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COVID-19 - The impact on Global Mobility and the mobile workforce

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is understandably having a significant impact on how companies view workforce mobility. Companies are reassessing the support and care they provide to their mobile employees, the impact of extensive international travel on the health of their workers and the planet, and the opportunities arising from the success of remote working.

We ran a second pulse survey to understand more about how companies are adapting to the ‘here and now’ and what strategic changes they’re planning for the long term. Over 250 People Leaders from more than 30 countries, sharing their plans and predictions with us.

What’s striking is that attitudes and expectations are changing fast. Almost 3 in 10 (27%) say that COVID-19 will have a fundamental impact on how their company views workforce mobility and the need for international moves. That’s up from 12% in our April survey. What’s more, the number of respondents saying that they expect to return to business as usual, with the same number of international moves, has dropped from 44% to 24% from April to June.

Here and now: planned and current international moves

  • Enabling flexible working: Around half of companies are allowing some employees to start their 'international move' by continuing to work from their home country during these turbulent times. A similar number are offering a change of arrangement – e.g. allowing the employee to switch to a virtual assignment, or to commute when needed.
  • Providing more employee support: Over half of companies have increased communications with their mobile employees; almost half have provided additional non-cash support (e.g. flights and temporary accommodation, extended medical coverage); and a third of companies have enhanced employee support on compliance matters (e.g. the immigration, tax and social security impacts of working from a different location than usual).

Workforce mobility teams - what are companies focused on?

  • Aside from keeping running business as usual, top priorities are workforce planning in the context of the changing immigration, tax and compliance environment, and managing the impact of international remote working. Companies need to keep alert to changing travel restrictions and relaxations, and to regulatory updates on immigration and tax. In addition companies are trying to support employees who are working from a location outside their home country of employment, so they can report as needed, ensure employees have the right work permissions, and make sure the company and its workforce are paying tax in the right locations and keeping compliant. 
  • Reviewing policies and support for mobile employees is also a key focus over the next 6 months. The pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of safety and wellbeing. Companies are looking at ways to understand the support that really matters to mobile employees and their families, as well as using digital solutions to stay cost effective.
  • Only 3% of teams said their work has slowed down. In terms of strategic projects, almost half of companies say they remain a priority to be delivered.

The future of workforce mobility - building back better

  • Almost a third of companies told us they expect the outbreak will have a fundamental impact on how workforce mobility is viewed in their company and the need for international moves.
  • By far the biggest growth in international ‘move’ types will be in international remote workers. 43% of companies expect this population in their workforce to increase. Less than a quarter of companies say they don’t expect to adopt international remote working. While this brings with it the need for fundamental change in governance, policies and controls so that employees and companies can keep compliant when employees are working from locations other than where they’re employed, it also opens up a wealth of opportunities. International commuting and short term assignments are the next biggest predicted increases.
  • In terms of planned changes to how companies run their mobility programme, the top responses are that there will be increased focus on who moves and why, on employee wellbeing and support and on being cost effective.

We believe workforce mobility has a moment in time to build back better. Opportunities for getting global exposure and international experience will be fairer and more inclusive. Workforce mobility will enable businesses to become more agile and thoughtful about where (and who) to invest (in). Companies will become more responsible about the impact of international travel on their people and the planet’s wellbeing. And there’ll be more focus on the balance between global moves and building local talent.

Now is the time for People and Mobility leaders to be at the forefront of enabling a more global, virtual and flexible business. To do this they’ll need to ensure they have the right processes, teams and technology in place to support their customers and deliver real business value.

As one respondent said ‘We will need to re-align the mobility services we offer to meet the requirements of a changed business and social landscape. We need to complement the more traditional models for deploying skills across borders with alternative arrangements, including sometimes moving the work to the skills.’

Now is the time to innovate and build workforce mobility back, better.

Contact us

Clare Hughes

Clare Hughes

Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7810 050952

Natalie Thompson

Natalie Thompson

Senior Manager, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7725 068229

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