If there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that we truly live in one world. In a real way, we are looking at Europa and Asia for signs of what to expect in the United States. What would a forced quarantine look like? How do we maintain our dignity and morale during lockdowns? Will we spend our evenings by joining the neighbors in singing from balconies, as some Italians are doing? When does the recovery begin? And with that realization—it’s a big planet and oceans are meaningless barriers—comes a small but meaningful epiphany: if I’m part of it, anyway, why not take charge of my life and really join it?
Even before events caused us to tilt our gaze outward in unison, a crushing majority of millennials—now the biggest generation comprising the workforce—wanted to work abroad. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers poll, 71% of millennials want to spend time working in countries other than the United States. This raises the questions: how can companies make international work experiences a possibility, and why should they? Moreover, what career options are available for an American abroad?
THE CORONAVIRUS HAS ALREADY RESHAPED THE WAY WE WORK
The way we talk about life after the pandemic will sound a lot like the way we talk about the “post-9/11 world.” Everything has changed. In 2001, one guy tried to set his shoe on fire on an airplane, and since then, three million passengers a day for the last nineteen years have had to remove their shoes before boarding a flight. The decisions now being made to combat this virus will be with us for decades to come. There is a lot of bad to come with that (this won’t likely be the last forced quarantine of your lifetime), but there is also a lot of good.
If nothing else, the coronavirus and COVID-19 have proven to employers that telecommuting is not only possible, but that it essential for continuity of business operations. Before I was a writer, I was a network administrator for a Fortune 500 company. Despite the fact that my job required no interaction with my officemates, and though 95% of my job required remotely accessing servers and clients across the country and around the world, when my daughter was born and I asked to work from home, I was told that it was simply impossible. That real work required coming into the office. I never got a clear answer as to why, except for: “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Thus ended the best paying job I ever had, and the healthcare benefits that came with it.
But now? I think it would have been an easy “yes” from my managers. Government and industry are never going to go back from this. The pandemic has forced managers and IT departments to figure out how to facilitate telework from home—what works, what doesn’t, best practices—and furthermore, employees now have the opportunity to learn how to do telework (and make mistakes along the way) without fear of reprisal. Occasional failures, for the next month, are an option. On the other side of this, I expect that we are going to see a lot more telecommuting job opportunities posted in the ClearanceJobs database of more than 50,000 job listings.
Work as we knew it is over.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
With Microsoft Teams in place, a good Skype policy in motion, and a codified methodology for effectively working outside of the office, companies will be one final step removed from embracing its employees working abroad. And companies have a lot to gain from allowing that option!
“It’s hard to keep millennials at your company,” says Ralph Chapman, CEO of HR Search Pros, Inc., a consultancy that helps both human resources workers and companies find the best jobs and the best talent, respectively. “They’re changing jobs every couple of years, so from a company standpoint and from a succession planning standpoint, if we can offer additional things—whether it’s telecommuting, coworking spaces, or global experiences—if we can offer that, give them promotions, give them opportunities to grow and take on new challenges, new jobs—that’s going to help us keep the employee, which is great. You want to keep folks that are there because they’ve got the knowledge base, and by giving them international opportunities, a lot of times that’s going to help with employee satisfaction.”
Job retention is but one benefit for companies who help or allow their employees work abroad, however. We live in a global economy—again, as the coronavirus is teaching us in painful ways. A company whose workers get international exposure, he says, will “see something new, do something different. They will be doing a job, but they’ll have experiences they wouldn’t get if here in the U.S., and that’s a plus for them.” He points to morale—it’s a big feather in an employee’s cap when he or she is chosen for a work abroad opportunity. But more than that, he says, such international opportunities enrich an employee in ways small and large.
“It’s about the additional work exposure this person will now have that they probably would not if they were in the same job, same place, same time.” In the human resources field, he says, workers are introduced to different industries and ways of doing business around the world. “And we’re seeing new types of thinking come out of that. Instead of, ‘Hey oil and gas can only do oil and gas,’ or ‘financial can only do finance,’ we are seeing people take what other sectors in other places are doing to be successful and grow, and then applying it across industries.”
When a worker comes back to the U.S. with a head full of new ideas and motivation to apply those lessons at home, employers are now fast to listen—if only to make their investments back. “We are seeing that kind of barrier begin to go away. People are more open to, ‘Hey listen, this is a different idea. We’ve never done this. Maybe we should try it.’”
He mentions the aphorism that sanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
“You’ve got to look outside your little box, and what better way to do that than to expand internationally, giving your folks that are working an opportunity to do that? They’ll come back with new ideas and new ways of doing things that we may never see here. It’s a really good situation all around. You help the company and you help the workers too.”
BUILDING A BETTER, HAPPIER EMPLOYEE
According to Neelam Tewar, an entrepreneur and jobs consultant who specializes in younger workers, companies have a lot to gain from offering an international option to its workers. Not only does it foster loyalty and trust in the employer, but more generally, it helps build empathy, tolerance, and compassion in employees. “Traveling can do that to you,” she says.
It’s also generates good, organic public relations by the traveling employee. As she explains, “Favorable experiences with a current employer automatically make us want to sing praises about where we work!”
She suggests that companies interested in trying the international option look first at countries that have strong bilateral trade ties with where the parent company is located, as it’s easier to secure short term visas and clearance to work there. Moreover, she suggests that companies who do not presently have an international program, but who are interested in starting one, hire professionals to take care of all the paperwork. “It’s worth the investment.”
BEFORE GOING FOR IT, WORKERS NEED TO THINK HARD
But remember: this is not a vacation. “Everybody has glorious ideas about working overseas—’Hey, I’m going to hang out at the Eiffel Tower,’ or ‘I’m going to see the Taj Mahal every day,’ but really, you’re going to be working!” says Chapman. “Make sure the job is good and that it’s going to help you out. Understand the time period: sometimes it’s indefinite, sometimes just a short period. Some companies allow families to come, but sometimes they don’t. And that can be a challenge. People say, ‘Oh, it’s only going to be a year,’ but that can be a long time, depending on what somebody’s used to.”
Moreover, the luster will wear off. “There will be an initial excitement—‘Ooh, I’m overseas!’ but that will wane, and especially if you’re not taking a good long look, up front, at what the challenges are going to be, what the differences are,” Chapman says. “Because it is different. It’s very, very different. For most of the folks we work with here in the U.S., it’s a challenge just going across the country, north, south, east, west. Overseas is a whole other level.”
Among the challenges, he says: “Be prepared for language barriers, be aware of the surroundings, be aware of cultural barriers. In particular, being sensitive to other cultures is key—and there are some dramatic differences.”
Coronavirus Uncertainty MEANS THIS IS THE TIME TO START THINKING
As a worker, if the international experience interests you, now is the time to start thinking about whether you can really, truly work successfully abroad. Moreover, the post-coronavirus corporate America will soon have to reassemble the smashed pieces of how we work. As an employee, you will have a say in what the future looks like. Start planning. If your company offers global opportunities, you need to work out why you would be a good fit for an international slot. And if your company does not offer global opportunities, it’s time to build the case for why it should. With every theater, restaurant, gym, and bar closed, you probably have a little free time on your hands. This is your chance to come up with something to present to management. The same goes for managers looking to improve employee morale and retention, to say nothing of diversifying the ideas of your organization.
One of the benefits of being part of the cleared workforce is the sheer footprint of the major players in the aerospace and national security industries. According to the ClearanceJobs database, among the countries you could work are Australia, the Bahamas, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Thailand, and Germany. These aren’t jobs where you’re toting an M-16 and guarding the perimeter; these are the same sorts of jobs that you could do in the U.S. Jobs like network engineer (if you are IT you can work anywhere—one more reason to get that training you need, and you bet ClearanceJobs is there for you); human resources; financial manager; logistics; even janitorial work.
Working as a clearance holder overseas, however, means that you have to be smart. That clearance is your livelihood. While you are working abroad, keep notes on where you’ve been and what you did. Your SF-86 and adjudicator will have questions. Moreover, if you begin a romantic involvement abroad, their connections—and those of their families or friends—to foreign governments, could come back to haunt you. Who doesn’t want to begin a whirlwind relationship with the person you met at a Paris café? You, if you want an easy readjudication. (Naturally, ClearanceJobs has written about this previously. We’ve got your back.)
But protecting your clearance while working abroad also involves the same sorts of things that non-clearance-holders must do as well. Know when your visa expires. Be aware of the laws of your temporary country of residence, and don’t break them. Be respectful of cultural nuances to avoid any national embarrassments. Protect your passport, know where the U.S. embassy is, and be sure to speak with a knowledgeable accountant in advance so that you know how all this will affect your tax obligations at home and abroad.
We live in one world, and it is small, and sometimes it is chaotic and teeming with uncertainty. But you live in that world. If you have the urge, do you really want to die of old age having never walked down the Champs-Élysées or seen the Grand Canal of Venice? Everything is about to change. You might never get a better opportunity.