Why Global Mobility Needs to Embrace Automation

Image credit: iStockphoto/YiuCheung

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a well-documented surge in technology adoption across nearly all business sectors globally. As supply chains were interrupted and workplaces closed, companies had to automate processes and adopt digital communication platforms to ensure business continuity.

Before the outbreak, company global mobility (GM) functions had been slow to embrace automation. Despite the advantages of automation, some companies have been reluctant to move ahead because of the cost and effort of implementation and the disruption it would cause.

According to our recent Global Mobility Now survey, the most commonly automated process, salary calculations, was implemented by only 28% of companies. Although a similar proportion intended to automate this and many other processes, half of the companies had not automated any of them and did not intend to do. 

Will the COVID-19 pandemic drive organizations to rethink their strategy regarding automation? Having now been forced down this route faster than intended, many companies are finding out that the technologies they had to adopt in a hurry have improved productivity in ways they hadn’t expected. Mindsets are changing to become more open to the possibilities that rapid adoption of technology can offer.

Benefits of automation

The key benefit of automating GM processes is that it frees up more time to spend on value-added tasks. It is a common goal of GM teams to become more strategic and less operational. Automating repetitive administrative tasks is a good way of creating space to do this, particularly when few companies are likely to be given the budget to take on additional staff.

At the time of our latest Global Mobility and COVID-19 survey, 19% of respondents had already been instructed to reduce their mobility program costs as a direct result of the pandemic. A further 29% were expecting this to happen soon.

However, the lack of a budget is one of the primary reasons companies do not have progressed further with automation. Yet, ironically investment in this area can help considerably with cost control.

Companies that rate themselves as being successful at cost control are more likely than others to have introduced automation across all areas of their mobility programs. Notably, companies who felt they responded well to the COVID-19 pandemic were also more likely to use technology in their GM programs than those who thought they responded poorly.

Having the right technology to centralize information and automate appropriate processes can help companies work more effectively.

How COVID-19 is shaping the future

While further automation is predicted across various areas, growth is particularly expected in tracking (such as monitoring how many employees are on an assignment or traveling for business, key assignment-related dates, and other activity), reporting and analytics, and workflow management. Automation of these areas will become as commonplace as it is for calculations, which are currently the most commonly automated process. 

Our Global Mobility and COVID-19 Survey showed that solutions for tracking assignee movements and assignment progress had been newly adopted by 12% and 11% of companies, respectively, since the pandemic began, while more than 20% are now considering implementing them.

The pandemic has highlighted a need for organizations to put systems in place to know where their people are and how close they are to the end of their assignment to inform repatriation decisions. Our survey showed that companies that already had systems to track their assignees were more likely to feel their organization had responded well to the pandemic. In contrast, those without such systems struggled to locate their assignees and make timely decisions regarding how to manage them as the pandemic spread.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced the rapid adoption of technology to collaborate and communicate successfully while working remotely. As remote working continues for many GM teams, solutions that automate approval processes and workflow from one team member to another are increasingly valuable.

Approximately 20% of companies have implemented workflow technology since the pandemic broke, and a similar proportion is thinking about doing so. The pandemic’s economic consequences are inevitably leading to greater scrutiny of international assignments’ cost, meaning GM teams need to demonstrate their understanding of the figures involved to support the business case for any move. Therefore, many companies have introduced cost estimate calculators or plan to, perhaps sooner than they otherwise would have done.  

Furthermore, the most common newly-implemented technology solution relates to assignee communication and support. As face-to-face support has frequently not been possible, it has become increasingly important to find new ways to keep in touch with assignees remaining in the host location, as well as those working remotely all over the world.

High-quality communication and support form a vital part of the assignee experience. GM teams are increasingly looking to enhance by providing solutions such as assignee portals, which make visible the resources and benefits available to assignees and which tasks they need to complete to progress their assignment.

Although budgets are likely to be tighter than ever, companies have never been more open to technology possibilities, especially those that can unlock efficiencies by improving productivity levels. There is no doubt that automation can improve efficiency and compliance and generate valuable insight into the business through data analytics.

Despite the turbulence and challenges COVID-19 has presented, it represents a unique opportunity to adopt technology to automate processes, increase productivity, reduce costs and enable HR teams to focus on more strategic tasks to add more value to the organization.

Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at ECA International, authored this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/YiuCheung