Digital transformation’s impact on workplace operations and mobility

With various digital transformations changing how employees communicate, where they live, and how they can work globally, there are risks that they will lose some level of human connection with their coworkers and employers. A Harvard Business Review article by Martin Lindstrom titled “Don’t Let Digital Transformation Make You Less Human” details the ways in which companies and leaders can prevent losing human connection. The author states, “this isn’t a straightforward problem; it’s not possible or desirable to turn back the clock on digital transformation, of course, and it’s not always easy to re-engineer operations without losing the personal touch. That said, this is a particularly good moment to remember that efficiency won’t get you anywhere if emotional intelligence isn’t built into your operations.” This quote applies to human resources in terms of HR leaders needing more data but also more inclusivity and a personal touch that ensures employee engagement and productivity. 

Tech to manage global mobility

Digital transformation also enables an expanding period of global worker mobility. Many multinational firms employ workers who might perform duties while living in multiple different countries throughout the year. Research from Ranjit Atwal, Senior Research Director at Gartner, notes the massive scale of remote work, the pressing need for digital change, and the challenges this shift poses for companies. He says, “Through 2024, organizations will be forced to bring forward digital business transformation plans by at least five years. Those plans will have to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world that involves permanently higher adoption of remote work and digital touchpoints.”

To handle the growing number of workers who live and work in different locales, companies need to embrace technology tools. These firms must categorize these workers for regulatory and tax reasons. It’s not an easy task due to the complexity and dynamic regulatory landscape and varying country-by-country rules. There are many kinds of traveling workers, including business travelers, remote workers, one-way travelers and posted workers, and HR mobility teams need to manage everyone. Handling the various paperwork, pay and benefits, and other complications with mobile workforces is tough task for HR departments using outdated manual processes. They need to navigate the strict conditions of immigration laws, conduct virtual onboarding to prep workers for a new country, manage visa applications and other paperwork, and stay abreast of the latest pertinent regulations. 

Most teams cannot properly manage these tasks on their own, which then restricts their company’s global talent expansion, and at worse, puts them in an exposed position with regulators. Digital tools and analytics through providers give employers platforms to streamline global mobility programs. These platforms can manages paperwork such as offer letters, pre-authorizations, taxes, repatriation, and various other information. They may introduce automation and pre-filled forms to streamline processes, while ensuring the system uses the latest required documentation. They can additionally keep track of various deadlines, sets reminders, and serves as a single point of reference for mobility teams and HR. 

Blending tech with empathy and inclusion

According to a report titled “Struggling to retain top talent? Try corporate empathy” from the World Economic Forum, “Empathy comes naturally to humans. It’s the right thing to do and it also brings business benefits. When employees feel heard, understood, and cared for, they work harder, take more risks, and help others succeed. This in turn improves talent retention.”

Empathy is essential for HR departments that need technology innovation to stay efficient and to reach their inclusivity goals. HR, mobility, and recruiting staff need to have troves of accurate and timely employee data at their fingertips. Along with this data they also must develop empathy about the challenges of working in a new country and provide employees with network support to address and rectify any concerns. As smart as AI-based tools and automation may become, it’s a long way until these tools can express or understand human emotion and respond with empathy. 

Global mobility programs also support equitable treatment and inclusion by helping companies meet “equal pay for equal work” goals by streamlining multi-currency payments and ensuring foreign workers receive full compensation. Advanced mobility and payroll solutions can unify payments for all types of workers, so HR does not have to move between multiple platforms, and they can export the data for a more complete benefits and compensation picture. 

Too much data and automation?

There’s also a risk of technology tools streamlining so many processes and data points that there’s little room for personal choice. The better mobility platforms are configurable and serve as complements to an experienced mobility team who understand the nuances of international work and specific countries’ unique characteristics. For example, a tech platform can automate and improve various eligibility and benefits functions, but it can’t have a discussion with a candidate that a proposed destination might not be a good fit due to the country’s stance on LGBTQ rights. Such a talk requires someone who can look through the data points and uncover hidden potential issues and knows how to address them with professionalism. 

There’s likely a tipping point with technology, especially in cases where too much automation or too many features strays from the technology’s intent and objectives. Company leadership should automate processes with a plan, not just for the sake of automation. Some users will push back until there is more human connection naturally integrated into the technology platforms. There is a conflict in people’s desire to receive an individualized experience that does not match with the desire to automate all processes and decisions. Automate with a plan, so digital transformation and new tools help your business expand into new areas and build a global workforce that is connected. Avoid the temptation to let automation make impactful decisions without the team’s prior consideration and approval. You need the right blend of tech-based automation and intelligence along with human intervention and knowledge to keep your global workforce happy, engaged, and productive.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Cathy Koslowski
Cathy Koslowski
Cathy Koslowski is an experienced global mobility professional who has worked in all aspects of global mobility. She currently serves as Equus Software’s VP of Solutions Consulting. Prior to joining Equus, Cathy spent 15 years at a Big 4 in the US, UK and Belgium in client service, mobility technology and as a chief of staff working on strategic projects. She’s managed transformative programs in both the technology and engineering industries. Cathy is recognized in the market as an industry speaker and a strategic problem solver working across all organizational levels, cultures, countries, and service lines to gain consensus on effective and efficient practices.

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