When you think about sending employees on global assignments you might imagine them in an exotic city, working alongside a community of welcoming expats from all around the globe.
But the reality can be far less glamorous. Navigating a potential language barrier, not getting paid on time, and feeling out of touch with home are all things that could hold expats back, and are therefore serious considerations for global mobility professionals.
So we’ve created a checklist of key tools that help global mobility professionals relocate fellow staff successfully.
The administration software
Global mobility software companies, such as Equus Software, offer platforms that could take a lot of the strain out of managing a large team. They will allow you to process expenses, deal with tax, and calculate compensation, and may be compatible with the current HRIS your company uses.
Sam Bennett, head of compliance and operations at Frontierpay, suggests outsourcing could take a lot of administrative burden off HR teams as local regulations and laws vary from country to country. “For any business, ensuring employees are paid is vital but the process becomes more complex when staff are based abroad, something that is on the increase,” he tells HR magazine.
“Having a payroll and international payments specialist on-hand helps businesses access competitive exchange rates and guarantees consistent delivery when payroll needs to be made in foreign currencies.”
However, if you are only planning to manage a small team of expats you might not need to invest in any particular platform. “You could do it old-school style; using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to store all the information you need,” suggests Andrea Piacentini, one of the founders of the RES Forum and head of reward for Europe at Standard Life. “However, you need to be aware that it does not have some of the functions used by specialised software. It cannot save documents, for example, and it is less secure.”
Alternatively, you could consider engaging a consultancy to do the legwork for you. For instance, PwC offers a comprehensive global mobility management service, which can work with your firm to create a programme tailored to your needs.
The cultural awareness training
Did you know that in Japan sleeping at your desk is considered a sign of dedication not laziness? Or that in Russia you may be expected to drink vodka during serious business negotiations? Your expats will need to understand the cultural quirks of their new home to really be successful there.
“The biggest cause of overseas assignment failures is the lack of ability to adjust to the new environment,” says John Cutler, operations director of cultural awareness training firm Culturewise. “People often get selected for global assignments based on their technical expertise, and not their ability to adapt to change. When considering the cost of a failed assignment, cultural training really is only a small proportion of that.”
Cutler suggests that such training could also be invaluable to the spouses of those heading overseas. “Your colleague will get the chance to build friendships and network through their job, but what about their partner?” he says. “If you teach them how to build friendships and get along in day-to-day life they will be more satisfied with the move.”
The international health insurance
Employers might underestimate the importance of arranging appropriate access to medical care, especially if they come from a country such as the UK where healthcare is available through the state. Firms such as AXA PPP International can help businesses plan for and manage medical costs abroad if they arise.
“By helping employees to arrange an international private medical insurance policy businesses can feel confident that their staff can access high-quality medical treatment, anywhere in the world,” says Tom Wilkinson, managing director of AXA PPP International. “They can therefore rest assured that their staff’s wellbeing is protected while they are overseas and that they can focus on performing at their best during their assignment.”
The home nation communication mobile apps
One of the biggest complaints from those stationed abroad is the negative impact on their social life, leaving them feeling isolated and demotivated. “At first it’s exciting, like a honeymoon phase,” David Collings, professor of HR management at Dublin City University, tells HR magazine. “But then you start to miss events back home like birthdays and anniversaries, and you feel isolated.”
Years ago keeping in touch with friends and family was a difficult task. “The whole family would be gathered around the phone, waiting for your call,” says Collings. “But now, with apps like WhatsApp or Viber, you don’t need to worry about timezones or planning calls in advance.” It might sound simple, but advising staff to download these apps before they set off can be powerful.
Reminding your employees of apps as simple as BBC Sport or Sport TV Live could be similarly invaluable in helping them keep that familiar piece of home with them. “I recall stories of people being sent newspapers from home, which they would read in date order, to be able to keep up with their favourite sports teams,” says Collings. “Now you can stream any game you want to see on a mobile device.”
The one-stop shop
Moving lots of people around the world can often be a thankless task for global mobility professionals, many of whom are under-resourced and over-worked. It’s also a complex one, given the number of complicated tasks that need to be completed. MOVE Guides provides fully outsourced relocation and assignment management, looking after every link in the chain. It also allows HR teams to find the often missing link between global mobility and talent management.
MOVE Guides CEO and founder Brynne Kennedy sees the current relocation management market as in need of a shake-up, much in the way other HR functions have evolved thanks to technology. “[It’s] an ideal opportunity for technological disruption to transform the complex into the easy to use,” she says. “To make an elegant global mobility system we must put all the global mobility ‘Lego blocks’ together – one by one – into a single technology solution.”
The essential read
Graham Salisbury, head of human resources at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, recommends Kate Fox’s book Watching the English as a little extra something HR teams could send expats away with. “It can help your team quickly learn what people of other cultures find both endearing and irritating about the English,” he says. “It’s the sort of book I wish I’d read before I spent a year in Germany, so I could better appreciate the English equivalents to the German passions for recycling, clearing snow from the pavement, and not mowing the lawn on Sundays.”