Global mobility | Are in-country assignments a thing of the past?

Are in-country assignments a thing of the past?

By the International Lines Department at Generali Employee Benefits (GEB) Network

While recent years have indicated a shift towards more considered approaches to workforce mobility, the global pandemic of 2020 brought with it a more urgent need for new ways of working.

The virtual work arrangement has quickly transitioned from an emerging trend to the most significant growth area in mobility – propelled by necessity and facilitated by advances in technology. Does this spell the end for the geographical assignment?

In these changing times companies must reassess the support they provide to their mobile employees and weigh up the pros and cons of the virtual versus the geographical assignment.

More than ever before, global mobility decisions will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis and will be largely determined by the infrastructure available to support people in either capacity. This necessitates innovation both within organisations and from their suppliers. Partners need to be prepared to think beyond industry-established practice, to help organisations solve their complex global problems with bespoke, flexible and transparent solutions.

Confidence in the infrastructure on the part of the employee will also play a huge and decisive part with regard to whether they stay or whether they go.

Attitudes are changing at a striking rate, with 27% of companies in June saying that Covid-19 will have a significant impact on their approach to global mobility – an increase from 12% in April1.

Perhaps even more significantly, the number of companies surveyed that said they expect to return to their previous number of international moves going forward decreased from 44% in April to 24% in June1. Is this a short-term reaction out of necessity? Or a long-term trend?

In-country advantages

There is little doubt that the option to work in a different country has the potential to vastly improve employees’ career experiences and opportunities. The geographical experience is important - for people and business. It’s an experience that isn’t possible from a virtual assignment.

It also helps remove barriers for businesses around workforce diversity and employee development.

When surveyed, 98% of business leaders stated that internationally mobile professionals were important for their business to meet strategic objectives, while 42% of employees agreed that global mobility would enhance their career progression2.

Virtual advantages

Not only has the pandemic shown us that virtual working is easier and more efficient than predicted, it offers organisations cost-effective alternatives to business travel. It has helped overcome current logistical issues surrounding closed borders, compliance and employee reluctance to travel.

There has also been some suggestion that the virtual assignment may allow for fairer and more inclusive opportunities for global exposure and international experience, with businesses becoming more thoughtful about who to invest in - finding the balance between global moves and developing their local people.

One size rarely fits all

Despite the seemingly obvious advantages of virtual assignments, a one size fits all approach to global mobility restructuring is unlikely to be feasible, as business focus and pressures can vary greatly. Plus, not all industries can allow virtual working, with some requiring a physical presence by necessity.

Also, as mentioned, it is prudent to consider the importance of geographical experience in employee development, specifically whether cultural and personal development can be achieved in the same way without face-to-face interactions when assigned to a role in a different country.

Virtual assignees run the risk of not integrating successfully into their role or workplace. There are less opportunities to become familiar with the workings of the group, and virtual meetings can have varying levels of success for participants based upon experience with virtual tools, levels of assertiveness and stereotypes based upon accents, appearance and gender.

Wellbeing top of the agenda

Meanwhile, the pandemic represents a stark reminder to all of the importance of safety and wellbeing; and reviewing policies and support for mobile employees must become a key focus over the coming months prior to borders fully reopening and ‘on hold’ assignments being reactivated.

Companies are now looking at how to support mobile employees in ways that matter. They need partners that can add value beyond policy terms and conditions, while remaining cost effective through digital solutions.

Over half of companies have increased communications with mobile employees – with 63% of employers reporting investment in technologies aimed at remote support2.

This extended support and flexibility is more important than ever if companies are to continue to reap the benefits of having a mobile workforce “on the ground” in different locations.

Look to the future

Virtual assignments can play an important role in the post-pandemic world of work as a means to overcome new barriers to mobility.

However, they are ultimately unlikely to achieve important business objectives such as diversity, cultural integration and geographical experience. As employee health and wellbeing has become increasingly significant this year, a broader rethink is needed around the evolving needs of mobile employees in order to ensure roles are filled and careers progressed.

Whilst the rise of remote working during the crisis allowed for much business continuity, not all employees benefit equally from this arrangement, and without proper preparation the risk of falling off track in the virtual world is marked for some.

Find out more about Generali

Generali Employee Benefits Network has launched eNomad, a digital tool designed to enable multinational companies and intermediaries to request and manage quotes in one space. Users can also access regular content and market updates. eNomad helps organisations to better address the traditional complexities of designing and implementing benefits plans for globally mobile and expatriate employees.

1 PwC UK, COVID-19 – The impact on Global Mobility and the mobile workforce, 2020, 
2 Santa Fe Relocation, Global Mobility Survey, 2020, 

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