Business man travelling


Global mobility challenges post Covid

21 December 2021

It is widely acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have a long-lasting impact on the way we work; particularly for those who worked full-time in an office setting before the emergency began. 

Organisations of all sizes around the world are reassessing previous working policies and moving towards hybrid working so employees can:

  • Access an office for collaborative work and in-person meetings
  • Work remotely for focus work and reduce commuting time during the week


What does this mean for businesses who send employees overseas on expat assignments? Even before the pandemic, change was on the way. The new generation of expat assignees had different requirements, as did the businesses they represented, and what had gone before was less likely to work. The pandemic has only served to further accelerate this change and organisations are going to have to remain flexible and fast moving to keep up.


So what are some of the challenges faced by the global mobility sector, as we face into a post-pandemic world?

Although Covid-19 is somewhat on the decline in several countries, there are many locations still severely impacted by the disease. Businesses and expats themselves may be reluctant to move to these countries regardless of their vaccination status. Furthermore, countries that have been successful in managing the illness locally are maintaining border controls and quarantine requirements, which are problematic for expats hoping to relocate. For expats that do travel to regions still impacted, quality international health insurance offering access to private healthcare will be more important than ever; particularly if local health services are at risk of becoming overrun. 
Despite quite a difficult period during the early days of the pandemic, the global jobs market is bouncing back. A significant increase in vacancies coupled with a decreasing, aging workforce means many industries are facing skills shortages. There is no doubt there will be a knock-on effect when it comes to finding the right candidate for expat assignments. HR departments may need to work with their businesses to develop internal candidates as well as making their business an even more attractive place to work. 
In light of talent shortages, there is a move away from employee mobility to job mobility, where businesses are considering moving jobs to people. For roles that may have been expat assignments, this might involve looking at virtual assignments, commuter assignments or making better use of business travel in order to attract the right employee.
If your business is successful at attracting expat candidates, there may be a mismatch between what a candidate is expecting from an expat experience and the reality of your organisation's needs. In recent years, the next generation of employees have been attracted by the aesthetics of the digital nomad lifestyle. They may be eager to move to popular expat destinations or digital nomad hubs but there may be less enthusiasm for the low-cost isolated destinations where you may need them. 

The post-pandemic move towards greater flexibility is likely to be requested by millennial expats. There is an expectation that many businesses will try to accommodate additional flexibility as much as possible. However, organisations and employees may be more restricted in certain hardship locations where duty of care will have to take precedence. 


Tax implications  will have to be considered when it comes to requests for remote working too. This may be possible for an employee moving from one EU member state to another; however, not if that same employee is moving to another continent.


Work-life balance and employee wellbeing are likely to be much more important to the post-pandemic expat. They may be included as negotiation points when planning an assignment in a way they would not have been previously. Expat assistance programs and similar supports are likely to be more important than ever.

In tandem with the global pandemic was an acknowledgement that the diversity in society is not  represented in the professional workplace. As more businesses work to ensure their teams are made up of employees from all walks of life, this may pose a challenge when it comes to expat assignments.


These are just some of the challenges that may face HR teams managing expats as we cycle out of the Covid-19 pandemic. What does appear to be clear is that although the expat assignment may not be long term or look exactly the same as before, for many businesses it will remain an important component of their success.