Working Remotely - The Curious Case of Millennial Expats



The War for Top Talent Has Gone Global

Multinational companies (MNCs) today have recognized the critical role that human resources (HR) play in global competitiveness, resulting in more organizations sending employees to work outside their home countries as expatriates, colloquially called expats.


Although retaining expats can be one of the most difficult tasks for HR managers, considering the bottom line alone, it is critical for organizations to be interested in improving expats' success. In this article we present a modern take on winning the war for top talent by capitalising on the new generation in the global workforce - Millennials, and their growing desire for working remotely.


Millennials - The Tech-Savvy Generation of Remote Workers

Millennials, also known as Generation Y born between 1981 and 1996 (Scola, 2019), are the first workforce generation to have grown up in the digital era. For Millennials, technology represents one of the key tools to gain work-life balance through remote working. “Global Workplace Analytics” (2019) reports that regular work-at-home has grown by 159% since 2005, more than 11 times faster than the rest of the workforce and nearly 50 times faster than the self-employed population (GWA, 2019). Millennials do not just want to balance their work-life but also take time to travel.


A career development abroad represents an attractive perk for this workforce generation — according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' “Millennials at Work” report - 80% of Millennials desire to work abroad. The world has shrunk due to the digital-connectivity, and now, more and more Millennials are seizing the opportunity to move abroad and become expats (Evans, 2019). The key distinction between Millennials and older generations is that their main motivation to join expat assignments is to learn and grow – rather than seeing it as an opportunity to make money (FIDI, 2017). Millennials are not only comfortable with digital technology, but they expect to use it as a key part of their relocation. Tech-savvy and globally-minded, Millennials, are in high demand. It is therefore important for MNCs to adapt and shift current workplace structures and cultures (Scola, 2019).


Expat assignments are filled with challenges such as foreign environments and unfamiliar cultural norms while trying to learn a new language and make new friends (Tung, 1998). Many MNCs use expat assignments as a leadership development tool (Lazarova & Caligiuri, 2002), sending their managers internationally in an attempt to develop their intercultural skills and their ability to manage teams effectively across national borders (Tung, 1998). 


Expats' inability to adjust to work and life in the new culture can lead to poor work performance and returning home early (Selmer, 2001), which in turn can negatively affect a company's KPIs. One of the key reasons for expat failure is a sense of disconnection from the main hub of the company (FIDI, 2017), but the technology can help bridge this gap. Millennials' tech-savviness is a benefit to global mobility initiatives (FIDI, 2017) because it increases the fluency of communication and makes it easier for MNCs to maintain contact with their internationally dispersed employees. 


How to Attract International Millennial Talent?

With the war for talent high up on employers’ agendas, HR managers are looking beyond the national borders to fill in specialized positions. Millennials’ interest in travel and their willingness to move abroad for work represents yet another reason to address this pool of talent (Scola, 2019). MNCs once ruled the market with the privilege of being able to hook the best candidates with an attractive compensation package and upgrade in title.


Today, the priorities have changed to focus more on personal development and work-life balance. Millennials want flexibility and the option for remote work. In fact, they may not even consider a job opportunity if it doesn’t offer remote work opportunities.

Many companies who are struggling to adapt to this new reality are facing a loss in top talent (Kurter, 2018). The challenge businesses face with the new wave of Millennial expats, is keeping them in the loop and engaged, as it’s easy to keep remote workers siloed when one can’t interact with them in person on a daily basis. It’s crucial to have an HR strategy in place to keep Millennial expats in the loop and feeling a part of the team.


How to Support and Retain Millennial Expats?

The benefits of supporting and retaining Millennial expats in MNCs are two-sided. MNCs have the opportunity to dispatch their best talent to international partners and help them build and grow their international business, and Millennials have the opportunity to expand their knowledge of different cultures and markets and enhance their careers with overseas experience (WHR Group, 2019).


While Millennials expats highly value the opportunity to work abroad, they also desire personal and authentic attention. An important factor to consider when hiring global Millennial employees is the rise of the dual-career couple phenomenon (Scola, 2019). Unlike previous generations, Millennials expats prioritize family over work and tend to ponder carefully any opportunities that might have a repercussion on the wellbeing and happiness of their partners (Scola, 2019). As Millennials expats highly value authentic experiences over material things, perks such as active support with their social integration, language courses and information about local life might be highly appreciated by this new workforce generation (Scola, 2019). Therefore, to retain Millennial expats, HR managers should not be limited to a one-size-fits-all approach. 

How to Build a Remote Team of Millennial Expats? In a remote work environment, it's important to be proactive when working with your team to make sure things get done. With time zone differences and the potential for miscommunication, things can “fall between the cracks” (Lusinski, 2019), so a good remote worker takes an initiative in his or her hands to ensure timely and good quality results.


When building a remote team, an MNC needs positive people who know how to handle stressful situations, communicate effectively, and can motivate other people. A positive can-do attitude enables interpersonal relationships and creates a path to reinforcing achievements, while learning to face disappointments (Wallace, 2016). To remain productive, effective remote workers need to be able to give themselves structure “without the crutch” of a typical office environment (Lusinski, 2019). Developing a sense of structure outside of an office is a key part of building a successful remote work team.


When team members are physically together, it is a lot more natural to find time to connect with each other on a personal level — over lunch, at a team outing, or just a quick chat (Lusinski, 2019). These opportunities for connection don't just happen on their own in a remote team, so they need to be intentionally created.


Working Remotely - The Glass Half Empty

For some people, the idea of remote working is a dream-come-true. After all, one gets to work from the comfort of his or her own home or a local café, avoiding a superficial small talk with colleagues, and potentially setting their own schedule (Planetexpat.org, 2018). However, remote work isn’t the perfect opportunity for everyone. There are some significant challenges of working remotely, from a lack of a structured routine to fewer social opportunities for social interaction and rapport-building with coworkers (Lusinski, 2019). In a non-remote work setting, there is likely structure in place, from set office hours, coffee break, and lunch times.


Without other coworkers around to hold an employee accountable, he or she may not be as productive and the distractions get even worse if one isn't good at following a strict schedule. The biggest challenge to working remotely is the lack of forced interaction with people on a day-to-day basis (Lusinski, 2019). One can still call and message them, but it is not the same as having face-to-face interactions. Working remotely involves a lot of solitary time (Wallace, 2019), to be able to work alone, employees need to stay self-motivated and confident that they can deliver by themselves what’s required.


How to Identify a Successful Millennial Expats?

Millennial expats’ success during an international assignment is a complex phenomenon; and behavioral preferences might be expected to be one important variable in the mix (Dalton & Wilson, 2000). A well-designed selection system for expats is critical to the success of global assignments (Nicholson et al., 1990). Finding a clear relationships between a KPI-driven behavioral preferences and expat adjustment can constitute an effective selection criterion. Still, one of the major challenges to expatriate adjustment is overcoming cultural barriers - an expatriate must accommodate his or her behaviours to fit into the new culture in order to increase effectiveness (Huang et al., 2005).


Therefore, MNCs should use behavioral preferences as an important reference when assessing potential Millennial expats in relation to host-country culture (Huang et al., 2005) . Consequently, in addition to behavioral assessment diagnosis, cross-cultural training should also be an available HR intervention to improve the likelihood of expatriate success (Harrison, 1992). In the context of expatriate assignments, certain individuals will have behavioral preferences better suited for adapting their work and social lives in the host country (Caligiuri, 2000), while others will sense their inability to succeed during the international assignment. 


Once the behavioral preferences associated with high performance among a company's expatriates or in a remote assignment are known (i.e. we uncover the behavioral predictors of KPIs such as these through data analysis), the most important task is to create a candidate selection process that takes these into account. There will always be unknown exogenous factors, but if an MNCs can ensure that their candidates have at least a fair proportion of the desired behavioral preferences, they will be maximising remote workers’ chances of success. Order an Assessment Demo of Your Employees' Behavioral Preferences and Identify Who in Your Company is the Best Candidate for Working Remotely or an International Assignment. 


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