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5 insights to help with workforce planning in the COVID age

Author Barry Morris
Barry Morris
Barry Morris is president and CEO of CapRelo, a global mobility management company handling 10,000 assignments annually.

For global businesses that relocate employees to locations around the country or the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts: travel bans, tight housing markets, work-from-home mandates, quarantine directives, immigration restrictions, to name a few.

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And until global pandemic numbers make a significant improvement, global travel will continue to be impacted. When it does resume, many corporations likely will look at global mobility through a somewhat different lens. A PwC study in December 2020 of 300 corporations found that less than half (45%) anticipate having the same number of assignees post-pandemic, and a third of them (38%) expect their global assignees will be fewer than before COVID-19.

So, what does the future look like for workforce planning amid this disruptive and evolving world economy? What are some of the critical drivers as your company prepares for mobility in the future workplace? Below are some insights to help you plan.

  1. Remote Working

Remote work came of age in 2020, and numerous studies show that it will continue to be a part of the future workplace business model. An IBM study last year found a whopping 81% of respondents say they want to continue working remotely at least some of the time. More than half would like it to become their primary way of working.

But don’t write off the office workplace just yet. Here’s what PwC discovered in its recent research: “Most companies are heading toward a hybrid workplace where a large number of office employees rotate in and out of offices configured for shared spaces. This model embraces the flexibility that most employees (and some employers) crave after working from home for months. It’s also a complicated way to organize the workweek and is likely to transform a company’s culture, employee engagement, the way the work gets done and how office space is used.”

It’s clear that the workforce of tomorrow–and even today–views flexibility as a must-have. That means flexibility in work setting, work hours, worker benefits–something that surprisingly few global firms outside North America believe they are achieving.

2. Housing and Moving Costs

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Moving employees is likely to be more challenging–and expensive. The mobility team–and your relocating employees–will be navigating a perfect storm of escalating home prices in many locations and scarce housing inventory as well as supply chain disruptions.

In addition, your assignees are likely to have new “asks” and are seeking benefits that align with their desired lifestyle that you’ll need to factor into accommodations. For example, we’re seeing individuals increasingly requesting larger temporary or permanent accommodations as they work from home or quarantine in their assignment location. The need for a “Zoom room” and private outside space is increasing and looks to be a longer-term trend. With this size of accommodation in limited supply, this will inevitably add a premium to suitable properties. To ensure that your policies support this change in preference and need, consider updating your policy or adding a pre-approved exception to meet the additional costs.

Related: Can a hybrid work model succeed–or will it flop?

Look for nontraditional approaches wherever possible that reduce relocation costs. What about renting furniture locally rather than shipping? How can you minimize multiple housing trips? Are you effectively managing expense reporting, payroll and tax services? Develop policies and procedures that help your organization anticipate and stay ahead of these next-world mobility challenges.

3. Global COVID Nomad

Travel restrictions and individuals’ fears no doubt have kept many would-be assignees from pursuing or accepting relocation during the pandemic. However, the phenomenon of individuals choosing to work from distant locations is becoming so pervasive that it’s been given a name: Global COVID Nomads.

“The instant worldwide transformation to ubiquitous work-from-home inevitably sparked novel logistical problems and sticky legal challenges. Telecommuting offers advantages, but it also poses a number of challenges. Perhaps the most complex is the international ‘wandering worker’ who slips off to telecommute from overseas, dragging the hapless employer along, into a new country entirely,” says Littler in its just-released study on wandering workers. “These international wandering workers pull their employers into cross-border employment relationships. And cross-border employment relationships inevitably trigger nuanced compliance and legal challenges.”

Related: Why ‘wandering’ employees are creating legal headaches for HR

Wandering workers could be a boon to your strategic mobility needs; however, proceed with informed caution. Equip yourself with expert knowledge and trusted resources to protect your organization from legal and compliance pitfalls surrounding what likely may become part of the next normal of wandering, remote workers.

4. The ‘Whole Employee’

As the world reopens, and competition for global talent heats up, mobility teams that put greater emphasis on the “whole employee” will be at an advantage. One aspect of that is ensuring the health and safety of those working in the office setting. Are you considering changes to office design that prioritize employees’ health and safety? Have you considered new positions that may be needed in the organization to support facility health, such as special skills in your facility managers or even adding a wellness coach or an occupational health position?

Without question, the workforce of the future will increasingly make career decisions based not just on salary, or location, but with more emphasis on the ancillary support you provide for a healthy lifestyle. Now is the time to revisit HR policies and benefits packages.

5. Going Gig

Much like remote work, the events of 2020 finally legitimized the gig economy as a critical element in our workforce. The gig economy, though, is nothing new. Gig workers have earned their place in the mix of workforce planning projections and will continue to have staying power in talent mobility. Certainly, there are pros and cons to using contract labor, not the least of which are compliance considerations. These nontraditional mobility staffing approaches can make payroll, tax and immigration considerations more complex. Do your due diligence, but you may find that gig workers are ready, willing and more than able to supplement your talent mobility needs no matter where they may be.

We can take the lessons we learned in 2020 from the pandemic and apply them to better manage our talent. Whether it’s adjusting for remote work, the gig economy or considering the whole employee, there’s much to benefit from the promise of the world beginning to open.