In my first article, A Global Exchange: Getting to know the AIMS family, Episode 1, I discussed my internship in Switzerland and experiences joining the AIMS Switzerland team. During the last few months, I have been working as a “telemigrant” from South Africa.
Being a Telemigrant comes with many challenges, which can be overcome with a few helpful tools. Of course, most companies have experienced remote working conditions in recent months as a result of the global pandemic. Although a telemigrant does often work from home, their situation presents unique challenges and benefits and can be a long-term solution to different issues experienced by both the employer and the employee.
Richard Baldwin – an economist at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva – coined the term telemigrants in his latest book (The Globotics Upheaval – 2019), essentially defining skilled workers from developing countries who provide services sector work from abroad.
Benefits and challenges for the employee:
Being a telemigrant can be very beneficial. It allows you to tap into a market you may not otherwise have been able to access, broadening employment potential. It can however also be difficult for the telemigrant to engage with their team when they are 1000’s of kilometers apart. My personal experience has been interesting, as I started working in the office and experienced a normal office environment for the first few months, after which I continued to work from home, about 9000km’s away. One of the challenges was that I got used to the office environment and to being able to bounce ideas off my colleagues regularly during coffee breaks and other daily interactions. When I returned to South Africa, the situation was completely different and a huge adjustment. One has to tackle the challenges head on! For me to feel part of the team in Switzerland, we have taken various steps such as:
- Ensuring daily interactions with my colleagues by setting fixed meetings
- A shared to-do list, which allows you to see what your daily tasks are, as well as allowing others to comment on these tasks and support you when necessary
- Of course, modern technology helps a lot as we can connect per voice and video in a matter of seconds wherever we are
Cultural challenges may be an issue when an employee comes from a different country or region, especially if he or she has never been exposed to the culture of the company or country that they are working with. In my case, this has not been a major challenge as I was able to spend time in Switzerland. Some challenges or barriers remain, for example language. It’s important to have regular exchanges about the cultural habits and protocol of the business so that we can keep an open and non-biased communication.
Benefits and challenges for the employer:
Being able to hire an employee at a considerably lower cost elsewhere has a clear benefit, allowing you to expand your team and support functions and grow your operations at a rate that your local market would not allow. However, having employees spread out across the globe creates additional challenges for management. Leading remote teams and motivating staff can be difficult over the internet, however there are many smart tools in place today to assist. Basic management principles remain:
- Open communication and feedback
- Clear, realistic goals with buy-in from all sides
- Regular performance management meetings (even more important!)
- Outcome based performance measurement
In the past, employing staff in countries with a lower income bracket used to be the privilege of big companies only, but now SME’s can benefit too as the world becomes increasingly digitized and interwoven. I am grateful that the experienced team at AIMS Switzerland is making it easy for me to adjust and to make this unique experience a success. If you are looking for advice or more information on telemigrants feel free to contact us.