outcomes and analyzing and reporting data. When asked about his approach, he starts by talking about the importance of measuring the right thing (and how hard that can be), and of being able to identify what is useful information and what is not.

To illustrate what he means, he gives a simple example of trying to measure someone’s impression of a cross-cultural training session, something he is well-familiar with. The goal of the training on an individual level is to increase a person’s cultural awareness so that transition into life in a new country is as smooth and efficient as possible. The training session is usually given shortly before someone relocates.

The goal for a company providing the training to an employee is typically multi-faceted and includes general cultural adaptation, as well as business-specific skills, in order to be effective at work. A company sending an employee abroad to work or do business represents a big investment and a failed assignment or botched negotiation is costly. Hence, the training serves an important function in maximizing the outcome for the employee and the company alike.

So, what is useful information to measure after the training session is completed? And what is reported to whom? Steffen wants to know several different things:

  • The basics, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable? Were the facilities satisfactory?
  • What people thought about the course — was the format good, material engaging, etc.?
  • Was the information the trainer provided effective and useful? Does it translate to usable skills in “real life”?

Reporting considerations are both external and internal and typically include the following:

  • External reporting to purchasing client
  • Feedback from/to trainer
  • Internal reporting for the purpose of improving content and practices
  • Marketing

On the surface, the basic questions, such as was the trainer professional and knowledgeable, should be pretty straightforward, as should finding out what people thought about the course. However, even these seemingly simple questions can produce answers that are not actually measuring what you are intending to measure.

Steffen says: “Unless you have a carefully designed survey, what you may end up measuring is how a person is feeling after the class — are they tired, hungry, happy because it ended a little early and the snacks were good — rather than what they think about the content of the class. And that’s not really the information you’re after.”

According to Steffen, the best way to gather information in these cases is to make data collection as specific as possible. For example, by starting off the session by asking “what are your three main objectives with the class?”, and then at the end revisit to see if/how the objectives were met. This approach ensures context in the information gathering process. 

Understanding the effectiveness of the information the trainer has provided is trickier. This is something that can’t be measured at the conclusion of a training but has to wait until the assignee has been on location for a while, typically several months after the training took place. Gathering data months after an event comes with its own set of challenges. Because the questions revolve around if the person has been able to apply anything they learned in training in their everyday life in the new location, this information is more about “feeling” rather than raw data, meaning measuring the outcome is not something that can be done on a scale or quantified in a graph.

In this example, the ultimate indicator of training success for the employer may be whether the employee stays the course or not. Measuring that outcome represents a separate survey, targeting the hiring company.

Steffen’s “simple” example above highlights the complicated nature of gathering data and measuring outcomes and it underscores the need for deliberate data collection/reporting to be part of the overall product/service offering. 

General trends in measuring outcomes and reporting are influenced by the online tools available, many of which make it easy to collect information and data. However, the quality of information will vary, and it may not always be actionable. Clicking a happy or sad face emoji, for example, will give an indication of someone’s current state of mind but not much more.

As for a tool like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Steffen sees it as being really useful for marketing purposes and it can function as an internal indicator of how you are doing. However, it also may not give much specific actionable information. And it’s not really a useful reporting tool to clients seeking data.

Lastly, when thinking about the power of collecting and reporting data, and how your findings help make business decisions, consider this from a Helpscout study — it shows that 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, whereas only 8% of customers agree with that assessment. While this particular study doesn’t indicate the level of dissatisfaction among customers, it does point to a big difference between the perceived success by the companies and the lived experience of their customers, and that is not a good starting point for building a strong brand.

By: Felicia Shermis


Harvard Business Review