• Global Mobility: Post-pandemic—back to January 2020 or is it a new dawn


    We’re starting to feel hopeful … again. With two years of pandemic disruption, hopefully behind us soon, are we expecting global mobility in the post-pandemic era to go back to what it was before the crisis started? The work environment has experienced dramatic change since then. Will it have a lasting effect? If so, will global mobility lose some of its lustre? The following chart provides a starting point for our discussion:

    In October 2021, Statistics Canada released a report on teleworking since the beginning of the pandemic. It provided insight into what this experience could mean for the future and had us reflect on how global mobility policies may be affected.

    The report tells us that roughly 40% of Canadian jobs can be done from home, mostly in the finance, insurance, professional, scientific, and technical sectors. Most teleworkers (90%) found they were as productive as they were in the office and 80% reported a preference for working at least half of their work hours from home.

    The StatsCan report also referred to an OECD*  survey across 25 countries, which produced similar findings. It also reported that 60% of managers saw increased worker productivity as an advantage but 75% found teamwork more challenging.

    How employee and employer preferences will align remains to be seen. The employee experience, however, is being prioritized for many employers given the current challenges with talent recruitment and retention.

    During the period from August to November 2021 (before the Omicron surge), the percentage of the Canadian workforce working remotely was steady at 23.5%. This represents more than 50% of the jobs that can be done from home.

    How will global mobility be affected if this movement continues?

    One possible outcome is that organizations may see less of a need for domestic relocations. Why relocate employees when they work mostly from home anyway? Organizations may continue relocating some employees, but they may have to widen the scope of their mobility policy for new hires or existing employees moving from an on-site position to one that would be done mostly from home. Some points to consider:

    – With fewer new work locations, we would expect less home sale/purchase activity. Could pressure increase to support the cost of a sufficiently private and properly equipped office in the home, e.g., by covering the cost of buying a more suitable home and selling the old one, or by providing a capital improvement allowance?

    – Where a cost-of-living differential might have been paid, should it be replaced by a work-from-home differential to cover additional electricity, heat, A/C, etc.?

    – Savings, which can be directed elsewhere, will likely be found through the reduced use of other relocation features, e.g., home search and final trips, long distance moving services, temporary accommodation, spousal assistance.

    – Would the amount normally paid as a miscellaneous/relocation allowance still be relevant? The same question applies to the amounts provided through lump sum programs.

    Similarly, business units may require fewer temporary assignments, whether short or long term. They could be replaced with more frequent business travel for periodic in-person meetings.

    On the international front, the future may be more challenging to predict. Decisions will surely vary according to distance, cultural sensibilities, and family needs, in addition to all the other considerations normally weighed for any relocation. However, in some cases, it could be determined that a full-time international presence is no longer essential. Perhaps a series of short-term assignments would be as productive as a long-term relocation. This would likely be less costly, or cost neutral, and less disruptive for the family.

    There is still much we don’t know, but we are quite certain that post-pandemic, the calendar will not be reset to January 2020. Workers have expressed a clear preference for teleworking and employers are already re-evaluating their work environment in terms of possible efficiencies and improved employee experience. If the current trend continues, relocations could become more difficult to justify or sell to the candidate. The entire concept of global mobility may change, requiring a different set of supporting policies. It may well be a new dawn.

    * Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development