COVID-19: Challenges with Employing an Internationally Mobile Workforce

The subject itself brings up a number of considerations for HR and Operations trying to manage an international workforce: repatriating foreign nationals on local contracts, expats on rotation , A new International hire about to start a new role but restricted due to a travel ban etc etc.

Given the current climate with COVID how is everyone managing these situations…Are companies just delaying / cancelling work or potentially subcontracting the work to another organisation altogether?

A lot of my customers are global businesses that rely on an internationally mobile workforce that they can deploy aboard for 3,6 or 12 months at a time. From a Lead Process Engineer in the Middle East to an Installation/Commissioning specialist in South East Asia.

This blog aims to explore the options managers/directors now have with not being able to put ‘boots on the ground’.

Sub-Contracting the Work

Using a local sub-contractor could be seen as a viable alternative, at the end of the day they’re familiar with the type of work and can mobilise… it’ll enable you to complete the project and the client will get what they paid for.

The negatives are obvious especially if you don’t have an active presence on site managing these 3rd parties. Highlighting a local competitor to a client, restricted control, lack of ability to direct and manage etc… all resulting in a potentially dissatisfied client and loss of future revenue.

Virtual Working

The pandemic has led to a significant rise in virtual working. Everyone is scrambling to maintain continuity; staff are made to work from home while international resources are being repatriated. I do know of some companies delivering project management consultation off site through online conferencing but it doesn’t seem to be proving as a 100% effective alternative, particularly in the Engineering industry.  


I know a lot of companies within the engineering and construction industry are delaying work on international projects, but how long can this last for before the client finds a way to proceed domestically… Cancelling agreements stating “Force Majeure”.

Local Employment

You could go to market directly or use an agency to hire someone either as staff or an in-house freelancer for a fixed period. By doing this you will get a resource who can mobilise, you can vet, manage and have more control on a day to day basis… sounds great right?! But what if you do not have an office in the country and achieving this is a compliance nightmare?  

Agency 3rd Party

Many companies have turned to 3rd party recruitment agencies to support them with temporary domestic based resources. This allows you to find talent in the country that the work is being executed in and will facilitate a method of engagement without the need to open an office in country.

For example, a company from Europe who recently approached me was due to deploy several engineers and project managers to a dairy processing facility in Singapore. They do not have an office in country to employ and were unable to mobilise internal resources without them incurring a 2-week quarantine period.

Fortunately, we were able to introduce them to a professional who has worked for us on three occasions in the past to deliver the work… he started the work immediately enabling the company to keep on track and actually saving them money by not having to pay expenses on expats to rotating in and out of country for a 6 month + period.

I’d be interested to learn people’s thoughts on the different approaches and what’s worked best for you?

Feel free to contact me on Tim Millington +44 (0) 1625 537 555 ext 125


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