A year into the pandemic, one of the persistent questions within global mobility teams is how to inject additional resilience into their emergency response plans.
The answer requires managerial attention to three distinct but complementary domains: environmental competency, communication agility and reporting accuracy.
Environmental competency highlights the necessity for global mobility to keep up-to-date information on regulatory changes and government announcements. Communication agility points to the ease with which global mobility needs to efficiently gather, analyze and share information across the organization. Reporting accuracy enables real-time monitoring of key variables, including the whereabouts of all mobile employees, which is a fundamental step in risk assessment during crisis management.
“The primary issue that many organizations had to battle [in the early days of the pandemic] was to identify the prevalence of stealth expats and the emergence of ‘virtual assignments,’ ” said Alf Carlesater, founder of GROW HR Consulting and formerly GE’s Asia and Sub-Saharan mobility lead based in Singapore. “The challenge for global mobility is related to ensuring statutory compliance with immigration, tax and payroll rules for both the employee and the employer, without having had the benefit of completing due diligence reviews in advance.”
Environmental competency can be improved through regular briefings from corporate security and government liaison offices and external tax, immigration and relocation partners. Global mobility’s role here is to make sense of the most recent developments in border, immigration and health policies and translate those insights into practical advice to business line managers and relocating employees.
This consultative approach is already in place in many organizations, as described by the Asia mobility lead for a Singapore-based international bank. Its operation resilience team is aligned to country, business function and region, she said.
The establishment of an agile communication ecosystem is essential for global mobility to quickly pivot and deliver real-time insights to both internal and external stakeholders. Increasing speed can be achieved by leveraging existing organizational platforms. A prominent oil and gas company designed a dedicated intranet page for its large and dispersed mobile population, focused on providing guidance and support during the crisis. The guiding principle behind any communication strategy during a crisis is that all messages consistently signal transparency, empathy and credibility.
A mobility manager with a U.K.-based global consultancy group recalls the benefits of having a centralized channel curated by global mobility: “By maintaining a data repository in our intranet, we were successful in building trust with business leaders during the crisis,” she said. “We were also successful in demobilizing people at very short notice. For example, we managed to repatriate people from New Zealand back to the U.K. who had only just moved out there a few months prior. We had evacuations from across Africa for our international development business, and a large redeployment from Singapore to Australia.”
Accurate and real-time reporting was not always a straightforward exercise for many organizations during the early days of the pandemic. Many employees were caught during business travels unable to return home, and on holidays unable to return to their assignment location. These scenarios quickly escalated to create compliance issues for both the employee and the organization. This challenge with reporting is not a new phenomenon but was amplified during the pandemic. Seamless reporting integration between internal functions such as global mobility, travel desk and business HR, and external vendors is a critical component in the optimization of existing resilient emergency plans.
Global mobility is situated in a hub-and-spoke two-way model where it sources real-time governance and market expertise from internal corporate functions and external partners. The function translates and communicates credible, practical and empathetic advice to business line managers and mobile employees.
The biggest challenges in moderating this three-pronged approach stem from two key factors.
The first relates to organizational culture—how strategically positioned global mobility is to influence process redesign and resource reallocation. Although clearly a complex issue to address, the moment is opportune for global mobility to increase its risk-mitigating role during highly disruptive events.
The second challenge relates to the breadth of the mobile workforce footprint. The more disperse the geography involved, the more complex the governance-related risks created during a pandemic. The adoption of online platforms can be a partial solution in order to better integrate what is normally a very fragmented data ecosystem.
By examining ways to make emergency response plans more resilient, global mobility teams reinforce their commitment to the multiple stakeholders they support and signal awareness to the pivotal role they play in talent management globally.
Roberto Vale is a freelance writer based in Singapore. He spent nearly 20 years as a global mobility leader and is the founder of Adapt2Lead Management Consulting.