When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in Australia in March, global mobility professionals found themselves at the pointy-end of efforts to help businesses respond. Almost overnight, arrangements were turned upside down as employees began heading back to their countries of origin or found themselves stranded overseas for longer than expected.
Mobility specialists had to work fast to make sure their people were safe and well. At the same time, they had to juggle new cross-border working arrangements, understand the complex regulatory implications and communicate in an environment where information was changing by the hour.
On the upside, the crisis has shown what’s possible when the options are limited. It’s also compelled the implementation of arrangements that were once seen as desirable but too difficult to administer. Arguably, there has never been a more interesting time to work in global mobility.
But the experience of dealing with COVID-19 has also thrown a light on the way the mobility function needs to change. For example, over one third (38%) of the profession said one of their top challenges was understanding who their mobile employees are and where they were located.1
While the long-term impact of the pandemic on global mobility is still not clear, problems like this are not going away, even if businesses return to some degree of normality. The current recovery phase presents an ideal opportunity for organisations to review and refresh their approach to managing global workforces in a post-COVID-19 world. There are three key areas to focus on.
Being able to determine the location and immigration status of your people quickly is fundamental, particularly when a duty of care decision is required. It was a challenge during the height of the pandemic as employees travelled home en masse and will be an issue when they start to move again.
But the ability to track employee movements and status has long been a problem for many organisations. In fact, many still rely on manual technologies such as Excel spreadsheets. Not only is this approach time-consuming, but it is also highly susceptible to errors and duplication.
There is a better way. Simple and effective technologies are available to help mobility specialists manage their mobility data. These solutions provide sophisticated reporting capability and real-time visibility of mobile and remote employee populations.
Best practice mobility functions use the latest technologies to support their employee mobility processes and practices. As a result, they can make faster and better-informed decisions.
Over the past decade, many employees have expressed a desire to work flexibly or remotely in an international context. Yet organisations have been hesitant to agree due to the associated regulatory complexities and risks.
But COVID-19 has seen these types of arrangements increase dramatically. And employers and tax authorities have been forced to address regulatory obligations in new and different ways. In Australia, for example, the ATO announced several concessions for foreign employees working in Australia during the pandemic.
With a significant portion of the global workforce showing it’s possible to work remotely – domestically and internationally – it’s hard to imagine things returning to normal.
Organisations should ensure that appropriate policies and processes are in place to manage the obligations arising from higher demand for flexible or remote work arrangements.
Global mobility specialists are often perceived as a support function within their organisation. As a result, the opportunity to be strategic or help drive business agendas is often not realised. Yet these professionals have never been more integral to their organisation’s success.
Finding and attracting the right talent is challenging at the best of times. But the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 will make this even more difficult. It will result in changes to resourcing plans, the way people move internationally and the future characterisation of global workforces.
For industries that rely heavily on highly specialised, rotational workforces, sourcing the right talent, in the right place and at the right time, will be particularly complex and challenging. For others, mobilising their remote working population once COVID-19 travel restrictions begin to lift, will present short term logistical challenges and longer-term compliance obligations.
Global mobility specialists should – and will – play a crucial strategic role in helping organisations to navigate these complexities and fast-track their recovery.
1 PwC, April 2020, Global Mobility Pulse Survey Results
Global Mobility Australia Practice Leader, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 3 8603 5424
Partner, PwC Australia
Tel: +61 2 8266 8067