Trends to Watch

Disruption and Opportunity in the World of Global Nomads

Change is the only constant. As a millennial, that’s what I acknowledge as I’ve been learning the ropes of steering a more than two-decade-old relocation firm that I took responsibility for just last year. To my company, I represent change in the business perceptions of previous generations, to bring the organization into sync with the goals, aspirations, working methods, and ethics of millennials like me.

This is occurring not only in India, where my firm is based, but the world over. Relocating families no longer need housing support and neighborhood orientation. Business documentation processes are going online globally, and for tech-savvy millennials, it’s a breeze. Paperwork facilitation is on its way out as a business practice. The good news is, new horizons are opening up, for both millennial global nomads and millennial relocation entrepreneurs.

Setting a Course

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials—born between approximately 1981 and 1997—account for 27 percent of the world’s population. They are young adults, and as previous generations step down from positions of policy- and decision-making, millennials will be moving into those power positions. They will make up around half the world’s workforce by 2020, automatically bringing about a change in business compass settings.

Technology such as social media, instant communication methods, and real-time data availability on tap has brought about a paradigm shift in working methods. Research shows that as a group, millennials value international experience. In survey after survey a huge percentage say they would, at some stage in their career, like to work outside their home country. Though work teams are now geographically distributed, they are even more interconnected than they were when grouped together under one roof.

But this brings with it a series of new challenges. Work needs have changed. The criteria for keeping millennial employees fruitfully engaged and satisfied are significantly different from those that kept preceding generations happy and productive. Intercultural consciousness, or the need to connect with diverse ethnicities for overall fulfillment, is gaining importance.

Though the whole generational shift is taking place relatively gradually, wouldn’t it be wise to be mindful that the prevailing winds are changing direction and trim our sails accordingly?

Gathering Data

Thinking about how my perceptions of what makes business sense are different from those of my seniors, I asked a cross section of fellow millennials, in different parts of the world, what motivates them at work, what keeps them anchored, and what their lodestar is.

Everyone I talked to had some things in common: They were willing to relocate, or had already relocated, outside their native countries. All were confident of support from spouses—even future spouses—and were open to raising families in environments different from their roots.

Despite these commonalities, there were differences in motivation. Some came from backgrounds that involved moving from one place to another during their formative years, making international experience something to be actively sought and internalized. Others simply felt it important to widen their horizons. And while all of them felt equipped by modern technology to cope with new locales, languages, and climate conditions, they flagged different needs that were not yet adequately addressed.

The Lodestars

Cara from the U.S., Yamini from India, and Youngmin from Korea hail from families that have moved around the world. “My dad was a diplomat, and we lived in London, Pakistan, Russia, and India,” says Youngmin. His goal is to work on his own, and he feels entrepreneurship has so many more possibilities for a global citizen.

Cara grew up in India, Kenya, Taiwan, and the U.S. She has worked in San Francisco, Chennai, and Shanghai. The number of countries she has visited: 70 and counting! “I am primarily driven by an interest and curiosity for other cultures, especially a love of learning new languages,” she says. “Certainly career growth and financial independence are something I naturally will pursue in any career change, at home or abroad.” Yamini grew up and worked in other countries before coming back to her native land.

Unlike Cara, Yamini, and Youngmin, Marcus grew up in his own country, Germany. But when he was trying to make a career for himself, he felt as if he were among a million applicants to Fortune 100 companies such as BMW or Mercedes-Benz. It occurred to him that if he moved to another location, especially in an emerging economy, he could be hired as a local, and the competition would be more manageable. “Since people like to do business with like-minded people, I would go over to the new overseas location of a company from my own region and apply for a job. It helped me quickly get absorbed in the system,” he says with satisfaction. Natasha is a U.S. citizen who has visited many countries. “As the world becomes more global and interconnected, national identity gives way in importance to a commitment to global citizenship,” she notes. Both Yamini and Natasha feel that, given a choice, they would rather work in a developed country, where infrastructure is already well-established and it is easy to settle in and go about one’s business. “Having to sort out basic infrastructural needs would mean a lot of time and energy spent, which could be rather exhausting,” says Yamini. For Yumiko, who is from Japan, the dream destination is the U.S., which to her is the land of equality and growth. Having completed a stint there, given a chance, she’ll go back in a heartbeat.

The above information is excerpted from a March 2018 Mobility magazine article. See the full text for more insights into what motivates globally mobile millennials.

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