Malte Zeeck, Founder and Co-CEO of InterNations, the world’s largest global expat network, talks about why taking a globally local approach is crucial for employers who hire internationally and send employees abroad, and how this concept has provided the key to success for InterNations.
The business world is becoming more connected, as companies continue to offer their products and services globally and the workforce is increasingly borderless. In this progressively globalized business and talent mobility landscape, however, local factors remain very important. Adopting a globally local position can help employers trying to strike the right balance between standardizing and localizing relocation support for global employees and their families, just as it has established InterNations as the number one platform for expats and global minds worldwide.
Putting the Local into Global Talent Mobility
As the world’s largest expat network, over time more and more global companies were approaching us with the question: How can we provide localized support for international hires and foreign assignees in all of our office locations? Interested to find out more about the challenges these employers were facing, we conducted interviews with many global mobility and HR departments.
We heard the same story, many times over. These successful global companies were struggling with failed foreign assignments, and had trouble retaining their international hires. We discovered that, while international recruiting has been made easier by the emergence of large business and employment-oriented platforms, and the logistical aspects of moving were being successfully managed by relocation service providers, employers were having trouble providing the more personal aspects of relocation support.
In a world where more people are moving further and more frequently than ever before, how can companies provide localized information and tailored support to facilitate the social integration of global employees and their families? While such assistance is a fundamental expectation of global mobility teams sending foreign assignees abroad and HR teams recruiting internationally, standardized processes and a one-size-fits-all approach were leaving gaps in relocation support.
My advice to overcome these challenges? Peer-to-peer support, on a local level. Support to integrate and feel at home in the local culture cannot be effectively provided on a global scale, and can only be successfully delivered locally. While local case-by-case management is costly to the time and resources of companies at best, and completely unrealistic at worst, some of these more innovative aspects of relocation assistance can be achieved through social support from other expats and locals within the local community.
Employers need to accept that it is their responsibility to ensure that their global employees are happy, well settled, and integrated abroad, and provide local networking and socializing opportunities to achieve this. Such support will produce happier and better integrated employees, which, in turn, has a direct impact on business goals and workplace productivity, and result in more successful foreign assignments and improved retention of international hires.
A Local Network with a Global Reach
This globally local concept has underpinned InterNations since Philipp von Plato and I founded the platform in 2007. This was around the time that the first social networks were emerging. But whereas the existing platforms were focused on a similar goal — shifting established connections online — our vision was unique. Rather than digitalizing existing relationships, we wanted to establish a platform with the purpose of making new connections. A place for expats and global minds — to network, socialize, and find trustworthy information and services. This would ultimately support them to overcome some of the most challenging aspects of living and working abroad.
While our dream was to be a global network with a worldwide presence, we understood that we needed to be local in order to be of value, and relevant, to our members. Location-specific aspects — such as local customs and legal requirements — meant that a foreign assignee living in New Delhi, for example, had very different needs to an international hire living in Melbourne. We adopted the mantra — be local on a global level — which we have stayed true to since day one. Our website and registration process reflected this approach, with members not only part of the global platform, but also of a specific geographical community. Members had access to localized content, such as detailed city guides, and information on visas, schooling and housing. All of the knowledge that expats needed when moving abroad, they could find on our platform.
It soon became apparent, however, that members wanted more than just local information about their new community. More than anything, they needed connection, a sense of community, and to identify with something larger than themselves. We recruited local volunteers to organize opportunities for members in their community to meet up offline, facilitating the creation of meaningful connections and genuine friendships. It was these relationships that really supported our members to be happier and better integrated in their home away from home.
Within a couple of years, this globally local approach saw InterNations grow from a small network to the number one platform for expats and global minds worldwide. We now have 3.4 million members and are present in 420 communities around the globe, ranging from large expat hotpots — such as London, Tokyo, and New York — to much smaller, remote communities — such as Asmara in Eritrea, or Pyongyang in North Korea. Our mantra, be local on a global level, underpins everything that we do, and has provided the key to success for InterNations.
The Future of the Globally Local Approach
As the workforce continues to become more global, and as companies progressively expand their business and access emerging markets, the war for talent also intensifies. Finding the right person for the job no longer necessarily happens locally, and employers are increasingly having to take a global approach when it comes to sourcing talent.
This necessitates companies sending employees on assignment or recruiting internationally, which brings additional complexities, because relocating people is challenging. Employers need to remember that they are not just relocating employees, but people — with families, feelings, and emotions — who need a sense of belonging within their local community. The ongoing challenge for companies will be to find the right balance between streamlining and standardizing processes, while also recognizing local differences, and being flexible and innovative in order to address these.
About the Author: Malte Zeeck, founder and Co-CEO at InterNations, has experienced life as an expat. After graduating from the University of St. Gallen he travelled the world as a TV reporter for German broadcasters such as n-tv and ARD. In 2007, Malte and Philipp von Plato decided to create the InterNations network, which now has 3.4 million members in 420 cities, making it the world’s largest expat community. InterNations Business Solutions was launched in 2018 to support global mobility and HR professionals with expert insights and personalized solutions for smooth and successful foreign assignments and improved retention of international hires.