For expats on long-term assignments and their employers, the start of the pandemic left them with some difficult decisions to make in a short amount of time. As the world was shutting down and limiting international travel, expats and business leaders had to choose whether to:
- Return to their home country
- Remain on assignment
- Travel to an alternative third country
The level of uncertainty and instability from country to country made this a difficult call. Survey results from those on assignment at the beginning of the pandemic showed expats and international transfers experienced the highest levels of stress during this period. The largest contributors to expat stress during this period were:
- Stay-at-home orders
- Planning travel
- Restrictions on immigration
HR teams with international assignees had to try to stay on top of differing information from governments around the world as they executed duty of care in a fluid situation.
A survey by ECA International found over half of businesses repatriated long term assignees, but largely with the expectation that they would return within a year.
Covid-19 continues to be a problem in many countries around the world; the discovery and deployment of several effective vaccines is reducing serious illness and death in the West. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of access to vaccinations in developing countries and there remain issues with vaccination uptake in some locations. Although globally we are not fully out of the woods, international travel is beginning once again, and countries are lifting some restrictions.
However, the world we are re-entering is not the world we left, where employees in knowledge-based industries work primarily from an office environment. Remote working was a positive experience for most employees and employers alike, once the most stressful days of the pandemic were behind us, and many employers are now moving to a hybrid working model, combining remote and office-based working. But what does this mean for expat employees?
We have looked at how HR can help manage expats previously, but in our post-covid world, what are the likely changes that HR may need to be aware of when it comes to managing mobility programs?