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As global mobility professionals, and as people, the past year has been different from any other. We have had to deal with not only the initial crisis of COVID-19, but the subsequent changes, which continue to vary across the globe. In March of 2020 we were thrown headfirst into dealing with the immediate challenges, and then reacting to the ever-constant need for support throughout the business. It is safe to say that if we were to write out the job description for the role we played in the past year, it would be very different to the typical GM job role.

As global mobility professionals it has been down to us to keep tabs on the ever-changing landscape brought on by COVID-19, the developments and regulations, the immigration changes and policy updates. It has been a lot.

But amidst all the chaos and uncertainties, what have we learned? K2 has stepped back to reflect on some key themes and key learnings that we can all relate to.

Crisis management

Many will probably agree, that dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 back in March 2020, involved an element of crisis management. Suddenly our populations needed to move and move quickly. Assignees wanted to be relocated back to their home location with their family, unsure and uncertain they wanted to return to feel safe.

Not only was the increase in volume a lot to handle, but relocation instantaneously became harder, with borders closing and flights being grounded. Our work was reactionary, putting out fires and solving problems. We had to feel our way through the issues, keeping up to date whilst reassuring all — when we ourselves had never had to face such an unprecedented situation.

It’s interesting now to reflect and look back on those months of uncertainty and ask ourselves what we would do differently with the benefit of hindsight, and if (god forbid) we were faced with another pandemic or crisis of a similar magnitude, what we would now have in place to support those reactionary moments.

Some key advice we have been sharing with our clients from K2:

  • Improve population tracking — real-time and accurate data on the whole population and their dependants.
  • Build on our relationships and processes with internal and external specialists — from security; healthcare; relocation; travel and more.
  • Develop and clearly communicate the company policy on remote working and identify the issues of working in locations where the company does not have an entity.

Remote working

We have seen, in almost an instant, the world adapt quickly to remote working. Any sector or department that could facilitate working from home, did so — for at least a portion of the pandemic. Anyone who has experienced working from home will admit that there are challenges and adaptations required, even more so for an assignee as these challenges are more varied and pronounced.

Those who choose to stay in their host location faced similar challenges as their co-workers at home, perhaps with the added strain of being in a foreign location, potentially away from family and friend network. We also saw ‘stalled’ assignments, where an employee was unable to physically move to their new location but started in their new role — long distance.  There were assignees, for example, working with teams they had never met and juggling host country hours.

Others may have been forced to return to their actual home countries, sometimes places where the company did not have any office — throwing practical and compliance issues into the mix.

The intricacies surrounding remote working, as in the aforementioned examples, highlights the holistic approach required by the global mobility professional. Especially throughout this pandemic, global mobility has worn many hats — tax, immigration, legal, compliance, healthcare, and travel (to name a few)!

On reflection, we know we have learnt and grown from managing the pandemic challenges that surfaced and by the movement of people, disruption of assignments, and the forced remote working; now is the time to determine if there is some way that we can use this information in a tangible and productively?

At K2, we have been advising our clients to do the following:

  • Reach out to the business for detailed remote working examples.
  • Create a policy for remote working — which is flexible and agile enough to meet extraordinary circumstances but is rigorous enough to manage compliance.
  • Include specialists (internal and external) such as tax, immigration, legal, relocation and HR in the policy development.

Increased visibility 

The global crisis has increased the global mobility team’s visibility within our companies, because during this crisis we earned our seat at the table, more than ever before. Suddenly global mobility teams were regarded as ‘experts in all things global’, dealing with tax and social security implications, technology challenges, immigration complications, corporate entity concerns and remote working facilitation.  We managed our ‘usual’ at post population but our remit was further extended to deal with business travellers and third country nationals and often extended further to helping with assignees’ families. The business needed the support of global mobility and we stepped up!

Looking forward, how can we use this visibility to leverage our position within the business, and keep up the momentum?

At K2, we have suggested to our clients to:

  • Create and circulate learnings from the previous year (internal PR!).
  • Continue to develop the relationships built during these times.
  • Continue to involve key internal stakeholders in the further development of global mobility practices and policies.

Assignee welfare

Assignee welfare has always been a central cog in the global mobility machine. Maintaining high standards with regard to the duty of care for assignees and their dependants has always been a primary goal. Over the past year, this scope has even widened, and we have also recognised the different requirements for the different assignees.

As an example, assignees that previously needed no additional support were now reaching out for advice and assistance. Others were looking at the potential contractual obligations of their companies, some requesting additional support for their immediate families. It became obvious that the decisions we were making could really impact the life of these assignees and their families.

Under pressure, and in an uncertain world, global mobility professionals were making effective, life-changing decisions on behalf of the business, which is not an easy task. We all learned a lot about empathy as well as getting a further understanding of the business’ responsibility and standpoint on assignee welfare. Reflecting on decisions made, are there learnings that we can take forward to better inform future decisions?

Here are a couple of key tips that K2 has been offering clients:

  • Break down decisions into components and pool information from across the business.
  • Involve relevant parties — these are not stand-alone decisions.
  • Revisit decisions after each experience, look to see if they require adjustment or improvement, whilst keeping the fundamental principles consistent.

Let’s leverage our learning

As the world and borders begin to open, and flights resume, it might be easy to slip back into the role we had pre-COVID. However, it would be so useful to our future selves to leverage the learnings from the past year, to use them to not only better the assignee experience, but to showcase the full force that is global mobility.

As always, if there is anything that you would like additional support on, K2 is always here to help.

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