Flexible & remote working in global mobility

Expatriates have historically worked long hours and have generally been considered to have poor work-life balance. But attitudes towards expatriate working times are changing and more flexibility is being applied in practice.

Autumn 2019 issue of Relocate magazine
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine 
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.When individuals undertake expatriate assignments, they generally receive a wide range of allowances and benefits under their organisation’s international relocation policy, if the reward system adopted is home-based. This means that typically, housing, cost of living allowances, children’s education costs, health care and various salary uplifts and premiums related to mobility are applied. Given that the cost of supporting an expatriate undertaking a long-term assignment on a home-based reward package typically amounts to at least three times the home-based equivalent salary, it is unusual to find expatriates working less than full-time hours. Part-time work and job-sharing roles are still exceptionally rare in the international assignment environment.Organisations have certainly changed their approaches to expatriate flexibility over the past decade. Assignees report that they can work flexible hours in locations where this benefit is also offered to local staff. This enables them to flex their start and finish times, and lengths of breaks taken during the working day as necessary to suit personal and family needs. In some locations, nine-day fortnights are available, which can be undertaken by expatriates as well. Expatriates report that as long as the job gets done and they remain dedicated to the project they are on and deliver what is required, flexibility around formal working hours is both possible and accepted in a wide variety of locations and industries today.

Flexible working: an attractive benefit

The offer of flexible working in an expatriate context is seen as attractive to both men and women, especially to the younger generation, which has become accustomed to flexible hours being offered in their home countries as part of a family-friendly employment package. In essence, expatriates report that if they have a choice of working for an organisation that is much more flexible in terms of its attitudes to working time, this does impact their assignment decisions. Being able to flex working time around family and home-life activities and in response to domestic and family emergencies, is seen as a critically important factor in assignment acceptance.
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International assignees who undertake alternative assignment types also report being able to work flexibly in certain situations. For example, some organisations support commuter assignees undertaking four longer days a week rather than the normal five-day working pattern. Employers report that such four-day weeks reduce commuter assignees’ travel stress, provide a better work-life balance and enable them to be more productive when they are in the host country workplace.Assignees undertaking rotational assignments where they work shift patterns, such as four weeks in the host location followed by four weeks off at home, can also potentially flex their shift lengths if they can reach an agreement to ensure cover is in place with their ‘back-to- back ’ work colleagues. If flexible shift start and end dates are agreed, rotational assignees can work five-week/three-week shifts rather than the usual four-week pattern in the host country, alternating with their ‘back-to-back’. Rotational assignees particularly appreciate this flexibility to address personal and family issues that do not necessarily conform to the regularity of rotational assignment working.
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Working remotely

Remote working can also be used as a means of introducing flexibility into expatriate assignments. For example, assignees who return to their home country on business or home leave can extend their reunification periods with family and friends, while working remotely to deliver their objectives in the host country. Remote working can also be used to service international operations on a longer-term basis using technological solutions. ‘Virtual’ assignees can be based outside of the host location, being located either in their home country or another third-country location, visiting the assignment location via business trips for any necessary face-to-face activities.Flexible working can help to widen the talent pool for organisations seeking to grow their international operations. With many flexible working options available that can prove an attractive proposition to potential international assignees, its future looks assured.


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 DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory ©2019. This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of Relocate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.

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