I got relocated a year back to Cairo from Dubai as part of my job, and this is the fourth country that I am working in over the past 14 years, and I love it. I even have a wish list of places where I want to move to when I complete my assignment here, and none of those places are the ones from my past, because I find it exciting to be able to live and work in different countries. I would like to share here what I have learned during these years on moving to different counties as part of my work.
Prepare for change
With relocation change is inevitable. The earlier we accept that and start preparing for it, the better. Believing that everything will remain the same in a different place may bring some comfort in the short-term, but will make it difficult for you to settle with the reality of the new place. So preparing self and family to embrace the change is important.
It is very unlikely that you haven’t gone through a change management session at work, or have read an article about it somewhere, because nowadays everyone talks about change, from the HR department prior to a restructure at the workplace to the politicians before an election. If you haven’t been exposed to change management yet, then I would recommend you at least make an effort to understand the different phases each person goes through, when faced with change. This will help you to understand that it’s common to go through Shock, denial, resistance and stress, before you start integrating yourself with the change and make it work. The more adaptive and prepared you are, the faster you move through these stages, and you may even avoid some of these stages.
Get the expectation right
Reading about the place you are moving to, from the expatriate community blog will give you the real picture of an expatriate life in that country. But bear in mind, some of the experiences may be overrated, or underrated, depending on the person writing the article, and the age of the article. So don’t make up your mind based on one bad article. The expat forums can also be really handy to find the right place to live, and send your kids to school.
Some companies do offer a look-and-see before you move in. If you get an opportunity, take it and go look around the place to get a first-hand idea of how life is going to be in the new place. Even if your company doesn’t offer this, I would recommend you do it at your expense if possible. Some people prefer to take their family on this trip, but I have opted otherwise, which worked for me, but may not work for everyone, so choose what best works for you. If you are going on your own for the look and see, then I suggest you spend as much time as possible analyzing local life, walking around streets, talking to local people, eating at local restaurant etc… And take a local colleague/ friend with you on this outing if it is not safe to do so alone.
Once you have experienced life in the new place, prepare your family for it. Give them a realistic picture of the place and what to expect, but avoid over exaggerating the worst side, and try to focus on the best part / perks of moving to the new place, like having a bigger place to live in, meeting friendly people, getting to keep a pet etc… if it helps to motivate them.
Plan your move
You will have plenty of things to sort out at the current place, before you move to the new one, especially if the current place is not your home country. So make sure you give it enough time, to take care of all unfinished business both at work and outside before you move. Sit together with your family, and brainstorm about things you need to do before you move out, and the things you need to do before settling in the new place, note them down, assign names of the family members who will need to complete each task, and by when, and allocate a financial figure to it. Managing your finances with the move is extremely critical to keep away from stress, as it brings more stress than the physical aspect of the move.
As far as possible try to move in with the family, or reduce the time between you reaching the new place and your family joining you there, as it will be a major psychological support for you and your family to approach the new life together. Move into a temporary accommodation to give you time to choose the right place to stay, and if you are moving furniture then you should be prepared to live without it at least for a month or two as it takes time to clear the shipment and get it delivered. I would strongly recommend hiring a driver with good local knowledge and a good attitude, at least for the first month as this will help you to familiarize yourself with the place and help settle down quickly. He can also help you with the translation in case you don’t speak the local language, and drive around your family while you are busy adapting to your new work life.
Familiarize yourself with the local rules and regulations both written and unwritten as quick as possible, this will help you avoid unnecessary hassles. Your colleagues at the new place, expat friends or online materials can help you with this. Avoid making any major financial commitments before you and your family settle down, take your time to assess the risks and get the proper advice before doing so.
Initial days at work
Familiarize yourself with the office and your new team as well as colleagues. Find the leaders of the pack, and understand from them the general landscape of the new workplace. Sit with your line manager and understand his expectations for the short-term and long-term, areas he wants to see improved, and his view about the team.
If you are taking over from another person, make sure you spend as much time as possible with him for the hand over, understand his way of working with the team and how he approaches things, and take notes on what you would like to improve when you step in and what you would like to continue doing. Sit with each and every team member, or spend time with them in an informal set-up to understand about them and their expectations. Attend meetings and act like a sponge, absorb as much information as possible through observation and asking questions.
The first day you take charge from your predecessor after your handover, call a meeting of your team and set your expectations and ground rules with them, on what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Don’t be quick in judging people; take the feedback from your predecessor and your line manager, but make your own judgments based on your experience with them.
Do not work on improving all areas of the job at once, keep the ship floating, but focus on one area at a time to improve on. Seek the help of the strongest members of your team to help analyze the details and put in place improvement plans. Once you have put in place improvement plans for one area, and assigned people to it, move on to the next area and so on until you cover your universe. Make sure to put in place target milestones and regularly review them.
Keep a can do attitude, and do not be put down by past failures by your predecessor or your team. You would want to change a few things in the way your company/ team/ function operates, and one common answer you will encounter will be that it has been tried before and cannot be done, don’t stop there, get into details and challenge the status quo, the devil is in the details.
Finally, show a genuine interest in developing your team, after all, you cannot move on to your new assignment unless you develop someone to take your place. And when you leave you leave your legacy through a robust team you leave behind.