This blog is the fourth in a five-part series focusing on opportunity generated by volatility in today’s mobility profession. Here we review the impact volatility is having on mobility policies and programs. In the fifth and final blog in this series, we’ll examine the opportunities it presents for internal change and growth.

As pointed out at the start of this series on volatility and its attendant opportunities, volatility is commonly defined as, “characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change.” Given all that is occurring in our world pandemically, socially, politically, culturally, and economically, it is fair to conclude that we are living in volatile times.

One change in which we are collectively participating is “working from home,” which in reality means working from anywhere (WFA). So much so that social media, legacy news outlets, and family get-togethers (with appropriate social distancing of course) are rife with discussion of this “new” WFA concept and what it means for the future of work.

What is WFA? As noted in a recent KPMG and Aires sponsored webinar, Applying a “work anywhere” culture for your organization: Navigating through international and domestic issues,” definitions vary:

  • Definitions differ from organization to organization
  • Definitions may change over time with the organization’s goals
  • WFA may be an ongoing work strategy or a short-term response to external factors such as COVID-19
  • WFA may involve all or only portions of your workforce
  • WFA may involve both domestic and international components depending on the company’s locations and scope of “work anywhere” policies
  • WFA may be established with differing structures including free-form employee movement or company-approved movements

Recognizing that we are likely to remain in a volatile employment environment and that WFA in some form will be with us for the foreseeable future, what do these mean from a mobility policy and program perspective? Should policies be temporarily amended or are more systemic changes appropriate? Are companies embracing WFA in the short term only or are they seeking longer term, systemic change?

WFA INCREASINGLY POPULAR

It is clear from the data that the WFA trend precedes the pandemic and is significantly increasing. Between 2005 to 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. In 2015, 3.9 million U.S. workers were working remotely. Today that number is at 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the population (FlexJobs, Remote Work Statistics: Shifting Norms and Expectations). The same study noted that 80% of U.S. workers say they would turn down a job that did not offer flexible working.

The pandemic has fostered even greater acceptance of WFA. Per a recent article at Entreprenuer.com, major employers such as Microsoft, Salesforce, Reuters, and Uber fall across the spectrum from temporary, hybrid WFA approaches with duration restrictions (i.e., through 2020 or through Q1 of 2021) to others, notably REI, announcing that it is “selling its brand new, unused 8-acre corporate campus in Bellevue, Washington” and that the company will “lean into remote working as an engrained, supported, and normalized model.”

From a business perspective, following are some key considerations that first must be viewed relative to business needs before embracing WFA at any level:

  • Payroll reporting and withholding
  • Immigration and employment law
  • Overall talent management
  • Corporate registration and taxation
  • Regulatory considerations
  • Real estate

So, what does the above data mean for mobility programs and policies in particular? It would seem at this point that for most companies the answer is, “it depends.”

In Aires’ most recent Pulse Survey, 6% of respondents confirm making some type of change to their current mobility policies as a result of the pandemic. The changes confirmed by respondents are listed below. Several other respondents noted that while no formal policy changes have been made, they are authorizing exceptions and dealing with individual situations on a case-by-case basis. Regarding the possibility of future policy changes, 14% of respondents state they do anticipate change; they just do not know what those changes may be at this point in time.

TYPES OF POLICY CHANGES ALREADY PUT INTO PLACE

  • Extending the time period for the completion of all expenses beyond 12 months
  • Cost of living allowances pausing in the event of an unanticipated absence from the host country
  • Language to address pandemic
  • Changes allowing more flexibility
  • Adding destination services
  • Adding duplicate housing expenses
  • Extending marketing period for home in buyout program

Any response to an event such as the pandemic creates a myriad of possibilities going forward. Many respondents are still dealing with individual cases daily and making exceptions as needed. To move forward, there should be short-term considerations as well as long-term considerations.

Pre-pandemic concerns for organizations focused on controlling employee mobility costs, being competitive, attracting talent, and finding ways to create flexibility in a program, to name just a few. Post-pandemic, it is important to know what will be most critical for organizations moving forward in the short-term.

Our survey asked respondents to rank some key focus points from most to least critical for their organization. Flexible work situations received the most critical rating, followed closely by cost reductions, flexible relocation policies, and duty of care provisions. Additional policies were reported to be the least critical at this time.

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LONG TERM MOBILITY IMPACT

From our survey, 24% of respondents do not anticipate any long-term impact (good or bad), and 22% just do not know yet what, if any, long-term effect may occur. Further down the line, just 10% felt there may be more remote workers, which may reduce relocation volume.

However, when WFA’s increasing popularity combined with the mobility profession’s top three concerns of flexible work situation, cost reductions, and flexible policies are viewed together with the long-term impact percentages noted above, it would appear that a reconciliation among the three is in order.

Will this mean more mobility policy changes? Program restructuring? Perhaps both – or something else entirely. In any case, the one constant in volatile environments is change.

With change afoot in our profession, how do we go about effectively achieving it in our organizations? In our fifth and final blog we end the series on volatility with an exploration and discussion of organizational change management.

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