There is no doubt that the global pandemic has affected international travel and international work. It does, however, seem that there are at play a series of both deliberate policy decisions and unintended consequences.
In terms of the movement of talent around the world, there is little doubt that 2020 began as a typical year of international movement. British executives seem to take on C-Suite roles all over the world either as a consequence of executive search or internal transfers. While American executives were a little less likely to relocate, there were certainly significant numbers of medium to long-term secondments either into leadership roles or into specific technical roles.
Within Asia, the Executive Search profession was freely moving senior managers around the region, Hong Kong and Singapore had certainly emerged as locations from which to source competitive executive talent for international assignments and was on par with Western Europe, the USA, United Kingdom and Australia as well populated hunting grounds for executive search practitioners looking for talent.
Then Covid 19 happened!
At the moment, the Australian government’s position is that Australians must not leave Australia. The United Kingdom is just going through the process of applying inbound travel restrictions and the United States seems to take a position on this market by market. In Australia, there is even the added complication of some state borders being at least nominally closed. There is generally an exception for people that need to cross the border to go to work when they cannot work at home.
This has created some interesting challenges for the Executive Search profession. First of all, we are being asked to fill roles for international companies with local talent when they may have preferred to send in an existing employee on a one to three-year assignment. The Australian government, like others is maintaining that borders are closed, but does allow exceptions for particular types of international movement for work. However, specific permission needs to be obtained to travel and then there is the question of available flights with majority of the world airline fleet sitting on the ground.
Increasingly too, we are finding that we are conducting searches almost exclusively in the market where the job exists, and clients are trusting that their executive search consultants have true international capabilities and networks of contacts globally.
In essence, if we are to summarise this, it appears that the best executive search consultants are still working globally. However, they are doing this almost exclusively from their desks in their home offices at all times of the day and night. Companies with subsidiaries or projects overseas are now turning to their executive search consultants to find local talent to fulfil the opportunities that exist. And so, while executive search is still an international business, most of the workforce is going to be recruited in local markets. While most developed countries will have provisions for executives to move abroad it may well be that the additional time and cost of securing approval has become a substantial barrier. We wonder how long this will last!