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Can global agility resolve skills crisis, despite barriers?

Ius Laboris

The benefits of mobile working practices are beginning to be widely recognised by employers. Chief amongst them for employees is the flexibility and autonomy to balance work and personal life demands, resulting in demonstrable gains in employee engagement and productivity. Mobile working could, therefore, help to boost aspects such as the retention of current staff, but the question facing employers now is could global mobile working practices bolster the recruitment of new staff? CONTRIBUTOR  IUS LABORIS.

Mobile working, the ability for employees to work from anywhere, at any time and from any device, is a growing phenomenon worldwide. By 2022, the total number of global mobile employees could reach as much as 1.87 billion, or 42.5 per cent of the total global workforce, predicts research by global research and analytics experts, Strategic Analytics, in their Global Mobile Workforce Forecast update 2016-2020.

Almost a third of employers, some 28 per cent, consider access to a greater talent pool as one of the major untapped benefits of mobile working, according to the Ius Laboris forces for change research. Many companies have the ability to reach a larger customer base and compete with brands worldwide through global supply chains, so why shouldn’t those same companies be able to compete for the best talent too?

“This is a new model that we are seeing more and more, where companies are just one virtual organisation and everyone works from different locations,” says Sophie Maes, partner at Ius Laboris’ Belgian member firm Claeys & Engels. In most sectors, however, there are still steps that need to be taken to achieve these high levels of global mobility. The forces for change research found that almost half of businesses, 47 per cent, report currently facing barriers to making their workforce truly globally mobile.

These barriers vary from industry to industry, but the biggest challenge facing companies looking overseas to hire talent is the sheer amount of work needed to deal with regulations from each jurisdiction, according to Maes. “If people work from home, for example, international companies need to comply with all the regulatory requirements that entails,” she says. “They need to set up a payroll there, make sure local taxes and social security are paid, and comply with local employment rules. If you do that for 90 countries, it’s a lot of administration. So, it really depends on the amount of resources a company has.”

For example, firms should be aware that labour laws in some countries such as France, Germany and Belgium are somewhat stricter than other regions, Maes explains, which can be an added complexity to managing a global workforce.

While some sectors – such as oil, gas, mining and shipping – are well known for international recruitment practices, other sectors have faced particular hurdles. Until recently, banking and financial services, in order to comply with jurisdiction-based regulation, were fixed to a given location. That is set to change, and these areas are poised to see the most growth in global mobile working. “Banks are naturally international and used to working on a global scale, with different regulatory frameworks,” Maes says.

This global mobility revolution depends largely on technology, none more so than the cloud, allowing companies to file sync and share and stream content services.

“The shift to mobility is about ensuring transportability for applications, data sets and services across locations and devices,” reports Sunny Bajaj, founder, president and chief executive officer at global digital management agency DMI. An advanced mobile company will take advantage of all of the new data sources and features that mobility provides.

The next step is to optimise workplace processes in order to support mobile working. New technologies such as Intel Optane memory, amongst others, provide a critical edge. Optane adapts to users’ working patterns and identifies how to provide higher performance without compromising storage capacity. This results in faster applications — picture running multiple presentation decks without crashing or large media files playing smoothly — and laptops that are more responsive to everyday tasks, accelerating productivity gains, through the power of storage capacity. Team cohesion is typically the next challenge faced when organising a dispersed workforce, and here technology again provides solutions. Seamless connectivity that replicates the conditions of working side by side may not be market-ready but is most certainly in development. Dependent on 5G networks, the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market is expected to reach $55.01 billion by 2021, according to

“Almost half (46 per cent) of today’s workforce is looking to augmented or virtual reality technologies to perform better in the workplace. It is likely that businesses will very soon see AR/VR being used to collaborate on projects or attend meetings remotely,” says Michael Ngan, Lenovo Philippines’ country general manager. Being able to virtually attend meetings in such a way counters the impersonal nature of conference calls, while still allowing flexibility and global mobility.

Setting up a truly globally mobile workplace will require upfront capital, which will be a barrier to some players until technologies are proven, market leaders emerge, and prices begin to fall. For that reason, larger enterprises and especially those in IT are expected to undergo a more extensive transformation and make up a bigger share of this market.

Geography and the workplace culture it engenders will be another significant factor. In East Asia, an early-adopting population and an increasingly young talent pool means that employers will soon see larger numbers of mobile workers. Asia’s inaugural Youth Mobility Index 2018 found that, in order of ranking, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan lead when it comes to youth mobility. At the same time, the governments of these countries have supported mobile working practices.  In time, we should expect similar schemes to take hold in the US and Europe, as countries invest to compete.

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