As 2023 draws to a close, I would like to look back and ahead as I have done in past years. The ancient Roman god Janus—the god of beginnings and endings, gates, transitions, time and, duality—is not only an apt metaphor for this yearly review but it is quite fitting for the global mobility landscape as well, which is changing tremendously. So what will the future of global mobility look like given where it is coming from?
It has indeed been a fascinating and daunting time for anyone interested in global mobility. The COVID-19 pandemic, disruptive technologies, recent geopolitical crises, and climate change concerns have all upended the way we experience and view work-related mobility. Looking ahead, there are different plausible scenarios. Just like a researcher testing competing hypotheses, we could envision there to be either more or less physical global mobility in the future. Moving with the times, I sought a little help from generative AI😉
On the one hand, it is possible that we will witness an increase in physical global mobility for several reasons.
- Technological Advancements and Remote Work Integration:
With the widespread adoption of advanced communication technologies, the global workforce is becoming increasingly connected. Remote work options and virtual collaboration tools have reached new heights, making it easier for professionals to stay connected while physically relocating for work. As technology continues to bridge geographical gaps, individuals are empowered to move without compromising productivity.
- Cross-Border Innovation and Knowledge Transfer:
Physical global mobility fosters cross-cultural exchanges and facilitates the transfer of knowledge and innovation. Despite digital advances, face-to-face interactions remain crucial for building trust, understanding diverse perspectives, fostering creativity, and building strong connections. Professionals and entrepreneurs seeking exposure to different markets are likely to engage in physical mobility to tap into new networks and gain a firsthand understanding of the global business landscape.
- Resilience in the Face of Geopolitical Uncertainty:
The world has witnessed various geopolitical crises, but history has shown that societies adapt and rebound. In the face of uncertainty, individuals and businesses often seek new opportunities and markets to ensure stability. This pursuit of resilience may drive increased physical global mobility, as people look beyond borders for economic, political, or personal stability.
- Globalization of Education and Research:
The internationalization of education and research has been a key driver of global mobility. As universities and research institutions collaborate across borders, students, academics, and professionals in these fields are drawn to opportunities that transcend national boundaries. Exposure to diverse academic environments and collaboration with global peers fosters a richer learning experience, motivating individuals to undertake international journeys.
- Cultural Exchange and Personal Development:
Beyond the professional realm, individuals are increasingly valuing the personal and cultural enrichment that comes with international experiences. Whether through expatriation, study abroad programs, or international business travel, people seek to broaden their horizons, gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, and develop a global perspective. This desire for personal growth may drive an increase in physical global mobility.
At the same time, there are also several factors suggesting a trend towards reduced physical global mobility in the future.
- Pandemic-Induced Shift in Work Patterns:
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work, proving that many jobs can be performed efficiently from anywhere in the world. This revelation may lead to a more permanent shift in work patterns, reducing the need for extensive business travel or expatriation. Companies are likely to embrace hybrid work models, allowing employees to stay connected without the need for constant physical presence. In other words, there is great promise in virtual global mobility.
- Environmental Sustainability Concerns:
Climate change concerns are pushing individuals and businesses to reconsider the environmental impact of frequent global travel. The aviation industry, a significant contributor to carbon emissions, is under increasing pressure to reduce its footprint. In response, organizations may prioritize virtual meetings, conferences, and remote collaborations as part of sustainability initiatives, contributing to a decrease in physical global mobility.
- Advancements in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality:
The development of immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offers realistic alternatives to physical presence. As these technologies become more sophisticated, the need for in-person meetings and experiences may diminish. Virtual conferences, collaborative VR environments, and realistic simulations could replace traditional forms of global interaction, reducing the necessity for physical mobility.
- Geopolitical Tensions and Travel Restrictions:
Ongoing geopolitical tensions and the imposition of travel restrictions in response to crises may act as deterrents to physical global mobility. Heightened security concerns, trade disputes, and political instability can create barriers to movement, limiting the ability of individuals and businesses to engage in cross-border activities. This may lead to a more cautious approach to international travel.
- Rise of Digital Nomadism and Decentralized Workforces:
The concept of digital nomadism, enabled by improved remote work capabilities, is gaining popularity. Instead of relocating to a specific global hub, individuals may choose to work from various locations, exploring different cultures while maintaining professional commitments. This decentralized approach to work reduces the need for traditional expatriation and extensive business travel, contributing to a decline in physical global mobility.
So if you are a global mobility scholar looking for research ideas, or a global mobility manager reviewing the ideal composition of your organization’s global staff, my guess is that this is an ongoing moving target. The future of global mobility is likely shaped by a delicate balance between technological advancements, environmental considerations, geopolitical landscapes, and evolving societal preferences.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to show my deep gratitude to Snezana Stoljarova, my long-time external collaborator who helped me craft the regular blog articles over the past 12 years! Snezana has decided to spend more time on her very successful work as a sport psychology consultant and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors – a big THANK YOU for all your inspiration.
And to all readers of the blog: A Merry Christmas and all the best for 2024!