International teamwork is becoming easier

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Open your favorite news source to learn about worldwide migration, from the U.S.-Mexico border to China, bringing home ex-pats to labor shortages in the post-Brexit U.K. They’re real. But that’s not all.

Skilled talent has never had it easier to traverse boundaries globally. Research shows that globally diverse teams foster firm-level and, ultimately, country-level innovation. To recruit talented workers, Germany is exploring a points-based immigration system. France has a new business visa. Japan has a visa category for tech talent that’s not commonly known. Even post-Brexit, the U.K.’s talent strategy includes a points-based skilled worker visa. Australia’s Covid-19 restrictions currently hinder mobility. However, this should be temporary.



As part of our “Innovation Without Borders” research, we compared the relative ease of global relocation for skilled personnel in the ten most preferred destination nations, China and Japan. Many countries now have the legal infrastructure to hire and move international talent at a cost and pace comparable to domestic hiring. The world is now “flat” for global talent:

Underneath, the picture is different:

The U.S. and China are exceptions. The U.S. has tight caps for its H1B visa program and administrative bottlenecks for other visas and residency cards. In January 2022, China will introduce new tax policies focused on ex-pat talent, making it difficult to deduct home rent and schooling expenditures from personal taxable income.

The West is advancing. France, Germany, and Spain are among the most accessible to talented workers, on par with Canada, which has a simple points-based immigration system.
Global talent competition. India and Japan, not known for their openness, seek to lure foreign expertise and hire abroad.



Why at this time?

Talent access is the top growth hurdle for post-Covid-19 enterprises. In addition to this pull force, there is more global talent, talent is willing to go, and remote work is not limiting global mobility.

  • Growing talent. In 10 years, 260 million college graduates will enter the workforce. This expansion is equivalent to the talent stock in 1990, and nearly all come from outside North America, Europe, China, and Japan.
  • Many would move. 50% of worldwide talents in 2021 are eager to push for improved career possibilities, down from 64% in 2014. As a lifestyle choice, many want global mobility.
  • Remote work might spark romance. Startup CEOs and H.R. executives say remote work eases global hiring. Starting remotely lets both sides “test before purchase,” making international hiring less hazardous.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see more talent move to Europe and Asia in the 2020s (outside China). Data suggests this possibility. 20 of 25 OECD countries saw record yearly inflows in 2019, but not the U.S. Work-visa-based migration declined in many countries during Covid-19. Still, it was more steady than any other visa category and has risen substantially, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Hard and soft constraints limit business leaders

We surveyed 850 senior executives for an upcoming study and found a substantial gap between awareness and action. 95% said they want global teams. 2% see full results.

Frontrunners exploit global team diversity to innovate. They’re twice as likely to be inventive and fast-growing as their homogeneous colleagues. Delivery Hero is a “decacorn” quick-commerce player. The 2009-founded company is already hiring globally across all functions, like many startups on their way to unicorn status.

Latecomers suffer strong and soft restrictions. Smaller enterprises in the U.S. or China can’t avoid overseas recruiting rules (e.g., via global intercompany transfers).

Global team building

Corporate executives use five techniques to establish globally diverse, innovative teams. The first two are for firms with strict constraints, and the last three have soft or no restrictions.

  1. Geographically diversify
    If you can’t hire foreigners, create hubs abroad. Wayfair, an online furniture store, sought to expand beyond Boston to hire more developers and data scientists. It opened an engineering center in Berlin. It built a Toronto base to connect to the local tech ecosystem and worldwide talent community.
  1. Cooperate
    Countries with quickly skilled work visas can have painfully slow administrative processes. The solution is public-private partnerships.

Example: Germany. Even though Germany welcomes talented workers, its bureaucracy sometimes reflects this new approach. Berlin-based enterprises co-founded BerlinPartner to drive this cultural transformation. The company realized international hires needed a “speed lane.”

  1. Think globally
    E.ON, a European energy networks operator, shifted all group-level communication to English about a decade ago, although it allows operating units to run in their languages. This setting will enable people to speak in their local language, but all critical papers are in English.
  2. Pre-order
    Firms of all sizes use freelancing or employer-of-record models to onboard individuals remotely before migration. Germany’s logistics firm Forto onboards employees remotely and eventually transfers them to more significant hubs for hybrid setups. What began as a short remedy during Covid-19 is now a strategy to screen global talent.
  3. Appreciate talent
    Companies that don’t attract domestic talent rarely recruit overseas talent sustainably. Firms must boost employer value for all employees, including branding, efficient recruiting, personal onboarding help, and mentorship for new joiners. Douglas, the European market leader in beauty shopping, attributed its recent success in developing its digital beauty platform to its ability to attract experienced digital talent from Germany and beyond. The company has introduced a simple, remote hiring procedure for digital talent and targeted relocation packages to help new employees with housing support and assure more excellent retention of its globalizing staff.

If you read global headlines, you’ll think talent mobility is grim. A deeper investigation reveals a chance to alleviate skills shortages and stimulate innovation. While others sleep, seize this excellent opportunity.




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