Skip to main content
Search scope

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great “reset” and challenged many assumptions about work and life in general. The rapid shift to virtual work and digitization, along with sweeping social and demographic changes has had lasting implications for organizations and individuals.

Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Mila Lazarova held the Canada Research Chair in Global Workforce Management between 2012 and 2022 and is currently the William Saywell Professor in International Business at SFU’s Beedie School of Business. She is also the director of SFU’s Centre for Global Workforce Strategy.

Lazarova and international colleagues Paula Caligiuri (Northeastern University), David G. Collings (Trinity College Dublin) and Helen De Cieri (Monash University) observed the trends in global work during and after the pandemic in the context of multinational enterprises (MNEs).

Their paper, Global work in a rapidly changing world: Implications for MNEs and individuals, discusses the challenges affecting the where, who, how and why of global work. It also highlights implications on the future of work and offers questions to guide international human resource practitioners.

We spoke with professor Lazarova about her research.

What is the “fourth industrial revolution” and how is it affecting the world of work?

The fourth industrial revolution is the creation and deployment of new technologies which merge the physical, digital, and biological worlds. Technological innovation has been disrupting industries and labor markets globally for quite some time and, as with the other trends we describe, it was simply greatly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a now famous quote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that in the early days of the pandemic the world witnessed “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

What is digital exhaust—and what are some of the issues surrounding it?

Digital exhaust is the increased meta-data that comprises logs of employees’ online work behavior, a key outcome of the increased digitization of work processes. The transition to digital work has significantly increased the volume of digital information available about employee behaviors. While this provides potential value in terms of understanding key workplace activities and outcomes, it also raises significant questions about ethics, privacy, and data protection.

Has global mobility in work bounced back after the pandemic? What factors are driving current trends in international mobility?

The jury is still out on this, but many of the pressures that decreased mobility in the first place are still there. For example, some countries continue to restrict the visas necessary for relocation. As well, to achieve their environmental sustainability goals, many MNEs are reconsidering the need for air travel and opt for more virtual international work. Furthermore, employees might prefer to remain in whatever location they feel most comfortable, fulfilled, and safe, which could in turn limit the supply of employees willing to undertake global assignments.

Tell us about some of the ways MNEs can enable the coordination of work and facilitate high performance in employees and teams regardless of location?

The basic principle here is not new—the best way to do this is by creating and supporting networks of relationships and trust that span geographical boundaries. If I work in Vancouver, I should easily be able to connect to my counterparts in Buenos Aires, Jakarta and Krakow, so we can all work on solving a problem together. Creating the space for such networks to form and facilitating supportive relationships is not easy but it can be done.

The good news is that technology enables connections like no other time in human history. However, a word of caution—as fantastic as technology is, in many parts of the world it only takes you so far. Creating trust still requires extensive face-to-face contact. So, while an increasing number of our interactions will involve technology, we should not underestimate the staying power of in-person connectivity.

What are some other changes that are affecting individuals who work for multinational companies?

Regardless of whether one works for a multinational or a domestic company, they will benefit from developing cultural agility, or the ability to work comfortably and effectively with colleagues different than themselves. This is a skill particularly valuable in a country that embraces multiculturalism like Canada.

Employees must also realize that their careers will involve non-stop learning as the pace of changes we face continuously reduces the half-life of many skills. An obvious example on everyone’s mind these days is artificial intelligence (AI)—even those whose jobs are not highly technical in nature need to develop a basic awareness and understanding of AI, the opportunities it presents and its present limitations. Overall, one can expect an increasing emphasis on self-development and  will need to embrace the idea that careers of the future will be far more dynamic.

What are some of the ways MNEs are changing their work practices to ensure the well-being of their employees?

There are so many, but ultimately it starts with the basic understanding that well-being is important not just to individuals but also to organizations. It is true that most MNEs are focused on efficiency and turning a profit—but that should never come at the cost of working employees to the point where their mental and physical health is at risk.

Cost cutting pressures are everywhere and technology is developing at a breakneck speed, but MNEs should factor in the impact of such developments on employee workload and stress. They must create supportive work cultures that prioritize employee health and safety and do whatever they can to ensure employees can access proper healthcare. Breaks and vacations should not be seen as a luxury or a perk; rather, they allow people to rechange and improve their well-being, something all organizations should support.

For MNEs in particular, it is important to consider how these issues play across the different geographies in which they operate, as there are many contextual differences, such as regulations pertaining to health and safety, the availability and quality of healthcare or how acceptable it is to bring a health issue to the attention of one’s manager.

The pandemic has ushered in labour shortages in many areas of the Canadian economy. How can companies support the integration of migrants into a labour market that desperately needs them?

There are immense social and economic benefits of a thoughtful approach to migration. But currently, the main challenge in the Canadian labour market is matching skills shortages with people who have the requisite skills. Research has long shown that newcomers take a while to find suitable jobs that make best use of their knowledge, skills and competencies—even in areas where we are desperate for them, like medicine or engineering. Compared to their Canadian counterparts many immigrants are underemployed, and many are underpaid for years. They can face barriers on every level: from managers hesitant to hire anyone without prior Canadian experience to delays in processing work permits.

Canadian companies, professional associations, and policymakers need to do a better job of recognizing foreign credentials and providing opportunities for migrants to acquire the additional education and experience they need to practice their vocation in Canada. Only then we will be able to say that immigration has a net positive impact for everyone.


SFU's Scholarly Impact of the Week series does not reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the university, but those of the scholars. The timing of articles in the series is chosen weeks or months in advance, based on a published set of criteria. Any correspondence with university or world events at the time of publication is purely coincidental.

For more information, please see SFU's Code of Faculty Ethics and Responsibilities and the statement on academic freedom.