By Vijay Bharech, Senior Manager, Deloitte
I had taken part in my maiden client tax briefing as a global mobility professional at the advent of the last decade. So, it was a thrilling moment in autumn 2019 when I had the opportunity at last to take on the role of an assignee myself.
My assignment to London was to commence after the Christmas break, so I tried to get up to speed quickly on my new domain. Being a tax professional, throughout my career, I have followed the so-called ‘rulebook’; understanding the dynamics of global relocation from the ‘inside’ was going to be a true learning experience. I was both nervous and excited in anticipation of this invaluable opportunity.
Coming into my new environment, I had to adjust as quickly and as smoothly as possible, given my tenure was for six months only. Two months into the assignment, I started to gain real insight by working on live client transformation projects, as well as networking and cross-pollinating with my new colleagues. It was very satisfying that I was heading towards meeting the objectives of my assignment, for personal and professional growth. My wife had plans to visit me during the summer too. Everything was playing by the rulebook, my own personal rulebook!
Then came the ‘black swan moment’. A pandemic, which changed the world forever.
An assignment to London had conjured up visions of trips to the Royal parks, gallery and museum visits, and walks along the banks of the Thames. Alas, I ended up in a cosy serviced-apartment listening to the chimes of the cathedral, a few hundred yards away! At the outset of the lockdown, I was hoping that this too would pass quickly. This did not happen of course. My rulebook had to be kept aside. Travel plans turned into dietary plans; navigating online cooking recipes replaced city exploration guided by online maps!
I may be on a flight back home when you read this. While I will be excited to be back with my family, I had never imagined six months ago that I would end up a ‘virtual assignee’ for the greater part of my assignment!
A disrupted world order for global mobility has arrived. We are already experiencing the future of mobility. Virtual assignments and remote work considerations are new hashtags in the world of global mobility. Being both an assignee and a mobility professional, I reflect on my experience through two different lenses. As an assignee, ‘employee experience’ remains my key mobility driver during these challenging times. I looked forward to catch up calls with my boss in UK, and daily virtual calls with the team, which helped me to keep my mental wellbeing intact.
The global mobility professional side of me feels that the provision of structured employee support, physical and emotional, must find a permanent place within global mobility policies. While ‘employee experience’ may not remain the uppermost mobility driver all of the time, mobility policies should have inbuilt flex so that they can be amended during times of crisis. Organisations have started examining remote work consideration not only for their domestic employees but also for cross-border employees. As an assignee, I would look for growth, flexibility and minimal disruption to personal life from virtual work assignments, but global mobility personnel will have to consider various other aspects such as compliance and risk management.
Embarking on my first assignment will remain a milestone in my career. This has been a challenging time however, and on reflection, I have learnt that with support and strong conviction you can be more resilient than you had ever imagined. Organisations are also building resilience into their global mobility programmes.
Although my assignment did not quite pan out the way I had imagined, it was certainly a rewarding experience. And of course, I now realise that you don’t always need a rulebook!