IT service and support industries are increasingly seeking an international workforce to fill the many chronically vacant positions in many companies. This trend has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have successfully stress-tested the concept of a fully remote, or mostly remote workforce, and as the workload for IT teams has drastically increased. Many IT organizations have found that they can find high-quality and highly motivated workers at an affordable budget when looking to hire abroad.
However, IT organizations and teams which are hiring international workers should remember that employment is a social contract between employer and employee. There can be a tendency to not consider or fully account for the needs of remote, international workers, as an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality may take hold. However, these workers often face unique challenges and disruptions, and they must be supported by their employers as they navigate these hurdles.
The war in Ukraine has been a humanitarian disaster, and has disrupted IT workforces in three countries so far, according to a recent Christian Science Monitor report. There has been a mass exodus of tens of thousands of tech workers from the region. Ukranians are fleeing the fighting, and tech workers in Belarus and Russia also are fleeing their countries because of increased threat of repression in those two countries.
This exodus of a highly skilled workforce has been a boon to surrounding countries and many IT service and support organizations. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that this forcibly dispersed workforce often are dealing with personal trauma and have family and friends in harm’s way. Work may be their only serenity in the day, and they will need mental health support and enhanced social resources from their employers.
This emigrating workforce also will be dealing with garden-variety culture shock. In a recent New York Times report, Ukrainian tech workers shared their surprise at the way things are done in their new host countries. One person described the frustration of the levels of bureaucracy that were present in daily life in Germany, as Ukraine keeps such red tape to a minimum. That culture shock also spills into the workplace, as tech workers interviewed described that they often have a “get it done” attitude for website updates that doesn’t quite mesh with a more hierarchical structure of tech companies in other countries.
Also, we shouldn’t forget that many Ukrainian IT workers have chosen to stay within the country, or are barred from leaving because of the military mobilization of the male adult population. Likewise, it is hard to gauge how many Belarussian and Russian IT workers are choosing to stay in those countries despite the risk of crackdown, and how many have been barred from leaving. In either case, we should understand that most of this non-emigrating workforce also are facing heightened stress, and may be having trouble staying physically safe.
We don’t have to wait for a crisis to endeavor to fully support the international members of our workforce. Your IT and HR teams should endeavor to do an analysis to explore the possible needs of the international members of your team. That analysis should include extensive conversations with those workers. Be sure to have these conversations more than once, as many workers may not want to rock the boat with their employers, especially in times of crisis and economic disruption.
Then, with this information gathered, IT and HR teams should endeavor to create culturally sensitive and event-specific resources that can best support our international workforce. As an international crisis arises, we may need to rapidly improvise to meet the needs of our international teams, but it is vital to do the work to create some best practices to fall back for when disruption strikes.
If we put in this work, we likely will improve overall employee experience, increase retention, and even gain a good reputation among international workers. Above all this, however, we should remember that supporting our international team members in crisis is simply the right thing to do.