Remote work now and in the future

How many of you took part in ERC’s “Road to Recovery” virtual conference last week? The sessions I attended were very informative, packed with data, ideas, and resources. Despite being unable to meet in person, session benefits were more than the sum of their parts this time.

As we all work in varying degrees of isolation, spending time with others who are experiencing the same challenges is heartening. Hearing from different parts of our industry is educational. Learning from peers whose particular expertise gives us a detailed view of the mobility picture is thought-provoking.

One topic making the rounds is remote work. Given the quick transition companies undertook to shift employees out of offices, it’s no wonder that work-from-home came as a shock to the system for many. Coupled with school children at home, entertainment sources off-limits, and shortages of essential items, figuring out how to be productive at home was a massive change.

Workers may find they appreciate the lack of commute and office wardrobe. Many are finding more time for simple pleasures and family togetherness. Still, they struggle with solitude, changed processes, and the strain of video interaction in place of face-to-face.

Living Abroad’s Content team has worked remotely since 2008. In this, we’ve been fortunate to avoid the stark adjustment many experienced this year when moving to a home office environment. But we are dealing with physical transitions, too. For example, my husband teaches high school math via Zoom from an upstairs bedroom (with a white board clipped to a bunk bed!) while our grown son moved out of New York City and now works at home with us as well.

Randstad, which provides outsourcing and other services – and kicked off Thursday’s ERC session with some great insights – gives us 4 Tips for Mastering Remote Work.  For some physical tips and videos, New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery offers ways to feel better from home. And finally, NPR has a good list of 8 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You.

For companies, many employers are just coming to terms with the compliance issues remote workers present. Fragomen’s team delivered critical info during Thursday’s ERC session on immigration, reminding employers to stay abreast of country requirements with regard to visas and taxation.

With all that said, remember also to include some levity in your day when you can. Take in the clever, humorous content people are sharing. The original work-from-home-Dad video never fails to make me laugh: Watch Professor Robert Kelly’s famous BBC interview interrupted by his children.

Remember: we are all in this together these days. We may not all be in the same boat, but are weathering the same storm, staying afloat and sharing navigational maps to chart our way to the future.

Be well, everyone.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

Whom should you tip?

In which country should you tip ALL of these people?

  •     Grocery bagger
  •     Parking lot attendant
  •     Valet parking attendant
  •     Gas station attendant
  •     Garbage collector
  •     Taxi driver
  •     Delivery person
  •     Hairdresser
  •     Hotel bellman
  •     Airport porter
a.  USA
b.  Mexico
c.  Argentina
d.  Switzerland
e.  Australia

 

Click here for the answer!

Don’t be late!

Since much of the world’s interaction has moved online for practical purposes, it’s not surprising that business communication application use has surged. Among others, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and especially Zoom have all seen an exponential rise in downloads and usage over the last few weeks.

The growth in teleconferencing and other types of online meetings has also presented a new challenge to the newly “virtual” globally mobile: dealing with time zones while scheduling meetings, and setting up one’s own daily schedule.  A simple oversight in determining where and when a meeting takes place can mean being late for it, or even missing it entirely. Fortunately, there’s a website for that!

World Time Buddy provides a handy visual graphic that allows you to enter your own time zone, and then compare your days and times to others around the globe. When I receive an invitation to Zoom with a destination service provider in Johannesburg on Thursday at 1pm, I can simply use the search field and then add Johannesburg as the next row…and know it will not be a lunch meeting for me!

And if I need to schedule a meeting this Friday with colleagues in Paris and Santiago, some quick additions to my entry let me share our options with everyone:

World Time Buddy is just one of countless resources that Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center suggests for doing business and communicating globally. Whether you’re in person or on a webcam, we help you maximize your business relationships, opportunities, experiences, and development.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Hand grasping no more

The handshake is a common worldwide greeting, but will we continue to shake hands after the quarantine ends?  With most people using gloves and a mask, the germ transferring ritual of a handshake has disappeared despite the cultural significance.

“The handshake wasn’t born out of courtesy or goodwill, but fear,” said Pamela Eyring, president of the Protocol School of Washington that offers training in business etiquette and communications skills around the world.

The handshake has existed in some form for thousands of years.  Some say the gesture started as a way to convey peaceful intentions. When extending an empty right hand, you showed that you were not holding a weapon and came in peace.  A handshake could also be a symbol of good faith when sealing a promise.

The earliest documentation of a handshake was found on a ninth century B.C. relief with the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hands with a Babylonian ruler to seal a pact. In fourth and fifth century B.C., the gesture can be found on Greek funerary art.  In ancient Rome, the handshake showed loyalty and friendship.

Historians believe that the handshake became popular in the 17th century with Quakers who viewed the gesture more equitable than the tip of a hat.  Etiquette guides in the 1800s included proper instruction on how to give a perfect handshake.

“When shaking hands—or, rather, taking the hand—grasp it firmly, do not take merely the fingersAmong friends the shaking of the hand is the most genuine and cordial expression of good-will.”  The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, 1877.

Many predict as the virus comes under control, we will go back to our old ways of handshaking given the length of time the greeting has been around.  This practice is one of the few appropriate ways of connecting in a professional setting that imparts a first impression.

However, the pandemic may be the impetus to reconsider.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has a recommendation for Americans.  “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

The trick may be to come up with some alternatives.  We could adopt namaste, the Hindu greeting, which is a slight bow of the head with palms pressed together at the chest. In the Middle East, putting your hand over your heart is a common greeting.  The fist, foot and elbow bumps have also been recommended.

As we wait to see if the handshake makes a healthy comeback, we should all use caution in the meantime and adopt whichever greeting we feel the safest and most comfortable as an offer of camaraderie.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Virtual Assignments During the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many firms and organizations to ‘go virtual’ for those whose jobs allow this. It has also created awkward situations for assignees and their sponsoring companies when borders are closed and “shelter in place” orders are given.

Our current environment, combined with advanced communication technologies, will have an impact on jobs. It may translate to some business trips being replaced by virtual meetings, and perhaps fewer assignments. Companies are beginning to make decisions as to who will be required to come into the office, and who can work at home. Will many international assignees become virtual assignees?

There are several ways this phenomenon can manifest itself in global mobility. A few examples:

1.         Stuck while on holiday: An assignee from Brazil working in Germany was in South Africa on holiday recently and was trapped there when the country closed its borders. He suggested he ‘just work from there.’

2.         Shelter in Place: A UK native lived in France and commuted to her job in Switzerland. She was told to shelter in place, and work from her home in France.

3.         Expat in place: A US citizen living in Philadelphia had just received a job offer that would relocate him to Singapore when Covid-19 made this move impossible. Instead, he offered to work from 8pm-6am daily in Philadelphia, aligning with Singapore office hours, in order to smooth communication with his colleagues. His Singapore employer has no offices in the US.

4.         Being with aging parents: A US employee with Brazilian roots asked to move from Boston to Sao Paulo (on his own) so he could be with his aging parents. He believed he could work virtually from there with ease.

5.         Expired visa: An employee’s visa expired but the pandemic means they cannot return to their home country anytime soon. The host country said they can stay without penalty, due to the circumstances.

To learn what the globally mobile who are caught in brand new scenarios like these should do, I reached out to industry colleagues at Fragomen. Martine Cuomo and Ethan Kaufman are both immigration attorneys with decades of experience. Here is a summary of what they shared with me:

“They should speak with their in-house mobility team, or in-house or outside immigration counsel, to make sure they have correct guidance. The impact of a change in employment circumstances (location, duties salary, hours) may vary widely depending on the visa category.

Also, more is at stake than an employee’s status. Some countries have draconian immigration policies and even a single ‘exception’ has the potential to implicate a broader corporate interest, such as debarment from immigration or work permit renewals beyond the employee at issue or potential tax ramifications at the corporate level.

In some instances, disparate treatment of foreign nationals for immigration purposes – even compliance – raises the possibility of creating potential claims under local employment laws if domestic workers view the accommodations as prejudicial to their interests or simply unfair.

The rules in some circumstances are clear and in others, given the fluid nature of the government pronouncements, are gray areas with room for interpretation.  Therefore, policies need to be made nationally by country management and in alignment with global mobility and broader legal concerns, but not ad hoc case by case as seems expedient.

All five scenarios present seemingly simple transitions to virtual jobs. However, they raise country-specific work visa issues and can trigger tax liabilities. Being virtual does not exempt anyone. Circumstances vary. For example, for the person whose visa expired but was unable to travel home (#5 above), the host country could hold them blameless and allow them to stay. But could they work? It may depend on who in the government was granting them some room to maneuver.

Shelter in Place (#2 above) may be the easiest to do and have the least risk, but which side of which border and what is happening there requires close watching.

So does the virtual working trend cross over into the global mobility world? Clearly it will, to some degree, but will it result in a new way of working?  It may, if proper visas, taxes and PE (Permanent Establishment) guidelines are followed. Companies could easily have people living in Philadelphia but “working” in Singapore from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The scenarios above all cross over immigration guidelines, even when there is no immigration at all.

Just because it is easier than ever, doesn’t mean it’s legal. To be sure, talk with your in-house or outside immigration counsel before letting an employee working across borders “go virtual”.

Interested in a virtual trip?

More than half of the world’s population is currently under directives to stay at home. Now, more than ever, traveling virtually can be an interesting, entertaining, and stress alleviating experience.

Here’s a selection of virtual getaways, all in destinations covered by Living Abroad:

Open Air Museum in La Pincoya (Chile)

Live webcams at the Panama Canal (Panama)

San Diego Zoo: Live webcams (USA)

Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)

Virtual Angkor (Cambodia)

Petra: The Rose-Red City (Jordan)

Kilwa Kisiwani (Tanzania)

Louvre: Online Tours (France)

Here are two destinations that Living Abroad hopes to cover someday!

Access Mars

International Space Station Tours

Great resources for finding your own virtual “staycations” include:

EarthCam Network
Live webcams positioned all over the world.

Google Arts and Culture: Collections
Visit thousands of museums and galleries.

Google Maps: Virtual Treks
Take hikes around the world without having to put on shoes.

Xplorit
360 degree tours of many destinations.

Happy virtual travels!

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Gimme some good news

I bet we’re all tired of the depressing news reports all day long.  As the news is currently reported, it’s easy to feel that 90 percent of the world is a disaster and reporters are working to prove this.  We usually don’t hear about the millions of successes, only the one failure a million times.  Our mental health is boosted by balancing the difficult news with some more uplifting stories. So, I got curious and started looking for good news to brighten my day during this admittedly challenging time.

Here are some resources that offer a lighter view with a positive slant on the world news:

Some of the headlines from the good news sites include:

  • Popeyes has partnered with No Kid Hungry to feed children during coronavirus outbreak
  • Texas couple donates flowers to assisted living homes after postponing wedding
  • Americans step up to help animal shelters by fostering pets during pandemic
  • Inspiring photo (above) shows medical workers flying to New York to help fight coronavirus pandemic

It’s easy to get sucked down by all the news reports today and bad news is more interesting, and our feelings are stronger when we hear it.  But isn’t it better to feel calm and joy?

Everwideningcircle.com is committed to changing the negative dialogue in the world.  Their slogan, “It’s Still an Amazing World,” reminds us to find the positive in our day.  This site provides ideas and suggestions on how to increase your own optimism.

John Krasinski, former star of “The Office,” launched a new YouTube show called #SomeGoodNews featuring touching true stories during this pandemic.

If you really want a quick pick-me-up, check out amazing animal footage on Explore.org.  These are sure to make you smile.  It really is an amazing world!

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

On the road again – resources for teens

Parents of teenagers often have their hands full. Navigating social relationships, marking physical and hormonal changes, perhaps acclimating to secondary/high school, and generally growing into an adult being – all can require parental guidance even as the teen strives for independence.

When a move abroad is added to the mix, both teens and parents can use all the help they can get.

Enter support from a surprising source: public libraries.

Enticing young adults to use library services has led many to assess teen needs and deliver far more than the printed page. In the United States, YALSA is the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). YALSA promotes not only reading but all manner of services that contribute to healthy teen development and build strong communities.

One of the biggest challenges families and teens face is managing their immersion in media content, for both academic and social purposes. This skill is needed in nearly every aspect of modern life, and teens who can master – and balance their interaction with – the overwhelming amount of digital content we all encounter will be better equipped for life and work in the future.

Wherever you are around the world, your local library may offer:

  • Curated collections of young adult books and graphic novels
  • Makerspace and dedicated, acoustically isolated teen areas
  • Homework help, both in person and online
  • Events and programs scheduled after school and during school vacations
  • Digital collections of traditional reading materials (books and magazines) as well as movies, instructional tools like Lynda, and e-books and audiobooks through OverDrive
  • Group sessions that teach tech tips, Internet research, and online safety
  • DVDs and video games
  • Safe places for LGBTQ+ specific programming
  • Teen Tech Week (or Month) that fosters invention and learning

For a few great examples of the above offerings, see Toronto’s Youth Hub programs; Los Angeles County’s Teen Tech Month and Online Homework Help – which provides live online help in English or Spanish, as well as access to Khan Academy, test prep resources, and “Instant Librarian” chat; Wellington, New Zealand’s Homework Help and Teen Blog; and New York Public Library’s  Free Afterschool Programs and resources For Teens.

Check out your local library and take advantage of all it has to offer your family. It could be the best support service you never knew existed.

[NOTE: Wherever you are in the world reading this, your in-person library resources may be off-limits due to coronavirus response. Please continue to take advantage of vast digital lending collections and online resources for both academics and pure enjoyment.] 

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

Chocolate, liquor, flowers

When visiting a Peruvian family, it is customary to bring a gift for the host. While some will bring liquor or chocolate, others choose to send flowers. What kind of flowers should be brought?

A.  Lilies
B.  Roses
C.  Carnations
D.  Tulips

 

Click here for the answer!

Tap and Ride

Mobile devices now account for almost half of the globe’s Internet traffic, and their use for contactless payment is also on a dramatic rise.

While a number of mass transportation systems around the world have had their own mobile apps for fare payment for a while, there are now systems that accept payment directly from Apple Wallet and/or Google Pay. This is convenient for passengers who are short-term visitors, multi-destination travelers, or just prefer this method where available. Apple provides a list of compatible transportation systems here, and Google Pay provides one here.

Here’s how to use this type of payment:

Make sure your operating system is up to date.
This is important not only for functionality, but also for transaction security.

Make sure your transportation accepts the payment method. 
It’s important to be aware that in some cases — for example, New York City — contactless mobile device payment is only available in some parts of the overall system.

Add a payment method to your device.
Instructions for Apple Wallet here.
Instructions for Google Pay here.

When you approach the transit system entrance, wake up your device.
Hold your device near the screen. You may be required to provide your passcode or ID.
Proceed when you see payment has been accepted.

If you don’t want to take your mobile phone out of your pocket, smart watches that have access to Apple Wallet or Google Pay can often be used instead.

In some transportation systems, those with an iPhone 6S or better can even set up their mobile devices to automatically authorize fare payment, without needing to wake the device up or provide passcode/ID. Apple provides a setup guide for this here.

Some preparation now can pay off significantly over time, as these innovations continue to take hold. Mobile device payment offers contactless convenience that’s often more secure than its card or cash-based predecessors. These are qualities that appeal to many consumers, whether they are globally mobile or not.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager