…the way the world is moving
Over the last 10 to 15 years, globalization has created a world market for skilled professionals. International corporations have been among the first to take advantage of this globalism by restructuring their approach to their workforce and their way of doing business.
Along with this, the cost of world travel has become sufficiently low to make recruitment on a global scale cost-effective – as the business book by Thomas L. Friedman so clearly states: “The world is flat” – a world where the differences of distance, culture and language are of less and less relevance.
All this change has created a different type of expatriate where short- and medium-term assignments are becoming common, as those of us who live in Switzerland – where over 25% of the working population are expatriates – know from personal experience.
Traditionally, corporate expatriates did not integrate and commonly only associated with the elite of the country where they were living, whereas, today, expatriates have become the norm in major conglomerates in cities around the world. They form a global middle class with shared multinational corporation experience, working and living in global financial and economic conurbations, eased and supported by specialist services within the countries they are temporarily living in.
Modern communication technologies such as the Internet, radio, telephones and television have globalized communication by allowing expatriates around the world instantaneous links with their home country and culture. This has had the effect of reducing the separation anxiety associated with the expatriation process and specialist companies have emerged to facilitate this virtual connection to the home country.
An indicator of a moving world
The removals and storage industry is an interesting indicator of how the world is moving – probably because they actually move the world! It is obvious that changes in ways of doing business are reflected in the way company facilities are organized and this is manifest in the way companies operating in the fields of relocation, removals and storage plan their expansion.
“We noted in 2006,” says Bertrand Harsch, CEO of Harsch, The Art of Moving, headquartered in Carouge, Geneva, “that due to demand, we were becoming restricted in space, especially space dedicated to Fine Art and record storage. Consequently, we decided to expand our premises. In fact, ten years ago we expanded into what we had in 2006 so it was normal that ten years later we would need to expand again. We decided to more than double our capacity.”
In fact, Harsch’s projected needs at the time were more or less five times what they had for Fine Art, three times their existing space for record storage and they also needed more office space to handle both the existing and projected business. “We started building two years ago and expect to complete in early 2010,” says Bertrand Harsch. “We have over 30% already allocated although the building work is not fully completed and we are considering how we can further expand in another ten year’s time.” Today, the company employs over 100 people, including 20 in Zurich.
Gérard Kohler, Harsch’s Director – Fine Arts, showed me round the new building with its five floors, each of 800 sq metres. Access to these floors is via an enormous lift that has been especially constructed to facilitate the moving of extra-large contemporary Fine Art canvases and sculptures.
Fine Art storage
A special state-of-the-art security floor is dedicated to Fine Art storage, which has a specially lit presentation room where owners of works of art can view their works in comfort and privacy or even display the art works to friends or potential purchasers. The main Fine Art storage area is also state-of-the-art with climate and dust-free controls.
Another floor has individual state-of-the-art security, air conditioned, individually fire-controlled storage rooms of differing sizes rented out to clients for their own personal storage use. Each “cabin” has telephone and Internet access, large entrance doors and is rented on quarterly basis.
Archive storage is another indicator of the changes that have taken place over the last 10 years in the way people do business. Gone are the days of excessive numbers of box files – today most companies archive the minimum amount of paper archives, concentrating instead on digital archiving systems. These systems demand a different approach to archiving.
The new archive floor at Harsch, The Art of Moving, has specially constructed archive storage and incorporates sliding rail systems on which large sets of archiving stacking sections slide. Digitally stored material has its own air-conditioned special section offering up-to-the-minute protection against microwaves and other potential damaging external elements. Other potential risks are avoided by the fact that everything is manual – so eliminating electrical risks – and there is a sophisticated smoke detection system linked directly to the local fire services.
The floor dedicated to general furniture storage is naturally lit so as to provide a comforting home for plants that are left there while their owners are living abroad – with air circulation and an ambient temperature to cosset the objects left in storage.
Relocation is an important indicator of the global approach to business. In dealing with expatriates, most international companies often have in place a company-wide policy and coaching system that includes spouses at an earlier stage in the decision-making process. The level of support differs by corporation but virtually always includes some level of relocation support.
Harsch, The Art of Moving, entered this field just six years ago employing just one person to handle the business; this department has now grown so that today it employs seven people in Geneva, two in Lausanne and one in Zurich, and has become one of the company’s most important departments for turnover development.
Typical Swiss expats will be living in housing provided by the employer, with most other expenses such as children’s education also paid by the employer. In theory, this is because they are still maintaining a home in their original country. Expatriate contracts are usually time limited, so the expats either move on to another assignment or are given a local contract without expat subsidies.
“In terms of sales,” says Bertrand Harsch, “international moving of expats, managers and directors, and also office moves – we did the office moves of several important banks – are the most important sector. After this comes Fine Art, including exhibitions such as those for museums. Relocation and Record storage come after but show the strongest growth of all these activities. All of these require specialist storage facilities, care and follow-up – which fit neatly into our portfolio of services.”
Article by Ita Mc Cobb