Managing Expat Assignments Post Pandemic 

14 June 2022
There is no doubt the last number of years have brought far reaching change to the world of work. It seems what was once deemed, the future of work, came about much more rapidly than predicted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many office based businesses are now embracing hybrid working which enables employees to find better balance between their work and home life. 
  1. During the last few years, travel restrictions and health concerns have meant international assignments that were meant to take place were stalled or cancelled. Ongoing supply chain issues and ongoing invasion in Ukraine is adding to an already difficult global market.  
What is clear is the pandemic has been very much a catalyst for change to the working world. Enforced work from home orders were more successful than many employers imagined they would be. Many businesses are embracing the benefits of home working while also enabling those who need an office space to work in to do so. The focus has shifted from concern about where work is done to how it gets done. This is starting to be the case for international assignments too. 

The challenges brought about by the pandemic and the change forced upon the working world have not removed the primary motivators for international assignments. Many organisations still need to:

  • Develop supplementary overseas talent
  • Support international integration
  • Utilise technical expertise not available locally
  • Provide leadership experience to key markets

In the last decade businesses have underlined the increasing importance of global mobility by moving international assignment functions away from transactional areas like ‘benefits’ into strategic areas like people management.  

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change and in some instances, the trajectory of the anticipated future of work. For the moment, it appears that hybrid working is here to stay. This mix of home and office work has an impact on expat assignments from both employer and assignee perspective. 

Deloitte believes some international deployments will remain business critical and will have to be completed in person. But the new normal opens the door to the idea that other assignments could be completed remotely using digital advancements. 

Following the sea change in the way we work, now is the perfect time for international business to evaluate their global mobility programmes and optimise them for the coming years:


1.       Workforce review

It may be a good time to initiate a global mobility review within your business to understand:

  1. What international assignments are business critical
  2. Which assignments must be completed in person
  3. Which assignments could be completed virtually or by commuter assignees

This may save time, money and resources during a period of global inflation and skills shortages. 


2.       Resetting mobility

For those assignments deemed necessary it is time to reset international mobility. Are there things your company could do better to avoid expat failure? There may be a need to review and improve pre-departure training or the supports that are in place while an employee is overseas. Expectations around working environments have changed during the pandemic too. Skills shortages coupled with pent up demand for change mean employees who are not happy are voting with their feet.


3.       Virtual assignments

If an in person assignment is not deemed necessary, a virtual assignment might be a good option, particularly if time differences are not extreme. For a virtual assignment to be successful businesses must work hard to ensure strong foundational practices are put in place to enable an assignee to get to know and be known by their new team. These may include:

  • Adjusting to time zone differences
  • Simplifying language
  • Respect and interest in the culture of the team the assignee joins
  • Meeting facilitation techniques to ensure all voices are heard
  • Practicing virtual immersion as much as possible


4.       Employee health and wellbeing

During the last few years there has been an understandable focus on the importance of the physical and mental wellbeing of employees and their families. There was the physical threat posed by the virus but then there was also the mental health challenge of ongoing lockdowns. Employees around the world found themselves confined to their homes often having to juggle work with caring duties. Many employers stepped up to the mark providing their workforce with access to employee assistance and other support. 


This level of support for mental and physical health is fast becoming an expectation. For expats returning to the field, even those experienced in working overseas, they may face unexpected challenges after a protracted period back in their home country. Support them with an expat assistance programme that provides help on topics from mental health to relationship or financial issues.