How the digital revolution is impacting the management of expatriates

The digital revolution has been impacting the HR function at an increasing pace for the last 5 years. In this brief article we want to focus on the changes it has brought to the management of expatriates.
How the digital revolution is impacting the management of expatriates

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The digital revolution has been impacting the HR function at an increasing pace for the last 5 years. In this brief article we want to focus on the changes it has brought to the management of expatriates.

For ease of demonstration, we will look at the evolution of an assignment from expatriate selection to the return of the expatriate back home.


The selection of the right expatriate is always a tricky step since there is usually a business demand for a certain specific skill set and a limited pool of applicants with these same skills sets available at the same time. The talent management of the employee population must clearly be linked to the specific business assignment. BIG DATA can help to generate highly developed and complete HR databases which may help to increase the size of the applicants pool by seeking out potential candidates in more distant locations or currently on a payroll of a subsidiary partly owned by the group.


Once the applicant pool has been selected, the ability to have skype interviews is clearly a first step in trying to understand the motivation of the employee and the match between the assignment and the background, culture and personal situation of the applicant. Here we highly encourage at the outset having an exchange through a video conference with the spouse of the applicant. This is certainly an easy step with little cost associated but is quite effective in making the right selection.


The communication with the soon to be expat until the end of the assignment will currently also need to be completely modified to be based upon videos and applications accessible via a mobile. The lengthy expat guide must now be replaced with didactic videos discussing technical aspects of the assignments such as “taxes” but also with practical information regarding daily life in the host location such as « how to find an English-speaking doctor « or « guide to schools ».


Formerly, expatriate management tools were generally used to run cost simulations including at times the tracking of the actual expenses and reconciliation of the costs. Today companies are asking for more since one of the crucial parts of International Mobility is the ability for a company to monitor and manage costs and benefits during the course of an assignment. If there are unforeseen costs or a reduction in predicted business benefits, the ROI of the assignment may begin to decline.

Corrective action may be taken if these metrics are tracked, and at least expectations of return can be adjusted.

Some designed softwares may also track international mobility processes. For example they may send reminders to the appropriate person for each task related to the assignment and ensure compliance (immigration formalities, social security applications…).


Once the expatriate has been assigned, the need to have information conveyed on apps will also be linked to implementation of cloud based HR systems which will include all information about the assignment including the employment contract, payslips, tax returns, copy of the lease and all utility bills etc. We will be in a situation where the expatriate himself will be logging and accessing the required information. This expat management database accessible from iphone or android phone will need to be populated with all relevant information. This creates a need for the HR Expat management team to have knowledge of IT and a greater involvement working with the IT department.


Connected objects will also play a greater role and should be seen as an effective way to follow your population. They start with geolocalisation tools which are quite useful for safety reasons when expats are assigned to dangerous locations, and they are also useful for tax purposes in order to stay compliant with the tax nightmare involved in short term business trips.


The coffee machine has always been the location where expats habitually compared their packages. As all HR professionals know this leads to multiple discussions on any issue ranging from COLA to the size of the cellar. This has led companies to set policy in order to have a homogenisation of situations. Unfortunately, these discussions now occur on social networks so that an expat from company A may be comparing his situation with an expat from company B, a competitor. This pressures companies to ensure that their packages are currently aligned with latest market practices. In addition this creates the need for permanent benchmarks and the need for the company to be present on all social networks providing information to current expatriates and potential expatriates. The company also needs to monitor the competition.


Once the assignment is finished and the employee is ready to come home Big Data can help again to locate either a job back home or perhaps a back to back assignment. At this stage a full expat survey will also need to be carried out which will enrich the HR database of the key indicators for a successful assignment.


To accompany this digital voyage, HR teams can now also be structured in a flexible manner and have the ability to be a web based Expat management team located across the globe in multiple time zones in order to be physically available to the expatriate. Indeed nothing can replace a face to face discussion.

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Go to the profile of Radhika Patil
over 3 years ago

Thank you for sharing the details of how the digital revolution is management expatriates, it's very informative.
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