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How automation is shaping the future of global mobility post-covid-19

Ema Boccagni, Commercial Director EMEA - ECA International
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The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a sudden surge in the adoption of technology across nearly all business sectors, in all parts of the world. As workplaces were forced to close with little warning or preparation time, companies had to rely on automated processes and adopt digital communication platforms almost overnight to ensure business continuity. Here Ema Boccagni, Commercial Director EMEA at ECA International (ECA), discusses why automation should be embraced rather than feared, and how it is key to the future of global mobility.

Before the pandemic broke, the global mobility (GM) function had been slow to embrace automation. Our Global Mobility Now survey of almost 400 international companies, in February 2020, showed that only 28% of companies had implemented one of the most commonly automated processes – salary calculations – while half had not automated any of the most common GM processes.

Why the reluctancy?

Despite the advantages of automation, the cost and time involved led to concerns of disruption, meaning companies were reluctant to press ahead with digitalisation. However, having now been forced down this route faster than intended, companies are realising that technologies they had to adopt in a hurry have in fact improved productivity in ways they hadn’t expected. Mindsets are changing to become more open to the benefits that rapid adoption of technology can offer.

The benefits of automation

The key benefit of automating GM processes is that it frees up more time to spend on value-added tasks. At a time when companies are unlikely to have budget to take on additional staff, maximising time and productivity among teams while reducing costs is a high priority.

ECA’s Global Mobility Now survey, conducted pre-pandemic, highlighted how global mobility may look in the future (up to three-years’ time), due to the processes that companies planned to automate. Tracking assignee movements, reporting and analytics, workflow, and cost estimate calculations all ranked highly as tasks that companies were looking to automate.  Fast forward four months to June of this year to our follow-up survey, Global Mobility and Covid-19 and more than 20% of companies reported that they are introducing additional technology for assignee communication and support, and 42% are either increasing automation or considering to do so since the pandemic.

How Covid-19 is shaping the future

The pandemic has accelerated automation in these areas and the adoption of technology more broadly, as highlighted in the results of our latest survey (Global Mobility & Covid-19). The pandemic has clearly brought to light a need for organisations to put systems in place to know where their employees are and how close they are to the end of their assignment, to inform repatriation decisions.

The survey showed companies that already had systems in place to track their assignees were more likely to feel their organisation had responded well to the pandemic, whereas those without would have struggled to locate all their assignees. Ironically, companies which rated themselves as being successful at cost control, were also more likely than average to have introduced automation across all areas of their mobility programme.

As remote working continues for many GM teams, solutions that automate approval processes and the flow of work from one team member to another are increasingly valuable. No wonder then that 20% of companies who took part in the Global Mobility & Covid-19 Survey, have implemented workflow technology since the pandemic began and a similar proportion are thinking about doing so. Similarly, as face-to-face support has not been possible among many, it has become increasingly important to find new ways to keep in touch with assignees in their host location, as well as those working remotely all over the world.

The economic consequences of the pandemic are inevitably leading to greater scrutiny of the cost of international assignments, meaning GM teams are utilising automation to demonstrate an understanding of the figures involved in any move.

Beyond the pandemic, more open and responsive attitudes regarding the potential of technology to improve GM means automation is likely to advance in areas that many companies have yet to even consider.  Although budgets are likely to be tighter than ever, companies have never been more open to the benefits technology presents, not just for keeping operations going but for making them stronger than before and fit for the future.

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