Workforce Mobility 2021: Moving Talent in a VUCA World (Part One) 01.28.2021 | Avrom Goldberg


There’s been a lot of speculation about what the “New Normal” will look like in a “post-COVID world.” But it might be more appropriate to talk about the “New VUCA.”

The term VUCA, coined by members of the U.S. Army War College in the late 1980s to describe the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of the post-Cold War world, has perhaps never been a more apt description of the times than it is today.

The first global pandemic in over a century has upended many of the few certainties left to us in our personal and professional lives. And just one month into 2021, as the promise of vaccines and the threat of new strains fill the headlines, the future has never seemed more nebulous.

For corporate global mobility leaders worldwide, however, one thing is clear: the amplified state of VUCA will require careful attention to new methods and practices that have emerged through the pandemic. With global talent distribution imbalances and global talent development needs likely to be more pronounced in the post-COVID world, workforce mobility’s importance will remain unchanged. What will be different is the way (or ways) talent is mobilized.

To that end, there are three Frequently Asked Questions that remain at the forefront of every talent mobility manager’s mind. In this post, I’ll tackle the first; the next two will be addressed in subsequent posts.

Q1: When will “normal” travel resume?

The first waves of vaccinations are underway in multiple countries but there is still a long way to go before we can expect the whole world to be inoculated (let alone proven immune). There is, nonetheless, a rational basis now for the hope that COVID can be brought under a degree of global control sufficient to allow for the resumption of something approaching regular cross-border travel in the second half of 2021.

In cross-border terms, a discernible trend for a series of bilateral travel arrangements or travel bubbles negotiated and put in place between two counties is likely to continue and expand. Long term, the resumption of anything like pre-COVID international travel is going to be contingent on stringent requirements for what may well turn out to be the equivalent of medical visas in the form of mandatory pre- and post-arrival COVID testing.

In the meantime, expect the roller-coaster ride of “on-again, off-again” changes in border entry restriction to continue. Two cases in point:

— the highly anticipated travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore set for introduction last November was cancelled just days before it came into effect because Hong Kong COVID cases suddenly spiked. As of today, there is no confirmed new start date.

— Japan re-imposed an entry ban on international travelers through February 7, 2021 in the wake of news of a new strain of COVID. Prior to this re-imposition, Japan had eased its entry ban to allow international visitors to enter the country for mid- or long-term stays on condition that they self-isolate for two weeks.

File Under Volatility, Uncertainty and Complexity.

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Written by Avrom Goldberg

A widely-recognized expert on global talent mobility, Avrom is the Senior Vice President, Global Client Services for the EMEA, APAC and LATAM regions. He has written extensively on Asia Pacific mobility trends and best practices for such publications as China Staff magazine, HRM China, Human Capital Hong Kong, Bo Le Journal for Strategic Management, Mobility magazine and HR World. Avrom was twice distinguished by The Forum for Expatriate Management, having won the EMMA award for “Outstanding Contribution to APAC Global Mobility” and “Global Mobility Professional of the Year.”

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