Industry Trends

Partner Perspectives: Adapting to the post-COVID ‘Normal’: Lessons from Intercultural and Repatriation Training

A mid adult businessman meets with his colleagues during a video conference.

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” said Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher.

Along with our environment, we are in a constant state of change. It is hardly noticeable when change happens incrementally over time, but when big changes occur relatively quickly, such as with a pandemic on a global scale, or an international relocation on an individual scale, people are forced to contend with and adapt to the new environment.

Profound change brought on by an international move or other major events presents a great opportunity to apply tools of intercultural and repatriation training to learn about our own preferences, areas of strengths and potential challenges. Times of great change allow us to apply a critical lens to previous surroundings or processes. After an initial period of struggle, best practices emerge and creative solutions are applied to seemingly impossible tasks, such as building relationships and increasing productivity across virtual, cultural and language barriers. Throughout the pandemic, we witnessed great success with the application of intercultural training tools and witnessed the formation of cohesive, diverse and highly effective virtual teams located around the globe.

Just as a river keeps flowing, we are always changing and growing. “Returning” to normal becomes “recreating” the normal by finding the balance between what worked before and what works now as we return to life beyond the pandemic. As in repatriation training, assessing and applying one’s new skills and knowledge are opportunities to improve and apply the growth and change.

“Returning” to normal becomes “recreating” the normal by finding the balance between what worked before and what works now as we return to life beyond the pandemic.

(Re)establishing routines and getting reacquainted are key components of re-creating and adapting to a “normal” state. The tools of cultural training and the reflection in repatriation training can be applied, as the ability to style-switch and adjust after experiencing culture shock from an international assignment or other major experience, such as the global pandemic, are useful and demonstrate a great return on investment. Here are a few examples:

  • Slowing down and virtually connecting with clients and colleagues in China or Mexico, where relationships are paramount for successful cooperation is a win.
  • Juggling childcare, work and other responsibilities translates into the ability to prioritize and multitask effectively.
  • Virtual communication and heavy reliance on words results in improved ways to send, receive and decode messages.
  • Working from home can be as effective as working from the office (and sometimes even more so because we can truly focus).
  • Continuously readjusting services and managing expectations teaches us flexibility and patience which is useful when working with international colleagues.
  • Being in this together reintroduces empathy to everything we do.

Cultural adjustment is a natural process which includes a period of adaptation, stress and discomfort. Everyone has different ways of managing the ups and downs of transition and culture stress, but these key actions can help ease the transition to adapting to the post-COVID normal:

Aim for a Balanced Schedule

Attend in person for critical engagement and if possible, maintain working from home a few days a week. Request flexible hours and continue to have virtual sessions.

Identify Anchors

In the sea of change what has remained the same? Use it to gradually re-enter the “normal”.

Manage Stress

Talk to friends, colleagues, do yoga, take up photography and be kind to yourself.

Applying lessons from intercultural training and repatriation such as patience, flexibility and positive outlook will help as we transition to life post-COVID. Before we know it, the “new normal” will simply become “normal”. Click here to learn more.

About the Author

Olga Collin

Senior Advisor, Intercultural Solutions of IOR Global Services

Olga Collin is a seasoned trainer, coach and professional expat who shares her first-hand experience of moving countries, lifestyles and cultures with globally mobile professionals in the effort to normalize change and promote cross-cultural understand…