2018 will be the year of the dog in the Chinese calendar, which is typified by dialogue and solidarity. This will come as a relief to many, for whom 2017 has been a year of turmoil and change. Reactions to the year’s political events have dominated global mobility trends.   

We have seen elections in several European countries and the election of Trump in the USA; Brexit is a looming shadow over Europe, and North Korea is playing a significant role in the geopolitics of Asia and the US. Russia is becoming a political pariah, but managing to get away with an authoritative approach both to internal matters and to diplomacy. And the Middle East has found another way to fragment, with Saudi Arabia leading a mini-alliance to isolate Qatar. 

Global Mobility Trends for 2018 

At the risk of disagreeing with Albert Einstein, who once said, “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough”, we must start preparing for 2018 now. Unlike Einstein, global mobility professionals must be the prophets warning organizations of potential risks and preparing for the future.   

So, what can we expect to see in 2018? What will be the key global mobility trends? Beyond the legislative and technical changes, there are three areas we should be keeping an eye on: 

  • Privacy and risk 
  • Diversity 
  • Talent development  

Why Global Mobility Needs to Help Shape an Organization's Talent

Privacy and Risk 

Unsurprisingly, managing risk, and addressing security issues are going to be number one on every global mobility professional’s New Year task list and a one of the major global mobility trends in 2018.

Managing risk, and addressing security issues are going to be number one on every global mobility professional’s New Year task list. 

Global terrorists have graduated from targeting volatile regions of the world and now threaten all of us, all the time, wherever we are. We have updated our policies, conducted security briefings, and prepared assignees as best we can, but assignments seem riskier now than they have ever been. This has created an unexpected problem: for all the policies and preparations to work effectively, global mobility departments need to know where assignees are at any given moment.   

There is a growing temptation to nanny assignees – to impose large numbers of tracking protocols to ensure that they are never out of touch; and in many cases, this extends to family members too. Software solutions are recording assignees’ movements and providing an unparalleled amount of data.    

Tracking your assignees’ movement is not just linked to security but to compliance with tax and immigration rules. Brexit will impact on British assignees’ reporting obligations (and on EU citizens travelling to the UK). In response, Global Mobility will be requiring more data from their assignees. 

But we have also seen throughout 2017 more and more questions about personal privacy. We ask ourselves more frequently, who can track our data, what can others learn about us from our data, am I comfortable with how much I am sharing? 

In 2018, assignees will begin to question whether their HR department really needs to know where they are going on their day off; or whether they need to report every business trip.  It will take one IT security lapse for there to be outright rebellion. The UK government has already warned that UK businesses are not taking cybercrime measures seriously enough. While most hackers target customers, it is likely that someone will eventually target high profile assignees for personal gain. 

Out of Sight Out of Mind: Why are Expats Forgotten?

Diversity 

Global mobility has dropped behind all other functions in diversity. Women, ethnic groups and LGBTQ assignees are proportionally underrepresented on international assignments. In fact, many organisations do not record diversity statistics for assignees, so are unable to track their own progress (or lack of it!) 

Since the Second World War, assignees have been overwhelmingly “male, pale and stale” (and straight). Society is no longer comfortable with monochromatic stereotypes, and there is a groundswell of pressure to break through the assignment glass ceiling. 2018 is going to see a dramatic change in the profile of assignees. Assignees will be younger and will be more likely to have non-traditional family structures. Assignees will become more diverse or more vocal in challenging lack of diversity. 

Global mobility professionals will have to have some challenging conversations with assignees exploring sensitive topics. They must not be over-protective and slip into unconscious bias. 

Global mobility professionals will need to be sure of their disability policies when resourcing posts in countries where the health provision is not as responsive as the home country; they will need to be able to navigate a tricky path in countries where racism and homophobia are prevalent. They will need to be able to justify an assignee population that does not reflect the diversity of society or even the diversity of the home office. 

For example, can you consider a lesbian candidate for an assignment to Uganda? In 2014 parliament declared homosexual activity illegal. The death penalty was only narrowly commuted to life imprisonment. Would it be a good business decision to send a Filipino engineer to work on a project in Saudi Arabia? Asians frequently report that they do not have equal rights under Saudi law, and are often victims of abuse and violence.   

In 2018, public and internal pressure will force organisations to confront these difficult situations and have robust policies and procedures in place. Global mobility professionals will have to have some challenging conversations with assignees exploring sensitive topics. They must not be over-protective and slip into unconscious bias. Nor must they withhold the benefit of their experience of the realities of expat life in certain locations. Finding that balance is key to a successful global mobility team. 

Talent Development 

Assignments are expensive and are not always the best way to solve a long-term leadership resourcing issue. The rise of globalisation means that it is often more effective and more efficient to train up local talent to provide continuity and sustainability in international offices. This is leading to a reduction in the number of traditional long-term assignments.   

2018 will see a wider variety of employees being offered, and accepting, developmental assignments. 

However, organisations still need to retain a pool of international skills to run their global businesses. To balance the smaller population of “professional expats,” organisations are investing in shorter, more focused developmental assignments.  It is true that these assignments are not new – the three-month graduate assignment has been part of international business for more than 20 years. 2018 will see a wider variety of employees being offered, and accepting, developmental assignments. 

The graduate assignment traditionally has been aimed at younger employees to give them a taste of the business abroad. In 2018, we will see Millennials and Generation X taking up short-term assignments to build international experience as they prepare to move into more senior leadership roles.   

In the past 10 years, we have seen organisations transition from “international” to “global” profiles.  This was behind HSBC’s marketing campaign of ten years ago, centred around the idea of “The World’s Local Bank.” As we come to the end of the second decade of the 21st century, managers too will begin to evolve. They will longer be international managers. They will need to be truly global.   

A global manager is flexible; has experience of several countries and regions. They can adapt strategies from one culture to another. By default, they account for the intercultural impact of decisions and behaviour. An international manager is limited by the definition of national boundaries, a global manager revels in them. Short-term assignments build and nurture this kind of globalism. Their objective is to develop the skills of the assignee, rather than to solve a problem in a particular location. 

Assignee Experience 

One of the global mobility trends in 2017 was improving the assignee experience in a cost-cutting world. How we deal with privacy, diversity and development will determine how we move this conversation on to becoming talent focussed. More and more companies report a talent deficit. Those organizations who are slow to respond will become more vulnerable, as their more agile competitors find attractive solutions. Those solutions will lead directly to an increase in the available talent pool and a strategic organizational advantage. 

2018 is placed to become a year of transition and change. The good news is that it appears that the era of slashing costs is over. The challenges that 2018 will bring will require creativity and determination. But 2018 could have a lasting impact on the nature of international assignments for many years to come.