The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our confidence that we can travel at will, as well as our expectation that work will mostly take place in an office environment. In May 2021, Aon’s Pulse Survey found that 61% of organisations are re-evaluating their remote working approach. As a result, the world of mobility has changed dramatically. As the world starts to reopen, what does the pandemic mean for the future of mobility?
What does mobility look like post-COVID 19?
As the coronavirus pandemic abates, will there still be a requirement to send employees overseas? The short answer is ‘yes’ – and more so for some industries than others. But as some projects are put on hold in response to the pandemic’s impact, and virtual working becomes more the norm, there may not be the same volume of assignments. We also anticipate that long-term assignments will reduce and be replaced by shorter, less costly assignments of up to 12 months.
Similarly, short-term business travel will also look different post-COVID. A working environment where video conferencing has become an accepted part of everyday life reduces the need for travel. Couple this with more stringent requirements around insurance and proof of health for travel, and companies may look to restrict business travel to essential trips.
of organisations are re-evaluating their remote working approach
What do these changes mean for employers?
As an employer, this change to the global mobility landscape has a number of implications. You will need to consider:
- Employment taxes – Income tax requirements for the individual and payroll obligations for the employer.
- Social security – Obligations and associated costs, together with access to benefits.
- Immigration – What is your employees’ right to work?
- Duty of care – Monitor where your employees are and fully understand their needs.
- Greater innovation from providers – Drive more product development to fit differing needs of mobility, including mental health, wellbeing and virtual care as core services.
- Underwriting conditions – Although claims have been low during the pandemic, a wealth of delayed medical appointments means that conditions are expected to be diagnosed later, which will eventually push up medical costs.
- Homeworking is predicted to increase the number of musculoskeletal and mental health issues, which in turn will impact medical and disability costs. At the same time, a potential increase in mortality rates among working-age populations will increase life insurance premiums, especially in countries with high levels of pre-existing conditions.
- The number of available insurers to choose from may reduce as insurers are financially impacted. Some may even cease trading as a result of the economic downturn.
Ensuring best practice when combining global mobility with remote working
Post COVID-19, there will certainly be increased global benefits governance for mobility professionals. Best practice governance will need to go further than having a high-level understanding of the benefits you offer around the world.
Employers will need to know where differentiated packages exist (eg, for senior employees) and the rationale for this. Testing the suitability and resilience of employee benefit plans and policies in the face of global threats will become central to the business continuity planning process.
Companies will also want to be confident about the location of their employees following the increase in remote working. Do you know where all your employees are at a given time? It may be someone is employed by one entity but working remotely from another country.
This ‘stealth mobility’ brings potential tax/payroll issues and fines. Benefits offered may not be fit for purpose in the country in question. Employers need to tackle this if they want to manage employee expectations, meet their duty of care and ensure their benefit offerings are inclusive.
Keeping a closer eye on all these issues demands that mobility teams are engaged early by the business and take the lead in setting clear principles and guidelines around travel and health.
Case Study: Global mobility in a remote world- Lessons from GitLab
GitLab, a tech company with roots in the Netherlands, has been all-remote since 2015. It is currently the world’s largest all-remote company with over 1,300 team members located in more than 65 countries around the world.
Roos Takken, Senior People Business Partner at GitLab, believes the expansion of remote working will impact mobility in a variety of ways in the future, as we are likely to “see more people moving from cities to rural areas, as well as people working from a different location while traveling or around holidays.”
Improved company culture can be one positive of remote working; creating a culture across a company where there are no offices requires “intentionality”, as Takken notes, but can deliver benefits:
“In a remote team, there’s no office vibe, hip coffee, or Spotify playlists that decide the culture, which is a gift. Instead, culture is written down. Culture is equal to the values you write down, and what you do as a leadership team to reinforce those values.”
The differences between working in one country or another may be reduced, then, when we are talking about global virtual mobility.
Protecting the wellbeing of a global virtual workforce, though, can prove challenging. GitLab monitors metrics around time off, retention and engagement to ensure that even when employees are out of sight, they are working in a way that supports wellbeing. And the company’s long-standing commitment to remote working doesn’t mean they are complacent. Takken notes that:
“We are continuously iterating on our remote practices to ensure we create the best working environment for our team members. For instance, introducing “Family & Friends Days” during the pandemic to ensure that people are making their wellbeing a top priority. Family & Friends Days see us close the doors to our virtual office, reschedule all meetings, and have a publicly visible shutdown.”
If your workforce is both global and virtual, how can you take steps towards building employee resilience? According to Takken, the three key things to build team member resilience are:
- Hiring for remote working competencies
- Ensuring managers support team members on remote working practices
- Continuous iteration on your remote practices; remote working is a journey rather than a set goal in time.
Next steps for employers in a world of global virtual working
What should you be doing to ensure your approach is appropriate for the new landscape?
- Know where your people are. Identify key stakeholders and ensure stricter internal governance.
- Define what you have now. Ensure the current arrangements are fit for purpose and compliance, and avoid duplication. Consider not just benefits provision, but issues like diversity and inclusion, to ensure your current approach delivers the best practice.
- Fully understand policy wordings as there may be gaps in coverage if employees are outside of their contracted country for extended periods of time.
- Fully understand any additional features that are available on existing plans and which can be better utilised and promoted to support the employee (and their dependents).
- Create a robust and clearly defined mobility policy to ensure governance and consistency.
- Educate the business – be clear about potential consequences of not adhering to policies.
- Communicate all policies to your workforce, with particular emphasis on anything that might have changed.
What else should employers be considering?
Aside from the issues outlined above, a rise in remote working is making physical wellbeing at work a business priority rather than a ‘nice to have’ – and this can be amplified if your workforce is global.
If this is an issue your organisation is wrestling with, think about:
- The remote nature of work, in the short term at least, means there will be more reliance on services such as global virtual care and Global Employee Assistance Programmes. What do you offer here, and is your approach fit for purpose?
- Lockdown and social distancing have had a major impact on social, financial and emotional wellbeing: how do you currently support your workforce, mobile or otherwise? Are you doing enough?
- Do you know where all your employees are? Is there sufficient data about your workforce locations to ensure you have covered all the risks and mitigated any safety issues?
- Social distancing and hygiene restrictions are likely to change agile working models and the use of communal desks – are you prepared for this? Have you done risk assessments of your office space and considered your return to work strategy?
Successful global mobility in a COVID-19 world
Global mobility will look different as we emerge from the pandemic – companies wanting to ensure their globally mobile workforce is resilient, and their approach compliant, will need to revisit their current global mobility strategy, identify any shortcomings, and put in place actions to address them.
Aon’s short self-assessment tool can assist with an immediate indication as to whether your workforce is likely to be resilient:
- See how you fare against our resilience gauge
- Understand your key areas for improvement, and how to make change happen
- Discover how well-rounded your health and wellbeing approach is
It takes less than 10 minutes, and you can complete the self-assessment tool here.