The Future of Work Festival: Where next for global people?

The pandemic hastened the pace of change. Panellists and guests at the inspiring Future of Work Festival at Relocate Global’s Kent HQ took a grounding breath of fresh air and set their sights on the horizon.

Keynote panel members in conversation at the Relocate Global Future of Work Festival
Relocate Global’s Future of Work Festival kicked off with a fascinating and optimistic look at the intersection of leadership, Global Mobility, people and purpose in the international management context. As the conversation between panellists: Marc Burrows, Head of Global Mobility Services and Partner at KPMG International; Kerwin Guillermo, Global Head of Employee Mobility for Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Dr Linda Holbeche, independent coach, consultant and author; and Sarah Rozenthuler, leadership consultant, author and dialogue coach, explored, could the future of work be less about short-term gigs and more about living your purpose in meaningful long-term relationships with employers?
Related reading from Relocate Global
Welcoming guests to the event, Relocate Global’s Managing Editor, Fiona Murchie, described the possibilities we can all seize in the coming months and the tensions we can resolve together as the Great Return gets underway, the world begins to move again, and in-demand talent flex their muscles to work from anywhere“Many of you are working with international assignees, business travellers and those across international teams: you know what the VUCA world is all about, said Fiona Murchie. “You are used to jumping in and solving crises and have the processes in place built up over years. “Now I think there is a huge opportunity to move out of the silos and think; how should we be working with other industry sectors? How should we be working across other disciplines? How can we change even some of these really big issues, including climate change and social inequality?”

How did we get here?

Dr Linda Holbeche, a recognised thought leader in HR strategy, Organisation Development and leadership, helps people and organisations develop the agility and resilience they need to thrive in today’s VUCA business environment. To understand how international managers and Global Mobility now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the changemakers and help reshape the world of work in support of thriving businesses and communities, panel chair, international TV presenter and communications expert, Jayne Constantinis, asked Dr Holbeche what trends have brought us to this point.“Thinking back over last 20 years and the research projects I’ve been involved in, the trajectory for the future of work consisted of a number of strands. One was technology transforming the nature of certain types of work, creating augmented value for some jobs, but unfortunately automating other jobs out of existence. “Then there’s a trajectory that’s to do with work-life balance and people wanting more flexibility, but not necessarily getting it. There’s also the trajectory to do with stakeholder capitalism. This was the recognition that organisations should operate ethically and treat their supply chains well and the people in them. “So, many of the strands we have been talking about have involved things like immediately having to adapt to a technology driven way of working in the pandemic. This was something thought to be impossible two or three years ago. Now a lot of employers are saying, ‘we want you back in the workplace’.  “So, to a large extent, there’s been a coalescence of what researchers have looked at over many years. I would argue that we are early in a shift of thinking about the management needed to manage people working differently.”

Where do we go now?

The observation that the pandemic’s almost wholesale shift to working and learning online happened, despite it not being thought possible previously, offers hope that change can happen swiftly. It also shone a light on the critical role of HR and Global Mobility in safeguarding employee wellbeing.Yet, current geopolitical events, like the war in Ukraine, and backsliding on environmental progress, including news China is planning to build around 600 coal-powered power stations this year alone, shows progress is fragile and hard-won, and the need for purpose-driven and authentic leadership. This “shadow-side” to progress also shows in the workplace around flexibility in reports of employee burnout and the data around the Great Resignation.“I think for those of us who have been in business a long time, we are at that moment where the expectation and reality of flexibility in the workplace is as something that’s awkward,” said fellow keynote panellist, Marc Burrows, Head of Global Mobility Services and Partner at KPMG International. “It gets in the way of how we did things, our processes and policies, and obsession with uniform approaches to all of our employees.“On the other hand, we have this generation of talent that is saying; ‘flexibility is what I get, flexibility is what I like and that’s a base level expectation. What else can you give me?’ We have to find a way to accommodate that.”

Where next for mobility?

Relocate Global’s Future of Work Festival offered a collaborative environment for that to happen by opening the possibilities for meaningful conversations, connections and actionable insights. “There’s this onus on us and an opportunity to get over that awkwardness,” continued Marc Burrows.  “We can now start to think ‘what we can achieve?’ and ‘what can we get out of the flexibility we see in front of us?’ “Can we be flexible in a way that keeps our systems and our processes agile and that doesn’t have our employees falling to the intensity we hear talked about?” Multi-award-winning panellist Kerwin Guillermo, Global Head of Employee Mobility for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has extensive experience leading through a range of corporate and organisational transitions. Together with his teams and external partners, Kerwin Guillermo is adept at discovering new solutions to attracting, recruiting, developing and deploying and retaining key talent for the good of both HPE and the wider business.Events like the Future of Work Festival play a key role in helping to make change happen, he says. The cross-fertilisation of ideas from different disciplines and organisations drives innovation at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in a symbiotic relationship, as their Relocate Think Global People Award attests.

Purpose-driven co-creation

“My most aspirational accomplishments have their origins in conferences like this. If you come in with an open mind, build and nurture relationships, then they become very fulfilling over the years. I spent years doing Talent Acquisition, where we don’t really share – we compete! With Compensation and Benefits, we compared, but didn’t share! But with Global Mobility, generosity of spirit is very prevalent across the community. So, how is Hewlett Packard responding to this fundamental requirement for flexibility in the workplace?“The ‘why’ of mobility hasn’t really changed from before or after the pandemic,” says Kerwin Guillermo. “The ‘what’ and the ‘how’: that’s where a lot of the changes are happening. As long as global trade is apparent, we will have to move people around.”Among the many leading-edge initiatives Kerwin Guillermo generously described on the panel is an agile new ‘gig’ approach to international assignments. This meets the need for employees to work from anywhere to suit their personal life, which also develops assignees and international teams. Managers offer up gig work overseas on the internal platform, which people can then volunteer for.The team’s agile responses to change and inbuilt capacity for innovation also sees the Hewlett Packard Enterprise team approaching tax and immigration compliance challenges in new ways with the support of expert advisers. This might make it possible, for instance, for employees to delegate “red-flagged aspects” of their role to team members when looking to work from anywhere short term. “Years from now, mobility will exist,” says Kerwin Guillermo. “It will look and feel different because we are creative and trying to figure out how to work within this new environment.”

Long-term relationships with employees

Marc Burrows agreed. He linked this to new schools of thought emerging in people management and HR, which are highly relevant to the international management context. It is about “moving away from this obsession that everything is going to the gig economy” and transient interactions, to where organisational teams adopt a more long-term approach, such as that commonly seen between clubs and professional football players.“You have certain talent where you lock them in for 25 years,” explains Marc Burrows. “You develop them and really invest in their learning and experiences, maybe even loan them out to a similarly minded company.”“Totally, it’s the right stream of thought we should be pursuing,” said Kerwin Guillermo in response. “How do you lock employees in at a time of the Great Resignation? In the US Bay area, people wanted to join start-ups and build companies from the ground up. Yet, we can show our track record of success and engage with the family, not just the employee. Part of this conversation is that a sign-on offer will change the trajectory of your life.”Again, this example shows how mobility continues to be an important, economic, cultural and life changing event that, done well, positively impacts everyone. It is also a fantastic opportunity for international schools to share their significant and important knowledge of how to support and engage people on the move and ensure healthy transitionsSo, from a leadership perspective, how do individual leaders need to get themselves future ready? “I think finding work that feels meaningful builds resilience,” offered Sarah Rozenthuler, author and dialogue coach. “I don’t think we need to be saving the rainforest or doing brain surgery to feel that.“But you have an emotional connection with your customers, and you feel your day-to-day work makes a difference. That creates an uplift in performance and wellbeing and resilience, which is what we all need in these rapidly changing times.”

Read more about this year's Relocate Think Global People Awards and the Future of Work Festival on our Centre for Excellence and Global Leadership page

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory