Skift Take

A revealing survey of corporate mobility teams shows that the post-pandemic legacy of remote work may not be that great after all.

Remote work may be here to stay, but it could be damaging for employees, and employers, in the long run. It also deals a blow to progress made in diversity and inclusion efforts.

That’s the verdict in a new report from KPMG, which adds that team-building, networking and the cross-pollination of ideas that come with in-person interaction will also be impacted after the pandemic.

The consulting giant has taken the pulse of mobility teams worldwide, its findings echoing a recent USC Marshall School of Business study that uncovered a similar dark side to remote work, predicting falling wages and deteriorating public transportation. Mobility teams at companies historically have worked closely with their remote workers.

KPMG surveyed different mobility departments. Traditionally, staff in these departments managed long-term assignments — think of the expat relocating for three years, complete with lavish accommodation and private education for their children.

These departments took on more duties after the 2008 financial crisis, looking after frequent business travel, commuter assignments, or people taking on roles where they had responsibilities in more than one country.

Now the pandemic is pushing the mobility professional’s role into travel management, as they support displaced workers, who either work remotely through choice or are stranded due to border restrictions. This is on top of complex areas like tax, payroll and immigration.

KPMG’s annual “Global Assignment Policies and Practices Survey” predicts they will become more of a trusted advisor and a collaborator to businesses, playing a critical role in attracting, mobilizing, engaging, developing and retaining global talent.  “A big part is to make sure everyone is safe, compliant, sensible management of those costs, and there’s consideration around employee engagement and performance,” said Marc Burrows, KPMG’s head of global mobility services. “Mobility teams are developing an understanding of the corporate travel environment.”

Backward Steps

However, after the pandemic, KPMG has identified that even once local restrictions ease and businesses open their doors again, many people working in professional services will want to continue working remotely at least part of the time. As a result, employees are at risk of advancing their intercultural and global business skills at a slower pace compared to before the pandemic.

“One of the points of mobility is to get the diversity of the global employee base really producing the great benefits that we know come from having diverse teams, in background, culture, and getting people working side by side from various parts of the organization,” said Burrows.

“That’s the fuel that sparks those flames. Not having that creates an environment where you have less of that spark, that creativity, those new ideas, and that diversity of thinking and interaction. While remote working has been very functional, there are elements that are missing,” he added.

For employers, the report warns curtailing mobility will hamper efforts to recruit talent, especially among younger generations who may be more mobile and aspire to obtain international work experience as part of their careers.

“Further, it could deny opportunities for organizations to improve the overall diversity and social consciousness of their workforces through the cultural immersion of employees living and working in foreign locales,” the report said.

Instead of expats, there’ll be a rise in virtual assignments. It’s understandable, said Burrows, because companies want to stay more agile and fluid, and mix talent with other people. “We don’t want all of those movements to be long-term and traditional assignments,” he said.

They also lower costs and reduce administration, plus have broader environmental impacts, the report continues. They also help to reduce overall assignment costs by eliminating the need for relocation support and ongoing housing and living allowances.

“Some companies were pioneering virtual assignments prior to the pandemic, but it was more about diversity and inclusion objectives they were pursuing, to ensure the international experience was being made available to all people, regardless of their personal circumstances,” Burrows said.

Despite the advances in virtual meeting technology, KPMG’s report may be a wake-up call to some organizations to rethink how virtual they go after the pandemic.

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Tags: business travel, coronavirus, corporate travel, mobility, travel management

Photo credit: Remote work could deny opportunities for organizations to improve the overall diversity and social consciousness of their workforces, KPMG says. Paul Griffin / Unsplash