Overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged norms for individuals, organisations, and countries worldwide. While the global economic recession of a decade ago placed Chief Finance Officers (CFOs) at the forefront of crisis management, the human aspect of the current crisis has thrust Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) into the spotlight. Leaders were forced to make fast decisions that profoundly impact people’s lives.
These decisions included who should remain at work and who should work from home, how and where digital work arrangements could be made, when international assigness could return home and how the priorities of organisations could be best communicated to employees.
The pandemic legacy
Decision makers had to take these actions to alleviate the severe impact of the pandemic on both employees and on an organisational level. But these actions and the legacy the pandemic leaves behind raises significant questions.
Will the pandemic result in a major cutback of international mobility? Or will it gradually be re-established?
Will companies take the opportunity to reduce the size of their workforce and costs? Or were they right in viewing international mobility as essential for efficient business operations?
What are the shortcomings of the current approaches, and how can successful strategies be developed?
Rethinking international work: adapting the role of global mobility departments
The pandemic prompted a reconsideration of traditional approaches to international work. Reevaluating how Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) utilise global teams, virtual collaboration and international assignments shows a shift that represents a fundamental transformation in International Human Resource Management (IHRM).
There is now an opportunity to research IHRM in search of relevant and valuable evidence to help facilitate global work in the future. This research could provide valuable insights into the role of International Human Resource Management during and after the pandemic. It is likely that even large organisations with well-established pre-pandemic IHRM policies will revise their strategies.
As travel restrictions ease, employers face decisions regarding the safety and necessity of travel. IHRM scholarship can provide evidence-based guidance for managing the impending changes to globally mobile careers and assisting organisations in selecting, developing, supporting and managing global workers.
The substantial changes to the experience of working abroad and the effect it has on one’s career, as well as to the role of global mobility professionals, are important to understand for career counsellors. These might mean that any career interventions aimed at individuals or organisational approaches need to acknowledge the changing playing field of global mobility in a highly volatile, uncertain and sometimes hostile world.
Insights from the Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2022
I attended the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Seattle (2022) and had access to many ongoing publications that are currently unpublished. Below, you can find three conclusions as a summary of the key findings of these articles.
1. The changing landscape of international assignments
There are different forms of global work, such as long-term assignments (LTAs), short-term assignments (STAs), and international business travels (IBTs). LTAs are the more traditional and expensive form (at least one year of living and working abroad). The drivers of these types of global work are still out there, such as leadership development, knowledge sharing, competency gap filling and control and coordination.
However, the Pandemic showed organisations that, depending on contextual factors, such as the industry, many of these drivers could be performed remotely in combination with less expensive types of global work, such as IBTs and STAs. The articles discuss the contextual factors that these combinations best work on and in which context remote working might compromise the international expansion of organisations.
2. The rise of remote work
The Pandemic triggered the rise of remote working as a flexible work arrangement to deal with the ban on global mobility at the peak of the Pandemic. Therefore, after the Pandemic, some segments of workers learned that they could deliver their jobs from wherever they were. A huge number of employees started to request flexibility in their work location. However, managers observed strategic and operational concerns. Articles discuss different cultural and institutional shock types while dealing with compensations, assessments, taxes, insurance, etc. There are good practices about when such flexibility work and when it does not.
3. The future of global mobility
Articles found that the future envisaged by global mobility managers differed across diverse industries. On the one hand, global leaders in knowledge-intensive industries expect a reduction of costly and traditional forms of global work, such as LTAs. In contrast, less costly forms, such as STAs or IBTs, would recover. In parallel, remote work continues to expand and is likely to partly replace the use of global mobility. On the other hand, global leaders in the consumer goods sector argue that remote working came to stay for group functions (e.g., HR, IT, marketing). At the same time, business lines would tend to recover their typical degree of mobility from before the pandemic. Group functions also deal with intensive knowledge management. However, the manufacturing facilities of business lines seem to demand more face-to-face interaction.
Reconfiguration of GM departments
Given these shifts, there is a pressing need to develop innovative and flexible global mobility approaches.Many initiatives for implementing flexible work arrangements fail due to a distinct lack of strategic linkages of global mobility and HR functions. In response, Professor Michael Dickmann and I use the Smart, Agile, Flawless and Efficient (SAFE) Model of Global Mobility (See Dickmann, 2018) as an alternative to re-establish strategic connections disrupted by the pandemic.
The model supports organisations in addressing issues like global leadership development, knowledge transfer, competency gap filling and control and coordination.
You will be able to access the publication as requested as soon it is available.
The substantial changes brought about by the pandemic’s impact on international work and careers, as well as the role of global mobility professionals, have significant implications for career facilitators. These changes require acknowledgment and adaptation to the evolving landscape of global mobility in a now uncertain world.
Incorporating a global mindset and cultivating cultural intelligence are crucial elements for organisations and individuals navigating modern global mobility. By embracing these shifts and challenges, businesses can thrive in a rapidly changing global environment.
Article Author: Rodrigo Mello, Doctoral Researcher University of Vaasa