A quick history lesson.

As a port city with records showing cargo and passengers using the city back to the 12th century, Antwerp has a long, and varied history as a centre for business. The city is world famous as a hub for the global diamond, with the first diamond being cut in the city in 1476. This led to the city’s Diamond Quarter, which traces its roots back to the 16th century. To this day, this area features cutters and dealers in the world trade for these precious stones.

But this isn’t Antwerp’s only industry. Around the same time as the diamond trade bloomed, so did the fashion industry. The city was also heavily involved in the import and refining of sugar during the 16th century, and established its first petroleum refineries in the 1920’s and 30’s.

As with any port city, the shipping industry attracted a wealth of related businesses including import and export firms, banking establishments, insurance companies, and commission agents. The city also developed an impressive onward transport system, including road-haulage businesses and railway companies.

Now the second largest port in Europe, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is a crucial link in the global supply chain, but how will it stay that way?

Tomorrow’s technology, today.

Antwerp has come a long way since the first cargo ships arrived. As industry and technology has developed, the city has remained at the cutting edge of innovation. This extends both in the businesses which call it home, but also in the services, and facilities used within the city.

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges remains central to the life of the city. But how it operates now is vastly different from when it was founded. The port is now a global example of what can be achieved by integrating modern technology with fresh thinking.

At the heart of the port is the Antwerp Port Information and Control System (APICS) which monitors and coordinates everything throughout the port in real-time. But how? With a range of next-generation technology including high speed 5G networks, drones, smart cameras, and smart sensors. All of this works together to give unparalleled command and control to the port team.

But what comes next? Well, the port also includes The Beacon, a business centre with a focus on creating revolutionary maritime, city and business breakthroughs. With over 100 businesses in the facility, it’s a vibrant centre of innovation.

For the healthtech and medical industry, Antwerp already offers world-beating facilities. Within the city, we have the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Vaccinopolis at the University of Antwerp’s Drie Eiken campus, and 28 hospital campuses. This has already attracted many in the sector to setup here.

Some of these can be found at Antwerp’s health hub, Dunden. This location is home to more than 50 digital start-ups, giving them premises and expertise as they move into their scale-up phase.

Businesses within the city are working in many diverse fields, but one of particular interest is smart health. This is less one solution and more a range of complementary technologies and ideas aiming to improve health care for all. Current areas of development include integrating digital flows within hospitals and remote digital healthcare. By making better use of existing patient data and processing it with new technology, such as AI, care planning, diagnosis, and service management can be greatly improved for all.

Antwerp is also home to Europe’s biggest integrated chemical cluster, the second largest worldwide. With innovation hubs such as BlueChem, the city provides everything you need to help your business grow from concept, through start-up, then scale-up to maturity. Such is the city’s commitment to future technology and supporting a future proof chemical industry, that Antwerp was recognised for its commitment in the worldwide fDi Strategy Awards in 2024, achieving second place for strategy.

Current innovations include  @C, a CO2 reduction project initiated by the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. This ground-breaking carbon capture, utilisation and storage facility was made possible through the collaboration of seven leading chemical and energy companies: Air Liquide, BASF, Borealis, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Fluxys and Total Energies.

“At our BlueChem innovation hub, the physical presence of major companies such as ExxonMobil and Ineos is very important. That’s how we forge connections between start-ups and the chemical industry.” – Barbara Veranneman, Chairwoman at BlueChem

…so, what about Expats?

So, what does all of this have to do with ABRA? Innovation comes from fresh perspectives and new experiences, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to bring in experience from outside. As new businesses are founded and develop within the city, they will need knowledge, experience, and talent, which is where expats come in.

By recruiting experts from outside Belgium, businesses don’t just get someone’s qualifications, but also their ideas and life experience. That’s why so many large companies recruit globally. Which is where our members  come in. So, if you or your business would like to join this exciting period in Antwerp, then our members can help you find a home and settle in.

If you’d like to know more about the companies, facilities and benefits of Antwerp, we recommend that you check out the ‘Business in Antwerp’ website here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whilst there is little data on mobility by race or ethnicity, we can say that only around 20% of expatriates are women. This may stem from the expectation that women are the primary care givers within a family, but it highlights that businesses may not be doing enough to enable women to take advantage of opportunities, irrespective of their domestic situation.

It is unsurprising then that a Deloitte survey found that only 10% of global mobility teams are active in DE&I discussions. Or that only 15% actively track DE&I data for global mobility. But with international experience having clear benefits for leadership skills, an opportunity for more diverse leaders is being missed.

So, what can you do to bring the global picture in-line with the local one? How do you ensure consistent experience and standards throughout your business? And why does it matter?

Benefits of DE&I.

From cultural to neurodiversity, a varied team with different characteristics, identities and experiences can be a big business win.  Not only does it allow you to access a larger talent pool, leveraging the expertise of a diverse workforce can increase innovation by up to 20% according to the World Economic Forum.

Another important reason to incorporate DE&I initiatives is that they align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as support your Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It’s all connected…

We all want to be an attractive employer, and DE&I is a great way to improve your reputation.

Get some figures.

So, where to begin? The first place to start is to actively track DE&I information through your global mobility programme. This provides a clear starting point and give you a deeper understanding of how your company is performing.

This can often be one of the most daunting steps to take. But it does present an opportunity to start a dialogue with your internal teams to get them onboard at an early point.

Focus on outcomes, not actions.

All too often DE&I has been reduced to a series of checkboxes which, when complete, means that the job’s done. Right?

Well, that’s often not the case in the places it matters. With the people on the ground.

Once you have data of where your business is, the next step should be where you need to go. What SHOULD your global mobility proposition deliver? Which groups within your business are underrepresented within the expatriate cohort?

Asking questions like this will start to give you an appreciation of who is currently being left behind by your programmes and therefore who needs your help the most.

With that established, it’s time to engage with those groups within your business. You need to understand what blocks, real of perceived, are stopping them from taking these global positions and how you can help.

Build it in.

With what you plan to do and who for established, it’s time to break that down into steps, and integrate that within your business.

This will require that you work to deeply connect both your global mobility and DE&I processes from a top-level down. Establishing then refining policy frameworks and procedures which will ensure the successful delivery of desired outcomes.

You will need to ensure that this isn’t done solely as an HR directive. The Global Mobility teams within your business, and any third parties who you work with, will have invaluable insight and experience. By developing this aspect of your DE&I strategy in this way, you give it the greatest probability of long-term success by listening to those doing the job at a local level.

DE&I Training & Integration.

This isn’t as simple as getting your global mobility team on a course. They should be having those already.

We’re talking here about the teams where expatriates will be arriving. DE&I is not a global standard, it is a highly localised concept with members of the same country in different countries having wildly different expectations. Without care and thought going into this aspect of a relocation, problems can easily be built in.

So, ensuring a global level of best practice and training all members of your team to that standard is the first step. It is also wise to develop a programme to help new arrivals settle and integrate both with their new colleagues and new home. This can include assigning a local “buddy” within the office for each expat, arranging social events, and giving localisation, as well as language training.

Communication.

With all of this in place, you need to let your team know. Be clear where global mobility schemes have been unsuccessful previously and what you are looking to achieve now. Then ensure that you clearly let the target groups know that these opportunities are for them.

A good communications drive should be about letting members of your team know what they can be doing and how they can do it. Crucially, you should also address the common concerns and issues which under-represented groups raised to you previously. Acknowledge that these have been issues, then explain how they’ve been fixed.

Finally, book in a timeline for where and when feedback will be sought on the success of this new DE&I initiative. Make space and time to review how this is doing and then to refine what you’re doing even further.

For too long DE&I has been disconnected with global mobility programmes. In leaving it out, many will have missed out on invaluable life and professional experience. But, with care and by listening to those affected, we can ensure that this is no longer the case.

If you would like support in improving your global mobility programmes, especially with the relocation and integration of expatriate staff, then ABRA members can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Little videos remain big.

Short form video has been leading b2c and b2b communications for years. You need look no further than the 1.5 billion monthly active users on TikTok to see that. But as other social platforms have started to take the Asian giant at their own game, this is only the beginning.

So, whether you’re considering tinkering with TikTok, sampling YouTube shorts or having a ramble on Instagram Reels, 2024 is the year for it.

Whilst 90% of businesses interviewed by Amazon in 2023 were already using video, that last remaining 10% all cited the same issue: lack of time. It’s worth knowing that users aren’t necessarily looking for polished, professional content on these platforms. Instead, they’re looking for authentic, clear and fast information.

That’s right, you don’t need to hire a full camera crew to make it work. Just an idea, try it and see what happens.

If you’re thinking about taking a step into video, we recommend writing down a few ideas, then recording them over a few days. And, after a quick check for major issues, put them out into the world. Then ask your viewers what they think, see what people like. Use that to help to decide what to do next. And… repeat.

Recycling is everywhere.

For once, we’re not talking about the environment. Instead, think about how you can reuse your communications in imaginative ways.

The first, and obvious one with our first trend, is to put any content you make in different places. Don’t just make a TikTok, use a different edit of the video and turn it into a Short for YouTube, another change and you have a Reel for Instagram.

This applies with text too. If you’re posting on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, consider reusing similar, but edited, content on the different channels at different times. If your post isn’t time critical, this month’s post is next month’s tweet!

But this isn’t just about chopping about something you’ve done already. A blog post, with care, can be turned into an engaging infographic, images with text for Instagram and a podcast.

If it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying, slightly differently, elsewhere.

Just be mindful that you don’t put the same information out in different ways on five channels in the same week. After, if you do, why do people need to follow you in more than one place?

Rise of the machines.

As we mentioned last year, Artificial Intelligence (AI), is developing in many areas of business. In 2024 we expect to see the use of certain types of AI to continue to grow, specifically Chatbots.

These useful applications can act as first line sales and first line support. With careful implementation, your business will gain a 24/7 member of your team who can help your customers find meaningful and useful answers to their questions quickly.

Business leaders who have implemented a chatbot on their site have seen a 67% increase in sales as a result. Imagine what that level of increase could do for your business.

In fact, the AI industry projects that AI chatbots will become the primary customer support service for a quarter of all companies by 2027.

All of this, and you’ll gain more hours in your day as the basics of customer service are taken on by the AI. So, when are you getting yours?

The world is still on the move.

…thankfully for us!

Year-on-year, people are accessing websites, apps and services via their mobile devices more than any other type of device. It was 14 years ago, that Eric Schmidt, then-CEO of Google, coined the term “mobile first” as a design structure. But even all these years later, many businesses are not ensuring that their website and services work on mobile devices.

Currently, around 56% of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices. This makes it crucial that, if your website is the first contact a prospective customer or partner has with your business, the site works. As ever, you never get a second chance at a first impression, and if your first impression is of a broken, unusable website, it’s bad news.

But, more than that, many search engines, including Google, use mobile performance to decide where a site should appear on their results pages. So, having a non-mobile friendly site might result in your website being pushed down the rankings.

So, how can you tell?

The first thing is to use your own phone. Just visit your website and make sure everything is visible and works as well on your phone as it does on your laptop.

That’s the first step, the next is to run it through an online tool to get a more detailed look. There are many sites out there, but a site like mobiReady can take a look for issues that you won’t notice on your phone. Their page score will let you know if you’re doing well or actually have some areas of concern.

If there are areas for concern, then it’s time to speak to a specialist for a tune up. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people are visiting your website or service, if 56% of them can’t work the site when they arrive, does it?

Clarity of message.

2024 will be the year where clarity will be king. As we mentioned earlier, people are looking for authenticity. A more human, real connection, even from businesses.

We’ll see this in the continuing of the trend for clear, honest communication. This comes from a deep understanding of your potential client and what you bring to their world. What problems are you solving and how do you do it?

Once you understand that, tell them.

Be clear, be direct, be honest.

Remove the jargon and the pretense.

Let your customers understand how you will make their life better, and then do it.

This year, companies doing that will win big in 2024.

And there we have it! Our crystal ball predictions for what will make communications in 2024 look just that little bit different to 2023.

Are there any we missed? Or do you have any questions on the ones we’ve included? Find us on social media and let us know!

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The basics.

From Blade Runner to The Terminator, for most of us the concept of artificial intelligence has always felt a little Hollywood. A fantastical idea to underpin a great story, but nothing real. Yet here we are. AI is here and it’s here to stay. So, what is it really and how can we make it work for us?

At its core, AI is the ability for a computer to think like a human, or at least to appear to. This currently presents itself as computer programmes which are able to reason and learn from experience.

The recent explosion in awareness of AI has come from a new type of system based around a technology called Generative AI. This sounds fancy, but in practice it means a system that can create text, images, music or other media based on patterns it finds in examples which it is given called training data.

We can see this at work with today’s most popular AI system, ChatGPT. This is software which can create human-like text based on a user’s request. ChatGPT creates articles using information taken from a huge collection of text including books, articles, and web pages To this they add more information from news articles and Wikipedia.

All of this data is used to train software which is designed to mimic human thought. When the software has processed all of the data, ChatGPT can predict what text should come next in a sentence based on analysis of text it has seen before. It can also refine output to express specific feelings and make the text context appropriate. This leads to very natural, human-like text being produced by ChatGPT and systems like it.

Users can write a request on ChatGPT and ask it to produce original text on most topics. They can even request a specific tone or feel. So, if you’d like your marketing to sound like it was written by Shakespeare, ChatGPT can make that happen.

This same process is used by all other AI software, whether they’re creating text, images, video or any other types of media.

The limitations and risks of AI.

Whilst what they can do is amazing, current AI systems are far from human capabilities and bring risks of their own. Some headlines would make you think that the risks are a future in which Skynet takes over the world, but in reality, the concerns are a little more mundane, though no less important.

One concern is the sources of information used by these generative AI systems, as this data defines the capabilities of the AI. That is to say, if your AI isn’t trained with quality, reliable data, then this can lead to issues. There are concerns that, as more information and content is created by AI, this could lead to a downward trend for the quality and an increase in bias of the media these systems produce.

This reliance on data sources means that the system only knows what it is told. It is important to understand what information an AI system has access to before using it.

As discussed, Generative AI stores large amounts of information. Current systems use publicly available data, but, as the use of AI grows more sensitive or private information could be included within their training data. AI is as vulnerable as any other IT system to being hacked, so this will create concerns around privacy and security going forward.

Finally, there are also ghosts in the machine, a bit like Short Circuit, if you’re a fan of 80’s movies. Whilst we understand how the software within an AI is made, we don’t know how they actually process and reproduce information. This makes it hard to predict what an AI will do. We’re already seeing this with AI chatbots who have been found to be making up information, as has ChatGPT.

How can your business use AI today?

For all of the concerns, AI still has great potential and is something to think about for your business. In a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 80% of business leaders are already use generative AI regularly and are finding that it improves efficiency and performance.

But what can AI actually do for your company? Here are some of our favourite uses for AI available for your business today:

  • Customer Service – implementing an AI Chatbot, such as FreshChat on your website can help with fielding the first level of customer queries. By responding to frequently asked questions and simple requests, an AI can cut down on staff workload and reduce response times for customers.
  • Finance – Generative AI is great at spotting patterns and making predictions. This means it is perfect for fraud detection and financial forecasting for your business. A great AI forecasting tool is Datarails.
  • Transportation – AI driven apps like Waze are great for route planning and traffic prediction, ensuring you make your meetings on time.
  • Marketing – as marketing moves to deeper levels of automation, AI can help with customer segmentation, social media, and more accurate targeting for your marketing. When it comes to marketing AI, we’re fans of Sprout Social.

There still remains a lot of concern that AI will result in job losses for those in non-leadership roles. That’s why it’s crucial to keep in mind one important fact; AI is a tool. Integrating it into your business should be approached from a “people first” perspective, ensuring that it complements your team, not replaces them.

AI opens up new opportunities and roles within your business. Consider offering training on AI best practice and qualifications for the new tools to your team to empower them to use AI with confidence.

It’s also worth considering adding AI policies to your business. This will enable you to define acceptable use for AI as well as data protection and privacy expectations. If everyone understands what AI is and is not for, problems can be avoided before they occur.

The future is together.

AI is no longer science fiction, it’s science fact. By understanding what AI can (and can’t) do, you can make informed choices about when, where and how to add it to your business.

Whilst there’s no doubt that this technology will develop and grow in the weeks, months and years ahead, early adoption will help you make the most of this exciting technology. Successfully adding it to your business will increase efficiency and give you a competitive advantage, but only if done with care.

 

 

 

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Well, the first step is to build a plan of action to make your business a sustainable service provider. However, knowing where to start can be a challenge.

Thankfully EuRA, in collaboration with the Coalition for Greener Mobility, has produced a new white paper covering sustainable development goals for Destination Service Providers (DSPs). This includes details of the framework DSPs should use to develop and meet sustainability goals in all areas of their business.

The aim is to help you create your own Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It will help your business look beyond financial goals and begin to develop value within society. Part of this includes considering then managing environmental sustainability and social responsibility issues. An effective ESG programme should also describe how you monitor and review your performance and manage your business.

We recommend that ABRA members develop and adopt an ESG programme as a matter of best practice. To get you started, here are our top take aways from each section of the EuRA Sustainability White Paper.

Environmental Sustainability

A good ESG programme should be built into the fabric of your business. Your environmental planning should consider every operational perspective of your business, from the office to service delivery.

Within the office, consider:

  • Power suppliers – choosing suppliers who provide renewable energy has never been easier. This will have an instant impact on your business’s carbon footprint.
  • Paper consumption – the world has never been more digital. It’s worth taking the time to see which of your business practices can be taken fully digital. Moving away from printing unnecessarily will not only protect natural resources, but also save your business money in paper purchases and storage solutions.
  • Training – Ensuring that your team is fully up to date with business policy and best practices will help minimise your carbon footprint.

Service delivery can also have a strong impact on how sustainable your business is:

  • Work with the right people – ensure that you’re working with other companies who share your sustainability goals. If they don’t, provide them with guidelines covering your requirements and support them to become compliant with your needs.
  • Help your assignee – Providing information on public transport, sustainable power suppliers and recycling options will help your assignee start sustainably.
  • Consider how you move – Is it possible to use public transport or even to cycle for your team? Can service delivery occur at the weekend when traffic may be lower? By being conscious and minimising use of fossil fuelled powered vehicles, you can cut carbon emissions and save money.

Social Sustainability

The social side of an ESG programme is where you consider how your business impacts wider society. We’re not just talking about the environment though, this is also about the wellbeing and quality of life of customers, assignees and suppliers.

By considering what impact your business has on the lives of others, you can quickly develop a plan to be a positive force within your community.

  • Take care of your team – look at ensuring your team has a positive work life balance, that vacation means time off, not less calls, and that stress is kept to a minimum. You should also ensure that you’re providing an environment where your staff can develop skills and feel fairly compensated for their time.
  • Financial transparency – create and enforce equal pay and payment best practice policies. Also allocate annual budget to train your team and to achieve the business’s ESG goals.
  • Bring your customers along – inform and educate your customers on sustainability best practices. Making your own ESG programme easily accessible and a prominent part of your messaging can help here too.
  • Encourage your community – by actively engaging with your local community, your business can be a force for good for all. This can take the form of charitable work, sponsorships, internships or encouraging employees to let you know what the business could be involved in.

Governance

All DSPs are subject to checks, best practices, areas of compliance, reporting and policies to ensure their ethical and legal operation. ESG governance ensures accurate reporting, transparency of operations whilst pursuing integrity and diversity within leadership.

Key areas to think about within your business include:

  • Compliance – consider the policies and practices your business needs to follow. This can include GDPR, anti-money laundering and anti-bribery policies.
  • ESG/Sustainability Advocacy and Ownership – The success of any far-reaching policy hinges on consistent implementation. Tasking one or members of your team to own and implement the ESG programme is a great step towards success.
  • Risk Management – it’s crucial that you consider factors inside and outside your own business. Completing risk assessment of suppliers, partners and your own workforce will give you a clearer picture of business vulnerabilities and ways you and others can improve.
  • Write it down – Your entire ESG programme should be documented and available. There’s no point in creating a policy unless everyone who needs it can access and use it.

If you’d like to read the white paper in full, you can request your copy from the EuRA website. The EuRA sustainability framework is a living document, so it doesn’t cover every possible situation. If you think something important is missing, we’d love to hear about it to get it added to future versions.

ABRA is working towards our own ESG programme, which we aim to have in place during 2024. Our Sustainability Committee will define the programme roadmap, and objectives. Once completed, we will pass this on to all members and make it available to all.

If you would like to help with this process, then members may join our Sustainability Committee. If you would like more information, please contact us here.

You also might enjoy EuRA’s Sustainability Training Series, an interactive webinar programme. To find out more, or to access the session recordings, visit EuRA.

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The Power of Empathy

Last year, ABRA keynote speaker Bart De Leeuw of The Oval Office introduced us to the Empathy Value Index. The first of its kind, their evidence-based research tool proved a direct link between empathy and key performance indicators for brands. To put it simply, brands need to mean what they say, understand their customers needs, ensure the customers feel they are empathic to these needs, and follow through on promises made.

When brands get this heady mix right, good things happen. The higher a brand scores on the Empathy Value Index, or EVI, the more likely consumers are to identify with it. Four times more likely in fact. This positive identification in turn is reflected in how likely consumers are to consider the brand (x2.7), buy it (x2.8) and become loyal (x3.4) to the brand. And with 81% of brands easily replaced in customers’ hearts and minds, the race is on to join the 19% of meaningful businesses. So does the same hold true for employer-employee relations?

Empathy as Foundational Value

It most certainly does. Businessolver’s 2022 State of the Workplace Empathy Study reports that including empathy as a foundational value is fast becoming of vital importance in the post-COVID world. Not only do 72% of employees believe that empathy drives employee motivation, 84% of CEOs believe that empathy drives better business outcomes. From investing in mental wellbeing to embracing diversity, leading with empathy pays.

The Oval Office’s 2022 Empathy Value Index Employer Edition echoes these findings. Expectations have changed and no longer do we work to survive (as our grandparents did), or to guarantee a certain standard of living (like our parents); instead we work to ensure our quality of life. And it’s not just a Gen Z thing either: Gartner reports the pandemic has caused nearly seven in 10 employees to rethink the role of work in their lives so time to sit up and take note.

Empathy has an undeniable impact on the recruitment, retention, and motivation of your employees, also in the event of changes.

Opportunity for Leadership

Employees that work for an empathic employer experience 3.1 times more overall job satisfaction and are 2.6 times more receptive to change according to The Oval Office. What’s more, employees who see their employer as empathic are 1.6 times more likely to stay with the company and are 4.4 times more prepared to recommend their employer to others.

Opportunities for growth (+350%), additional training (+300%) and a supportive work environment (+270%), are all key drivers for job satisfaction. In today’s ongoing war for talent, these numbers create serious food for thought for employers and their HR departments. So what makes for an empathic employer?

5 Pillars of Empathy

Expectations are high when it comes to empathy in the workplace. The fact that we all want to feel heard, understood, and valued is a given. We all have a unique personality, our own way of working and private lives that come with challenges, and we value an employer who understands this and genuinely cares about our wellbeing. In other words, they GET ME.

Whether it’s equal career opportunities and remuneration, or gender, religion, sexual orientation, colour, or any other human parameter, we want our employers to be FAIR TO ME. No less than 53% of people with a different ethnic background reported having left a previous employer because they felt not everyone was given the same opportunities.

Of course, communication is a two-way street, but an employer who COMMUNICATES WITH ME creates loyalty and commitment. Employees who feel ‘part of the family’ are prepared to go to greater lengths to achieve great things for the team, so fostering openness and transparency really does matter.

Additionally, being able to be our authentic self goes a long way towards creating an environment where colleagues form a genuine team. A healthy and inspiring work environment is a place where no one takes a job well done for granted. Appreciation is employees’ number one priority, and a good employer SHOWS ME they really do care.

Finally, an empathic employer EMPOWERS ME. I feel valued and appreciated and am trusted to determine my own work-life balance. Similarly, I’m stimulated to continue developing professionally. Almost 1 in 4 employees state developing skills is one of their top 5 most important requirements.

Empathy in Mobility

As mobility professionals, we’re well-versed with the trials and tribulations of our expats and their employers. Empathy is high when it comes to adapting to cultural change and the massive emotional and practical impact of an international move. But do we afford our own teams the same level of empathy? Are we managing to attract and retain the talent we need? Just like any other industry, we’re feeling the pressure, so it’s high time to be honest with ourselves.

From the 85% of people who worry about losing their jobs and paying the bills to the 57% who experience racism and prejudice, we all need a little more love and understanding. The good news is 40% of global consumers will go out of their way to help others and 28% say they want to be even more compassionate the coming months. And for 46% of European teens, being a good person is on the top of their list when they think about the future.

EuRA Conference speaker Ken E. Nwadike Jr. would be proud.

 

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BUSINESS AS USUAL

The Paradox of Sustainable Mobility

The concept of sustainable mobility might appear paradoxical at first. After all, moving expats around the world involves flights, home searches, shipping of goods and all sorts of other activities great and small that create harmful emissions. Processing residency applications uses electricity, computers need replacing as they age, and what about those hyperscale data centres that keep us in the cloud?

Identifying the environmental impact of an entire value chain is a bit like identifying the length and thread count of a piece of string. Where does it begin and where does it end? How many fibres are entwined? Thankfully, there are organisations out there who will help you calculate everything from the product environmental footprint of the soft drinks your company fridge stocks to the impact of all those emails you are sending and receiving, should you be inclined to find out such things.

And indeed, with so much technology at our fingertips we can work effectively from pretty much anywhere in the world, so reducing global moves seems a quick environmental win. Why relocate at all?

I’d be preaching to the choir if I tried to explain the importance of global mobility to our loyal readership and how it contributes to creating successful, and indeed sustainable, teams. Yes, mobility incurs emissions, and yes, we must try and lower them in every way we can. But there are many ways in which we can do our bit for the planet without sentencing ourselves to a world in which all business is conducted by video link.

Net-Zero Emissions

It will not have passed you by that, especially in the wake of COP26, there is a lot of talk about achieving net-zero. Briefly put, a company achieves net-zero emissions when its activities and those of its value chain have zero impact on climate and help limit global warming to 1,5 degrees. It essentially means we are doing no further harm.

According to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), this can be achieved by assessing a company’s impact across three categories, or scopes. Scope 1 covers direct emissions: fuels used for production, vehicles, etc. Scope 2 takes indirect emissions into account, such as energy used for heating (or cooling) buildings and powering those laptops. Scope 3 involves emissions up and down the value chain, which includes all services and products bought or sold.

Achieving scopes 1 and 2 is (theoretically speaking) relatively easy if you’re in service delivery. It means banning use of all fossil fuels by introducing a fully electrified fleet and using renewable energy to heat, cool, and power your facility (and fleet). Achieving scope 3 is more complex, as we must start taking all activities into account.

Because what is the environmental footprint of updating beds, sofas, and curtains if you’re a serviced housing provider? What happens to your moving trucks when you replace them? What type of investments does your company pension plan make on your behalf? Is the paper in your printer fsc certified? What type of energy powers your local town hall? Your mobile provider? And how ‘green’ are the pigments in the crayons your students use?

How long precisely is your piece of string and what is your baseline measure?

Moonshot Missions

Suffice to say, there’s an awful lot to consider when it comes to achieving net-zero emissions. There are countless industry spearheads who are making great strides towards achieving net-zero and their commitment and efforts should be applauded and encouraged. But at the same time, we ought to take a broader view of sustainability. Not only does it make sustainability feel less like a moonshot mission, it’s also infinitely more beneficial to our planet. Because net-zero only looks at carbon emissions and there is so much more that threatens our way of life.

In just 50 short years, Earth Overshoot Day (the day each year upon which we have used up more resources than our planet has to offer) has shifted from December (1971) to July (2022). If we want to sustain today’s lifestyle, we need not one, but 1.75 planets Earth. In other words, we are depleting our planet’s resources faster than it can regenerate them. And that’s just our natural resources.

Biodiversity loss is accelerating at an alarming rate and is widely recognised as an even bigger threat than climate change. And despite the impetus created by movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the daily reality is that socio-economic inequality remains on the rise. So, much as net-zero emissions must be achieved (and not just by way of carbon compensation programmes), it only covers a small part of the global solution.

Understanding Sustainability

It is perhaps important to revisit the definition of sustainability at this point. The dictionary tells us that something is sustainable when it can be maintained at a certain rate or level. It can fulfil the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations. And this doesn’t just mean environmental sustainability, it means sustainable economic growth and a healthy, cohesive society too. But if we’re depleting our planet to the point that we need an Earth-and-three-quarters to fulfil today’s needs, then shouldn’t we be looking to give back more than we take? And this means giving back on all fronts, not just natural resources.

Back in 2021, Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting explained sustainability to us in words we could understand: “Sustainability becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (emissions, biodiversity, recycling, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.).”

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

This is where the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals come into play. The UN has identified no less than 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’. These Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, offer a roadmap to all the ways in which we can help contribute to a better world for all.

Belgium comes in ahead of the global curve on the SDGs. We have access to clean water and good sanitation; we enjoy quality healthcare and an educational system that sets us up for job opportunities and solid economic growth. Our cities and communities are becoming increasingly sustainable, with green parks replacing swathes of urban concrete.

There are all manner of platforms that help us reduce food waste, share bikes, cars and scooters, and we enjoy widespread access to public transport. We have access to clean energy (although the energy crisis means its affordability is debatable) and live in a peaceful nation with a fair justice system. Gay marriage is a legal right and women enjoy leading positions in both the private and public sectors (though equal pay remains an issue).

REGENERATIVE BUSINESS

The Positive Compass

We might have a lot going for us, but we face some major issues too. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, one in 10 children in Belgium lives in extreme poverty, and despite the so-called ‘betonstop’ ten football pitches of open space disappear annually. As a society, we need to challenge ourselves to not just do no further harm, but to restore, regenerate, and make the world a better place altogether. Businesses have an important role to play here.

Our September Member Meeting keynote speaker Niels de Fraguier introduced a dynamic and holistic approach to making change happen. The Positive Compass is a great way of making sense of what being an ethical organisation means. It details how you can be part of the global solution by becoming a regenerative business. Built on five key pillars – Purpose, Planet, People, Partners, Places – it helps identify key areas in which you and your organisation can start making a difference.

Take advantage of The Positive Compass’s free toolkits; they are invaluable if you want to become a purpose driven organisation that leverages business as a force for good.

Empowering Transformational Change

When we hold the Positive Compass pillars up against the SDGs, becoming a sustainable, regenerative business starts looking less like having to scale Mount Everest and more like trekking up Ben Nevis. Introduce volunteer days where team members give back to the community or clean up flyaway litter. Plant a Tiny Forest next to your office and give local biodiversity a boost. Add a beehive or two and replace the sugar in your canteen with your own honey (it’s healthier and doesn’t get more local than this). Introduce a great mental health plan for team members. Be an equal opportunities employer. Involve your team and brainstorm all the ways in which you too can become a more sustainable organisation.

The opportunities are endless, and it is up to you to take action. So that the next time you receive an RFP that requires clarification on your sustainability efforts, you’ll be able to say you are taking positive action to not only reduce your organisation’s environmental footprint but to improve the world around you. Of course, the impact of each individual business is different, and a shipping company will need to do more than introduce a butterfly garden in the office parking lot to offset the impact of shipping a container halfway around the world. We must each uncover our own baselines and build from there.

using business as a force for good

Sustainability Symposium EuRA Dublin 2023

Creating sustainability in mobility is a massive task and not one any one company can tackle alone. It’s why mobility industry associations EuRA, WERC, CERC, FIDI Global Alliance, IAM and CHPA have joined forces to create a Sustainability in Mobility Coalition. They have spent the past year working alongside each other to develop a pioneering approach to helping their members across disciplines achieve their sustainability goals.

ABRA, the Association of Belgian Relocation Agents, is proud to support their work as an Affiliate Coalition Member. If you are attending the upcoming EuRA Relocation Conference in Dublin this April, then be sure to join the Symposium on Tuesday the 25th to learn what has been done already and how we can implement best practices.

We hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

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We first reported on the rise of conscious capitalism back in 2016, when we interviewed Elisa French of Ceeyana for ReLocate on how this new world view is impacting the way we do business. Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting confirms that the pandemic has amplified this megatrend, making it tangible across the generations. With offices in seventeen countries worldwide, InSites Consulting is uniquely placed to quantify this global shift in perspective on sustainability. As the firm’s co-founder, Joeri Van den Bergh likes to push boundaries, especially when it comes to market research.

Positive Impact Company
We republish this interview with permission of the Spadel Group, home of Bru and Spa mineral waters, from their sustainability platform Source of Change. Creating a more sustainable world, accelerating the circular economy and joining a climate neutral society are the main drivers for this Belgian family owned organisation that is on track to becoming a Positive Impact Company. As Spadel Group CEO Marc du Bois puts it: “We share an inherent connection with our natural resources and the regions in which we operate. Recognising the power of our actions, we commit to protect, restore and rethink the world around us.”

Climate Protests
In 2019 the fight against climate change dominated the headlines. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, children around the world bunked off school to protest global warming, proving Generation Z won’t be silenced. The ongoing demand to ‘do better’ ensured the climate issue was firmly placed centre stage and in September 7.5 million people took to the streets, frustrated by government inaction and half-hearted corporate promises. That summer, InSites Consulting launched a study to uncover which issues mattered most to our communities.

“84% of Europeans aged 15 or over feel sustainability is ‘important’ or ‘hugely important’,” explains Joeri Van den Bergh. “And this is even higher with the younger generations, with almost 9 out of 10 Millennials (aged 14 to 24) and Gen Zs (aged 25 to 39) ranking it as a top priority. Generation X (aged 40 to 55) tends to be most sceptical; being critical is a typical Gen X response. They often consider corporate sustainability efforts to be a commercial strategy rather than about contributing positively to the environment. Even so, 8 out of 10 feel sustainability is important.”

Global Pandemic
In 2020 a new fight dominated the headlines. This time a global pandemic had us sheltering in place, introducing terms such as social distancing and lockdowns into our vocabulary. So did COVID-19 become more important than climate change? InSites’ second study asked the same questions as in 2019, and more, charting a clear evolution.

 

“During the first lockdown we found that the younger generations were less concerned with their own health, but very much so with that of their parents and grandparents,” says Joeri. “The impact of the virus on the economy and job security were also major concerns, but the health of our planet remained a top priority as the impact of the lockdowns on quality of life and the environment became apparent. With the roads clear of traffic, air quality improved. People started noticing flyaway litter and became aware of the amount of packaging they were using now that everything ended up in the bin at home. Similarly, people made a point of using what was in the fridge rather than letting it go to waste.”

“The leading conclusion to come out of the 2020 study was that none of the issues became less pressing in people’s minds. A number of issues became more important, such as CO2 reduction, but it was the social and local aspects that received the biggest boost. Despite – or precisely because of – the economic downturn consumers realised how important it is to support independent retailers, rather than the big chains. Seeing how dependent we are on the global supply chain also made people think about becoming more self-sufficient. Topics like the circular economy and buying locally have gained a lot of traction thanks to COVID.”

Understanding Sustainability
“Sustainability is a broad issue,” continues Joeri. “It becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (recycling, packaging, emissions, biodiversity, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.). If you look at the top 5 spontaneous associations with sustainability, you’ll see they are all linked to what’s better for our planet.”

“Sustainability can be confusing for the average consumer. When we buy organic cotton, we think we are doing the right thing as it is farmed without pesticides. But cotton needs huge amounts of fresh water; a limited resource. Perhaps it’s been imported from the other side of the world, creating emissions. Or workers may not have been paid a fair wage, making it a lot less sustainable than a traditional cotton produced locally. So it might be better for yourself, but it isn’t necessarily better for the planet or for society. We expect an organic label to mean sustainably produced at a fair wage – or fair trade to mean organically produced and good for the environment – but these are three entirely different things.”

“Enjoying brand preference and receiving ‘license to play’ a role in consumers lives will depend on whether or not you are sustainable.”

Conscious Consumers
About half of Europeans believe they live a sustainable lifestyle, with the other half saying they don’t. The top reasons for this being ‘I don’t know what I can do’; ‘the subject is too complex’; ‘it takes too much effort’; or ‘it’s expensive’. Education on these topics is an important part of creating a more conscious consumer believes Joeri, as well as making sustainable choices easily accessible.

“It’s important for brands to invest in sustainability. It positively reflects on your brand, with over half of consumers – across all generations – agreeing sustainable brands are more up to date. Seven out of ten admit to thinking more positively of companies and brands that actively reduce their ecological footprint. Additionally, consumers believe sustainable products to be better quality. Finally, it’s a big part of employer branding. People want to work for employers that share their personal values, and purposeful work helps attract young talent.”

The InSites study not only confirms the importance of taking a sustainable approach to business, but also serves to highlight quite how deeply ingrained the desire for a better world has become across the generations. Understanding all aspects of sustainability – better for me, better for the planet, better for society – is simply the first step in becoming a company with a positive impact.

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Deferral of Payment and Guarantees

The banks and the government are very much aware of the difficult situation in which both companies and individuals now find themselves. They want to support and financially support them as much as possible. In this way, they have every opportunity to get through this turbulent period as well as possible and to quickly find a stable financial situation as soon as the corona crisis has subsided.

Together with the Minister of Finance, and with the support of the National Bank of Belgium, the sector has worked out an agreement for viable companies, based on two pillars:

■ The financial sector is committed to viable businesses and the self-employed as well as mortgage borrowers who are at risk of payment problems by postponing the corona crisis until 30 September 2020, and this without charging any costs.

■ The federal government will activate a guarantee scheme for all new loans and credit lines with a maximum term of 12 months, granted by banks to viable non-financial businesses and the self-employed.
These support measures are intended to provide financial flexibility in order to to enable taxpayers to overcome temporary financial difficulties.

Quick Overview

a. Which companies?
Natural or legal persons with an enterprise number (ECB/KBO):
∞ regardless of their sector of activity
∞ who are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the spread of the coronavirus and can demonstrate this (e.g., a decrease in the number of business, a significant drop in orders and/or reservations, chain reaction effects with partner companies, etc.). Support measures may not be granted to undertakings which, regardless of coronavirus, experience structural payment problems.

b. What debts?
∞ Withholding tax (bedrijfsvoorheffing / précompte professionel)
∞ VAT (payment deadlines are extended interest free)
∞ Personal income tax
∞ Corporate income tax
∞ Taxation of legal persons

c. What is the timeframe?
∞ Application to be submitted no later than 30 June 2020

d. What measures?
∞ Payment plan
∞ Exemption from interest on arrears
∞ Remission of fines for non-payment

e. What conditions?
∞ Compliance with the conditions for filing declarations
∞ debts must not result from fraud

Support measures will be withdrawn in the event of:
∞ failure to comply with the payment plan granted, unless the debtor takes
timely contact with the administration
∞ occurrence of collective insolvency proceedings (bankruptcy, judicial reorganisation, …)

f. What steps?
Contact your bookkeeper for further details and the links to the correct documents for your region.

Social Security Contributions

Option 1. Postponement of Payment

Entrepreneurs in main occupation and assisting spouses may apply for deferral of payment of 1 year if they experience difficulties due to the coronavirus. You do not pay any surcharges or interest (in case of timely payment in 2021) and your rights will continue to accrue.

Which Quarters:
∞ 1st quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 31 March 2020 to 31 March 2021
∞ 2nd quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021

Deadline Request:
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 1
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 2

How to apply:
Send your bookkeeper an e-mail with the following details and request a postponement:
– Surname and first name
– Place of residence
– Name and seat of your company
– Company number
– Professional activity in which you are active

Please note: direct debit customers must notify the bank themselves. If they fail to do so, social security contributions will still be credited in the event of postponement of payment.

The measure concerning the postponement by one year of the payment of social security contributions for the first two quarters of 2020, as well as the regularisation contributions due on 31 March 2020, is extended to ALL categories of self-employed workers (i.e. not only applicable to self-employed workers in their main profession and assisting spouses). In view of the economic impact of the emergency measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the application for deferral of the first quarter 2020 contributions may be submitted until 15 June 2020.

Option 2: Reduction of Social Security Contribution

You can have your social contribution reduced to the legal thresholds when your income is reduced. Overview Thresholds: https://www.xerius.be/nl-be/zelfstandigen/sociale-zekerheid/drempelbedragen

Option 3: Temporary Financial Difficulties Exemption

You can request an exemption due to ‘temporary financial difficulties’ for the social security contributions of the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2020. If you want to apply for a waiver of your fees for these two quarters, we recommend that you do so before you receive the statement for the second quarter. An application for future quarters is not possible. This is only available to the full time self-employed and their and assisting spouses in the maxi statute.

If you receive a positive advice, you will not build up any pension rights for these two quarters (this is provisional and can be adjusted due to coronavirus), although your social security (health care) status will not be affected. Also keep in mind that you will have to have been active in this statute for at least 4 quarters. This too may be relaxed, but this is not yet clear.

For the time being, there are no simplified application forms and you have two options: submit directly to the government or as a customer of Xerius via this form. If you have a different social secretariat, please check their website for the relevant paperwork.

However, we are in favour of applying for a postponement of payment first. You can always apply for the exemption later (before the end of 2020).

Replacement Income
(overbruggingsrecht or droit passerelle)

For whom?
YES: ALL self-employed persons in main profession and assisting spouses in maxi statute.
NOT: Self-employed as a secondary profession, pensioners, student self-employed and self-employed persons with equal secondary profession.

Please note: this is considered as a replacement income and cannot be combined with any other benefit (during this break you may also NOT start working as an employee).
Starting date of the entrepreneur does not matter and it is also available to sole proprietors and company managers. The sector in which they are active does not matter either.

The Replacement Income can be combined with the Flemish Nuisance Allowance. If you want to take advantage of this, you must apply for it yourself. Replacement Income is paid out by your social insurance fund (Xerius, Acerta, Liantis, …).

Amount of Payment:
∞ Active in the hospitality industry (even if you do not close your business completely and still offer takeaway meals and close your business for at least one day).

∞ Other sectors (where you are obliged to close your business completely or partially due to the corona virus) and interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days.

∞ Other sectors that close down as a precaution, or because they have too few customers.

They receive a benefit of 1,291.69 euros (or 1,614.10 euros in case of dependants) for either March or April, depending on which month you interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days. Are your activities interrupted for at least 7 consecutive days in both months? Then you can get a replacement income in both March and April.

How to apply and when can you expect your payment?
Option 1: Send an e-mail to your social insurance fund and mention the following in the e-mail:
o Apply for a replacement income because of corona virus,
o your name, first name and place of residence,
o your customer number, which you will find on your statement or on the back of your identity card (your national registration number is also your customer number).
o your company number and the name and registered office of your company,
o the sector in which you are active and briefly outline the reason(s) why you had to interrupt the activities as a result of the coronavirus.
o the period of interruption: the date that you stop your activities and possibly the date that you resume your activities (the latter date is currently not yet estimable for most people, so it is not necessary to indicate this).
o the bank account number to which the payment may be made.

Also answer the following questions in your e-mail:
o Do you have at least one dependant (wife, cohabitant, parent, grandparent, child,…)?
o Do you exercise a professional activity during the cessation or interruption of your self-employed activity? Or are you still a mandatary or working partner in another company?
o Do you receive a replacement income during the period of interruption?

Option 2: Fill in the simplified application form for ‘coronavirus’ replacement income, sign and send it to your social insurance fund.

Please note: Application in both options must be done by yourself. Your accountant of course will assist you if you have any questions about this.

Hindrance Premium
(hinderpremie or prime unique)

The Hindrance Premium is determined on the basis of the establishment unit of the entrepreneur and applies to forced closures of physical locations (excl. pick-up). There is only a premium of 4,000 euros. The premium of 2,000 euros has been abolished in Flanders. Brussels and Wallonia apply different rules (for the time being) – see further down.

FLANDERS
– 1 establishment:
o 4,000 euros per forced closure and only for physical locations (excl. collection) – proof by declaration on honour
o Pay at least as main professional or 1 FTE as salary

– Multiple locations:
o You receive the Hindrance Premium for a maximum of 5 locations.
o Paying at least as a main professional or 1 FTE as an employee.

The Flemish Hindrance Premium can be applied for up to and including May 5, so you certainly have plenty of time to submit your application.

Download the various documents from the ABRA website.
Apply for the Flemish Hindrance Allowance with this link.

What do you need to have at hand?
∞ Your e-ID and your e-ID pin code (or your smartphone if you log on via itsme).
∞ An active Belgian account number of your company on which the premium can be paid (in IBAN format, i.e. consisting of 16 characters starting with BE,
followed by 2 digits and then the 12 digits of your account number)
∞ Check your normal opening days, as they were before the coronavirus measures
∞ Main or secondary profession
∞ In case of a secondary occupation: do you pay social security contributions like a main occupation? Only auxiliary professionals who pay the minimum contributions of a main professional are eligible.
∞ The website address (url) of your company if you have one
∞ Do you have multiple branches? Be sure to select the right branch for which you are applying for the premium.

Tips:
∞ This premium is tax exempt.
∞ The further promotion of webshops has NO influence on the granting of the premium when a physical location is present.
∞ The Belfius card reader and probably also at other banks can be used as an E-ID reader.
∞ If you do not have an active branch in the KBO or if the position(s) is (are) not correct, you cannot apply for a nuisance bonus (this can possibly still be rectified via the Ondernemingsloket).

WALLONIA
a. Tax freeze in Wallonia
For its part, the Walloon government has frozen all regional taxes related to the number of days that the businesses are closed, prorated to the number of days they are closed.

b. Closure Compensation
Compensation of 5,000 euros per closed company in Wallonia The Walloon Government grants a lump-sum compensation of 5,000 euros for each business that has closed or ceased operations during the period of containment. The sectors concerned are horeca, accommodation, travel agencies and reservation services, retail, as well as travel and provision of services (e.g. beauticians). An indemnity of 2,500 euros is also provided for companies with the activity is restricted, including hairdressers.

■ The information number 1890 remains available for entrepreneurs and Walloon independents.

BRUSSELS
The Brussels government, for its part, has decided to support the treasury of the companies affected through the granting of public guarantees on bank loans for a total of EUR 20 million. It also intends to strengthen support for companies in difficulty via the Centre for Enterprises in Difficulty (CED). Simplification and administrative benevolence towards the companies and businesses affected as well as the anticipation of the treatment and liquidation of economic aid to priority destination for the Horeca, cultural, hotel and event sectors are also applicable.

■ The information number 1819 centralizes all information for companies and entrepreneurs in Brussels.

Compensation Premium Entrepreneurs

As of last week, the Flemish government is providing an additional support measure for entrepreneurs who are not obliged to close down (and therefore cannot apply in conjunction with the Nuisance Premium), but who are still experiencing a large loss of turnover due to the Corona crisis. This is the Compensation Premium. They are still working on the application and correct modalities, for now you can find the latest information on the VLAIO website.

This new premium is aimed at companies and their suppliers who are allowed to continue working or shops that remain open but have a large loss of sales due to the restrictive measures, which can show that they have a loss of sales of -60% in the period between 15 March 2020 and 30 April compared to the same period last year.

For start-ups, a decrease in turnover of -60% compared to the financial plan laid down will be taken into account. NPOs are also eligible, provided that at least one person is employed full time.

Examples: companies in the events sector that also employ many freelancers; (para-) medical professions such as physiotherapists, dentists, psychologists or speech therapists who are only allowed to carry out urgent interventions; companies that provide essential food services such as praline shops or liquor traders, but still suffer a heavy loss of turnover due to lack of passage or tourists; painters or plumbers who are only allowed to carry out urgent repair work; farmers who work specifically for hotel and catering customers, etc….

Amount of Aid
∞ The aid includes a one-off compensation premium of €3,000;
∞ There is a maximum of 5 premiums per company if there are more than one operating seat per company.
∞ Self-employed persons in a secondary occupation, who pay social security contributions as a self-employed person in their main occupation due to the level of income, can also receive the compensation premium of € 3,000;
∞ Self-employed persons in secondary occupation who have an income between € 6,996.89 and € 13,993.78 can claim a compensation premium of € 1,500. This premium also applies to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who are obliged to close, but does not apply to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who combine this with a job as an employee of 80% or more.

More information is not yet available at time of publication and so we advise you to refer to the VLAIO website where the application will shortly be made available.

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Temporary Unemployment

Under certain conditions, you can apply for temporary unemployment for the employees you can no longer employ full or part time due to the Corona crisis. By introducing this temporary unemployment benefit, you temporarily suspend the employee’s employment contract. The Belgian government has introduced a simplified procedure, which originally ran until 6 April but has since been extended until 31 May 2020. Please note that this is only one measure taken by the Belgian government and that there are still measures to which you may have recourse. Furthermore, we cannot stress enough that the Belgian government regularly adapts these measures.

Procedure

Not every employer can claim this temporary unemployment. Only those employers who are directly affected by Covid-19, as a result of which the employees can no longer perform their duties at all or only partially, can make use of this specific procedure. Examples are: a shop has been closed, sales representatives can no longer visit customers and do not have enough tasks to perform at home, orders are no longer coming in,…

Not all employment contracts should be suspended. Only those employees who cannot work more or less because of their position are eligible for this. If, as an employer, you wish to apply for temporary unemployment, you can do so via a simplified procedure until 31 May 2020. This means that you let your Payroll Business Partner know which days the employees will work and which days they will be unemployed. Pro-Pay takes care of the necessary electronic declaration of these days of unemployment so that the NEO knows to which benefit the employee is entitled.

It is possible to suspend the employment contracts either completely (the employee no longer works) or partially (the employee still works one or more days per week). If partial unemployment is chosen, the employer determines how many days the employee can still work. The employees do not have to agree to this. Of course, they do have to be informed about the days they still have to work and which days they will be unemployed. This notification to the employees can take any form, an e-mail may be sufficient in some cases.

The Benefit

Workers who are temporarily unemployed must contact either their trade union (if they are affiliated to it) or the “Unemployment benefits fund” in order to open a file and obtain unemployment benefits. You can open a file at the “Unemployment benefits fund” online. The union or the help fund will then pay the unemployment benefits into the worker’s bank account on a monthly basis. Unemployment benefits amount to 70% of the gross monthly salary. However, the gross wage is limited to EUR 2,754.76. In addition, the unemployment office pays EUR 5.63 per day of unemployment. On both amounts 26.75% withholding tax is withheld.

In some sectors, there is an additional obligation to pay a supplement on top of this unemployment benefit. In addition, it is possible to pay a supplement voluntarily. This supplement can be granted free of social security contributions on condition that the total of the unemployment benefit + the supplement(s) does not exceed the taxable salary that the employee would have earned if he had worked.

If the employees are partially unemployed, they receive their normal salary for the days they work. Temporary unemployment days will be assimilated for pension purposes. Currently, there is no equivalence for the accrual of holidays and holiday pay, but according to various press releases, there would be a legislative initiative to put this on an equal footing.

With regard to the assimilation of end-of-year bonuses and other benefits granted at sectoral level, it will be necessary to examine what has been agreed within the Joint Committee. It cannot be ruled out that agreements will still be concluded in the sectors to assimilate this exceptional period to effective performance if this was not already the case.

Attention: if the employees only work at home and previously received an expense allowance because they had a mobile function, this expense allowance can no longer be granted. Instead, the government has increased the monthly reimbursement for office expenses (see further down).

Withholding Tax

The authorities grant a two-month deferment of payment of the withholding tax on earned income.
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings February 2020 extended to May 13, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings March 2020 extended to June 15, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings April 2020 extended to July 15, 2020
• Payment period withholding tax on earnings 1st quarter 2020 extended to June 15, 2020

In addition to this deferral, you can also apply to receive an exemption from default interest or remission of fines, or request a repayment plan. Such an application must be submitted before June 30, 2020. Note: this does not happen automatically! Contact your Payroll Business Partner for assistance.

Social Security

As far as the employer’s contributions for social security are concerned, different support measures apply. Companies that are closed on government order can benefit from an automatic deferment of payment of social security contributions until December 15, 2020.

Companies that are not obliged to close but that suffer from the Corona crisis economically can apply for a deferment of payment of social security contributions until December 15, 2020 provided they submit a motivated application file with the social security authorities. Apart from the deferment of payment, an amicable payment plan is another option offered by the NSSO to companies in difficulties.

Office Costs and NSSO

Employees who work from home on a structural and regular basis can receive compensation from their employer for this. Since the costs related to working from home are relatively small and difficult to prove, the NSSO accepts that these costs are estimated on a flat-rate basis. For a number of costs, including the compensation for homeworking, the NSSO itself has fixed lump sums, as well as the conditions that apply to the granting of these lump sums.

The fixed compensation that the NSSO uses for office costs covers the costs of heating, electricity, small office equipment, insurances,… The allowance may be granted to employees who do not have a workplace with the employer or – if they do have a workplace with the employer – when their position shows that they work from home on a regular basis.

Employees who previously did not work from home, but are now forced to do so by the Covid-19 measures, can also be granted this compensation without the employer having to conclude a formal teleworking agreement with the employee. This is also possible if the employee works partly from home and is temporarily unemployed.

In addition to this maximum amount of €129.48, the employer can also compensate the following matters on a lump-sum basis:
∞ €20 per month if the employee uses his/her own PC for professional purposes;
∞ €20 per month if the employee uses his/her private internet connection for professional purposes.

Of course, these lump sums can only be granted if the office and internet costs are not reimbursed to the employee in any other way. Please note that the NSSO also uses other fixed amounts for forms of teleworking and homeworking besides the fixed amount for office costs, which are not discussed in this newsletter.

The Tax Authorities

The reimbursement of €129.48 for office expenses can be granted free of social security contributions if the conditions for granting the allowance have been met. The tax authorities do not have a similar official position regarding a fixed amount for office costs, but often follow the position of the NSSO on this matter.

However, if you want certainty from a tax point of view about the application of a fixed amount for the reimbursement of office costs, a ruling must be requested from the tax administration. The ruling service of the tax authorities has provided a simplified procedure specifically for obtaining a ruling for the reimbursement of telework during the corona crisis.

www.propay.be/en

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In many organisations, all three are considered Mobility’s customers. Identifying key customers and their priorities is a vital step to achieving lasting, positive outcomes. Responses to the question on how mobility defines success, we can see that 87% of companies prioritise business satisfaction. These answers indicate that the business is Mobility’s primary customer. However, when asked how often Mobility engages the business when considering policy changes, most participants responded with “sometimes” or “often” rather than “always”. Engaging the business to learn what they value helps Mobility make good decisions about resources and approaches.

Most participants noted that the primary purpose of moving talent around the organisation is to fill skill or knowledge gaps. Additionally, customer requirements are increasingly diversified. Successful mobility functions are those that can engage with customers to understand their wider needs and offer solutions that allow the business to make good decisions in these areas. Ultimately, good decisions are the result of exploring customer needs and collaborating with customers and external partners to implement solutions that reflect the purpose of mobility within the organisation.

What do you consider to be the most important outcome of a cross-border assignment?
■ to fill staffing needs in locations where skills or knowledge are not available = 4.1
■ to provide strategic business direction = 3.3
■ to provide professional development and global skills for assignees = 2.9
■ to provide training/development for staff in host offices = 2.2
■ to spread organisational values and culture = 1.7

(5 = extremely important, 4 = very important, 3 = moderately important, 2 = slightly important, 1 = not important)

Ensuring effective governance: for some mobility functions, governance is solely about compliance. For a growing number of mobility leaders, it is about balancing oversight and flexibility.

Most participants indicate that multiple stakeholders must approve an international assignment before it moves forward. The host business is typically responsible for absorbing mobility costs and is noted as an approver in 77% of organisations. In contrast, Mobility, which creates and administers the policies, is an approver in just a third of organisations. This approval structure generates a requirement for mobility to respond to the diverse needs of the business and explains the continuing trend of Mobility offering flexible package options for the business. Forty percent of participants meet that requirement by differentiating policies by length and purpose, while 32% (up from 26% last year) offer flexibility via negotiation.

In companies offering assignment flexibility, mobility tends to play an advisory role with 39% of organisations indicating mobility recommends assignment and transfer packages for the business’ consideration. In 14% of organisations, mobility is responsible for defining assignment benefits and support and only 9% allow the business to structure packages without mobility’s input. Expanded possibilities for personalised packages and business choice require a strong and supportive governance framework. Successful mobility programs reinforce the mobility decision-making process with clear governance oversight.

How would you best describe global mobility’s approach to providing flexibility to the business?
■ 40% – multiple policies differentiated by length but also purpose, e.g. standard or developmental policies.
■ 32% – flexibility is provided by individual negotiation and exceptions.
■ 32% – all assignees go on the same assignment length with little flexiblity.
■ 26% – policy offers ‘core’ benefits for all employees, with option to add or adjust ‘flexible’ benefits.
■ 26% – policies outline benefits by job level or other criteria.

Communicating creatively: forty-four percent of companies see an opportunity to improve the way Mobility communicates with employees while 48% are prioritising better communication with the business.

With increasing policy options and governance models that encourage the business to make package decisions, Mobility has begun focussing on communications to provide guidance and distribute important information to the business as well as employees. Both audiences are important customers and connecting with them in a targeted way helps mobility in the short and long term. Eighty-six percent of companies are making efforts to improve employee experience and dynamic, one-to-many communications like videos, portals, and training modules engage employees while reducing administration. These resources can, for example, help the 17% of participants that provide cash lump sums explain the intent of such payments to encourage more thoughtful spending. Communicating with the business has historically been done on a case-by-case basis, but new resources, such as mobility decision guides, help the business create compliant packages or select policies that balance assignment investment and purpose.

Please indicate if your company offers flexible choice to the employee in any of the following ways:
■ 36% – provide a cash allowance in lieu of individual benefits.
■ 17% – offer a cash lump sum for multiple benefits.
■ 16% – offer choice between a cash allowance or in-kind benefits.
■ 6% – offer flexible spending budget or flex points approach.
■ 49% – none of the above.

Policy Trends

Most participants report that the demand for mobility is stable or growing. There are noted changes to the types of assignments and transfers being used today. Compared with last year, 13% more companies now have an international one-way transfer policy (72% vs 59% in 2018). In addition to increased interest in one-way transfers, multiple organisations reported their intentions to add a commuter policy to their mobility program. The growing use of commuter arrangements reinforces the trend of companies supporting more flexible work arrangements.

Looking Ahead

The most significant change in Mobility today is how the function works and communicates with customers. Participants reported ongoing and planned initiatives to improve Mobility’s visibility and engagement with customers, and many are leveraging technology and vendors to make that happen. Mobility is also increasingly focused on providing the business accurate cost estimates and planning support.

In addition to these operational and communication enhancements, there is a continued expansion of Mobility’s remit with many assuming responsibility for business travellers, commuters, locally hired non-nationals, and domestic relocations. The consolidation of all things mobility is increasing market demand for integrated and agile technology solutions that streamline workflow, cost planning, communication, and tracking. The Mobility function of tomorrow will be more connected, resourceful,
and impactful than ever before.

For the full report, visit the AIRINC website: www.air-inc.com/library/2019-mobility-outlook-survey/

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New Membership Category

Most, if not all, of our Full and Local Members rely on freelance relocation consultants during busy periods. As freelancers, they are able to jump in and help out where needed, covering everything from orientation tours to school visits and more. As such, it is important they receive the same level of training as any other relocation consultant.

With the creation of this new membership category, Freelance Members will be able to access the EuRA Managing International Mobility training for free, just like any other ABRA member. Freelance Members will also be invited to join the quarterly ABRA Member Meetings, where they will be able to network with peers and partners.

The ABRA Board has decided on launching this membership category at the exceptionally democratic rate of €25 to ensure widespread take up. We look forward to welcoming Freelance Members as of November 1st, 2019, and thank our Full and Local Members for helping us spread the word.

Free Access to EuRA Training

Over the years the partnership between ABRA and EuRA has gone from strength to strength, as together we seek to raise the bar in service delivery while sharing knowledge and insights from the industry. Many ABRA members already enjoy the many benefits of EuRA membership, including the annual relocation conference and free access to their outstanding online training programme.

We’re delighted to have negotiated some of the same benefits for ABRA members, courtesy of EuRA. As an ABRA member, you are now able to access the Managing International Mobility – or MIM for short – training for free, whether or not you are a EuRA member. Comprising 23 lessons in all, Module 1 can now be followed whenever and wherever you like. Simply pick up where you left off when you log in to the EuRA Academy app.

There will be four modules in total, three of which are currently under development. Training is entirely free for EuRA and ABRA members, however if you’d like to be accredited there is a small admin fee to be paid. To receive your ABRA member coupon code, contact ABRA Secretary Fiona Klomp on admin@abra-relocation.com.

Relocation Committee

Our Relocation Committee, comprising Eric Klitsch of Brussels Relocation and Pauline Six from Bright Expats, has recently been joined by new board member Liesbeth Van de Meersche of The MAP Group. With Eric taking over as ABRA President, the Relocation Committee would love to attract additional members, so if you feel you would be able to offer your support, please reach out to us. Volunteers for this committee should be Full or Local Members. Together, the RC promotes the industry of relocation, works towards recognition of ABRA, legal and other compliance matters.

This year, the focus has been firmly on 1000 Brussels as the situation is becoming worse by the day. The Fast Track desk has imploded under the backlog, and registration of expats takes an inordinate amount of time. As such, the Relocation Committee has built a core team to work on a new procedure. We look forward to keeping you updated on further progress.

ABRA Vice President Pauline Six joined a Round Table in Etterbeek at the start of the year, which involved different institutions that support or work with expats located in the Etterbeek area. Their APProach project aims to develop e-services for citizens and improve expat inclusion in the municipality. Around half the 50,000 residents in Etterbeek are foreigners thanks to the EU institutions, with some 2% leaving or arriving annually.

Membership Committee

While we lost a few members throughout the year due to changing contact persons, our Membership Committee has made every effort to attract even more new members to our association. Katrien Van den Waeyenbergh of Partena Business and Expats, Sandra Van Bellingen of BBF and Fabienne Vanderkelen of Altair Global, contacted some 150 potential new members by direct mail towards the end of last year and followed this up with a personal phone call.

Their approach has proven very successful, with 13 new members joining ABRA this year. This brings our total membership to 77 members, of which 15 are Full Members, 1 Local Member and 64 Affiliate Members. With the creation of the new Freelance Membership, we are looking forward to further growing our ABRA family.

It remains the goal of the Membership Committee to ensure that we not only see an increase in new members, but also that current ABRA Members are pleased with their membership. So if you have any questions, concerns, or have a potential new member in mind, please reach out to Katrien, Fabienne and Sandra anytime via membership@abra-relocation.com.

Communications Committee

The ABRA website continues to remain a useful reference tool, with the period between May 2018 and May 2019 attracting 23,067 unique visitors over 42,000 times. Between them, they viewed 274,524 pages, representing a growth of almost 20% in visitors and a 70% rise in page views from previous years.

As such, we’d like to remind all ABRA Members that if you’ve published a white paper, have conducted an important study or have other industry relevant news, you can share it on our newsfeed and social media channels. If you haven’t received your guide to publishing with ABRA, then reach out to Fiona via admin@abra-relocation.com for your personal copy.

Having chaired the Communications Committee for eight years, Fiona has handed over Chairmanship to Salvatore Orlando of BNP Paribas Fortis. The committee is very keen to attract new members with experience in media and/or marketing to help expand our partnerships, advertising and promotion of the industry. Any ABRA Member can join the Communications Committee, so please do reach out to us if this sounds like you.

Events Committee

From ‘How to prepare your business for a Deal or No Deal Brexit’ to ‘The Expat Method: Mastering Personal and Organisational Change’, the keynote speakers at our Member Meetings have been varied, thought provoking and informative. Thank you to speakers Sara Bigwood, Leadership Development Coach and Family Strategist, Christine Sullivan of Fragomen Global Immigration Services, Michael Penning of the Community Help Service, Simon Poppe of Allia Insurance Brokers and Michael Dale, Life Coach, Facilitator and Author of ‘The 7 Core Needs’.

Our gratitude also goes out to our recent meeting hosts DY Patil International School, Partena, IDSB, ING Brussels, Aspria Royal la Rasante and their speakers, as well as upcoming hosts Da Vinci International School in Antwerp.

We have a number of topics and speakers in the pipeline, however we are always interested in your suggestions. Please to reach out to Dave Deruytter of ING and Alexander De Nys of Fragomen with your suggestions and thoughts. You are also most welcome to join our Events Committee if you would like to help shape our event programme moving forward.

Considering joining one of our Committees? We’d love to hear from you! Positions are on a voluntary basis, however you are expected to be available for a number of short meetings throughout the year, as well as be able to help implement any planned points of action. Contact admin@abra-relocation.com to find out more.

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Bob Rosen: “We tend to forget who the real customer is. We get wrapped up in our relationships with HR or the RMC and don’t really think about the end user. Instead, we should do real research around their needs and define our services back from there. Also, this whole categorisation by age groups is probably the wrong way to think about how we deliver which services. It’s more about how people consume things: a 59 year old can consume in the exact same way as a 25 year old. You have to build different modes of delivery into your product.”

How we access services is changing dramatically.

Bill Graebel: “Clients hire us to be their global programme manager. Their objectives tend to be based around three or four main pillars. Consistency in the transferee experience is one of these. The employer brand needs to be upheld. In the past they may have had a tri-regional model, with local HR or business unit leaders being able to place their own nuances on how someone would be served or under what kind of policies. But the reality is that people are relocating across the globe. They’ll compare their relocation to Latin America to the one in Europe, which might be an entirely different experience, and can influence whether or not they’d be willing to relocate for the company again.”

“Then there is compliance. Whether taxation, labour law or data, it’s a rapidly accelerating and complex landscape. Data needs to be assessed and analysed because organisations want to know where they are most successful in recruiting and deploying people, and under what kind of policies. How quickly do transferees assimilate into their teams and the local community? The quicker they assimilate, the more focus they have on the job, which is ultimately the ROI for the corporation. Obviously this is viewed through a macro lens, but consistency of delivery, brand experience, the mitigation of risk; when you put them all together it makes a very complex but fascinating opportunity in this era of globalisation.”

Increasing popularity of lump sum relocation.

BR: “Lump sum relocations have a significant impact on revenue streams as they chip away at the traditional service model. It’s also a much bigger marketplace and can be an opportunity to expand our business. If we take the things we know – our institutional knowledge and products – and remix them, we can assemble products and services in a different way. We need to consider how we can assess clients’ needs and hit them at the points in time where they need those services, from the day they find out they’re moving to the day they leave the assignment. There’s a variety of information and services they need to access along that entire timeline.”

Historic under-investment in technology.

BR: “It’s our responsibility to ensure we have a sustainable company. As an industry we’ve underinvested, we have a lot of foundational things to do before we can take full advantage of new technologies such as blockchain and AI. Simple things need to come first: APIs to connect our people in the field with our systems, your systems, HR and the corporations’ systems. Instantaneously connecting that data is not about eliminating people, it means they can focus on the more difficult cases and assess what people’s needs are. It’s not taking cost out, it’s taking work out.”

Profit margins under pressure.

BG: “We all want more for less, it’s the way of the world. We can’t expect corporations to be any different, they’re in competitive industries too. There’s no silver bullet, but there has to be a continuous effort to examine your workflow, to look at the intersections where your work lets off and someone else’s work begins. Then you want to find a way for not just one entity to reduce their cost structure, but that allows both entities to lower their costs. In an ideal world both hold on to an incremental margin, but in a practical world it enables you to at least remain competitive.”

BR: “We have an ongoing responsibility to be more efficient and effective at what we do. You don’t pay €5000 for a television anymore. Those companies have figured out ways to streamline the supply chain, materials and so forth. We have to think about where the overlaps in our business lie and how we can get rid of them. One of these ways is through automation.”

We’re living longer, what does that do to the world of work?

BR: “You’ve got to go where the work is. People may not relocate their whole family anymore, but short term assignments, extended business travellers, gig workers; these people are all traversing the globe. It nibbles away at the core of what has traditionally been our work, but it also creates tremendous opportunity in huge volumes and high velocity moves. We need to figure out how to tweak our institutional knowledge and repackage it in ways that will serve people. Transferees may not need a three-day house finding tour, but a one hour orientation to the local area. Our knowledge and our networks are the information people want to access, we just need to find a way to present it to them.”

BG: “From a consumer point of view – they say over the next few years one in six people on the planet will change residence each year – there is a big need. On the one end of the spectrum there is the university student who changes dorm room at the end of the year, and on the other end people who move from their primary residence into a care home. But everywhere in between represents potential. Over the next few years 35-40% of people will be gig workers, these people don’t have any corporate support and have to figure things out like immigration, pensions, how their taxes are applied… People are going to need a ton of assistance at some point. I believe there is a variety of new services yet to be invented, deployed and – of course – accessible from your mobile device.”

“From an employment point of view we’re going to have to be more open minded, let go of our sense of ageism. Because to what age is someone competent at their job? Much of our senior executive team is retiring over the next ten years. I tell them ‘Your number one job is being a mentor, but also to be a mentee, because unless you’re retiring in the next two years, you’d better be continuously learning and curious about acquiring new skills.’ You can’t sit still anymore, your job is going to require a new skill set every few years.”

To catch the full session, it’s follow-up ‘applying trends’ or any of the other conference talks, visit the EuRA YouTube channel.

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There are a number of types of insurance coverage that you are legally required to take out as a business, such as occupational accidents and general civil liability. Then there are the additional covers which will differ per organisation, and are dependent on risk. At the very least, you need a good general liability insurance to insure against all cases of non-contractual damage to third parties. How extensive it should be will depend on the type of business and the activity.

Spill water on a client’s laptop and it’s covered by your general liability insurance. If you’re serving snacks at an event and one of the suppliers has suffered from a salmonella outbreak, they’ll want to have product liability coverage. In addition to a good fire insurance, consequential loss insurance is also useful to compensate for turnover and loss of profit immediately after the fire or water damage.

For intellectual and liberal professions, contractual professional liability is often added. When there are employees, an occupational accident insurance policy is mandatory and every company car requires motor insurance. You can supplement this with comprehensive insurance and assistance.

GDPR and data processing agreements can hold large contractual liabilities, so what if you lose a client’s documents and accidentally disclose private data? Private liability insurance can mean the difference between bankruptcy and the survival of your business. After all, professional liability does not always require an error to have been made, simply failing a contractual obligation can be sufficient to trigger your contractual liability with a client.

Similarly, cyber crime is on the rise and a sudden attack by ransomware can see you held liable by your clients for not meeting your contractual obligations.

It can be interesting to insure the directors of the company under a directors’ liability insurance. An inexpensive insurance policy, it guarantees legal representation and assistance when the business owner (accidentally) causes damage to his business or a staff member. Under the new company law this is seen as not only a business accident but also falls under your personal liability because you are at fault. A business owner can, if he is not insured, lose everything. Not only is his business declared bankrupt, but his house can be taken too. We’ve seen it happen before.

Succinctly put: insurances are a form of precaution. They require you to take a closer look at all your possible risks so you can try to eliminate or reduce them. You transfer the residual risks to an insurance company in exchange for payment of a premium. The better your own precautions, the cheaper your insurance will be. So critically assess your risks and get advice from a specialist insurance broker.

“A good insurance package is not just an accumulation of policies. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Ask for guidance from an independent broker who can guide you through your risk assessments.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co

It’s hugely important that all the insurance policies included in a package are aligned. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Imagine your insurances for civil liability and legal assistance are under the same company. Now let’s suppose you have a civil liability car insurance with company A and company A is the market leader in Belgium. If you cause an accident, there is a good chance that the person involved is with the same insurance company. This creates a conflict of interest. Company A must represent both persons, without the control of a counter company. The tendency to compensate the customer with the smallest damage could be high.

If you’re the party who has suffered the greatest damage and are convinced that you are in your right, you can lodge an objection by appealing through legal aid. But, if that legal assistance is with Company A again, you have a problem. The legal assistance at A thus weakens the civil liability guarantee. It’s therefore best to take out legal assistance insurance with an independent legal assistance company. Of course, the disadvantage here is the cost. Separate legal assistance costs much more, but you are guaranteed that your files will always be handled correctly.

An example of reinforcement would be if your consequential loss insurance is with the same company as your fire insurance. Suppose a fire starts in your office, requiring you to close it for a longer period of time and on top of that a discussion has arisen with the damage expert. If you place the business damage insurance policy with the same company, the expertise becomes more urgent to the covering insurer. The longer the expert discusses details, the longer your company will suffer consequential damage. As a result, the insurance company will have to pay more for the loss of profit and the rental of replacement offices. It is therefore in the insurer’s own interest to reimburse you as quickly and effectively as possible.

“Focus on risk management and apply prevention measures.” – Alain Voets, Concordia Insurances

Of course, there is no insurance to help reduce insurance claims. A company can take measures, such as working with a prevention advisor, to reduce and manage the risk of, for example, accidents in the workplace. With less accidents, you suffer less damages and less damages helps lower your premium. Companies that work with machines, for example, receive additional conditions imposed by insurers in order to limit certain risks. After a year, these are revised and adjusted if necessary to ensure that the premium doesn’t need to be increased. You might also offer employees an incentive if there are less accidents than the previous year; this makes staff more alert for accidents.

“On the one hand there is the element of chance, but on the other there are risks that you can assess and limit. If you’re organising an event or managing a project from A to Z, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, before, during and after the event. ” – Alain Voets, Concordia

The number of things that can go wrong at any time are endless, but when we find ourselves needing to claim, we’re often quick to blame the insurer when we don’t receive the compensation (we think) we deserve. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t always due to the insurance company, but may also be attributed to the customer or the broker.

When things do go wrong with the insurer this is often to do with conflicts of interest, where the insurance company decides to pay out the lesser of two claims as previously discussed. A form of abuse of power then plays a role. The insurance company has an entire army of good lawyers at its fingertips, which the client usually doesn’t.

“Some customers try to cheat the insurer by not disclosing all the facts, but they usually end up deceiving themselves.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co

Things can go wrong from the customer’s side when they are careless or don’t receive specialist guidance by their broker. It’s easy to forget something, and accidents are quick to happen. If something happens, and you are not, or not sufficiently insured, you pay for the costs yourself. You cannot blame your insurer for your carelessness, negligence or oblivion, irregular control or follow-up.

Incomplete transparency can be contributed to the customer. Some customers try to cheat the insurance company by not disclosing all the facts. But they usually end up deceiving themselves, because insurers leave little to chance. The same applies for brokers. They too sometimes forget something. Nothing human is alien to them. But they do have professional liability insurance for this. If damage is caused by their fault or negligence, the client will be reimbursed under their professional liability insurance.

“The onus is on clients to inform us of changes. If you’ve bought a new car, you need to let us know so we can insure it. Companies evolve and communication between the insurer and insuree is hugely important.” Laurent Martin, ALLIA Insurance

—–

SOME USEFUL TIPS TO ENSURE A SUCCESSFUL CLAIM RESOLUTION

∞ Submit your claims in time
Many contracts have a limited time span after the accident or incident to submit your claim. If that time is up, the insurance company does not have to reimburse you.

∞ Be honest, correct and complete
Make sure your first version of the facts is always the correct version. People who change their version afterwards, when they feel things aren’t turning out the way they want, are always considered suspicious. Companies have the right to call in detectives to find out the truth. A well-known trick is to visit the neighbors: they’ll often share more than the customer would like. Anyone caught for fraud, concealment or misrepresentation of the facts can be sentenced and loses all entitlement to compensation.

∞ Ensure order in your own file
If you make a mess of your file, you can’t expect your insurance company to process it within the agreed time. Claims Adjustors are not your personal secretary. Also, don’t forget that you’re not the only customer. If we were to give priority to messy, and therefore time-consuming, files, we would build up more backlog. As a result, we would also have more dissatisfied customers. Priority is given to as many satisfied customers as possible and therefore to orderly files.

COMPLETING YOUR FILE CORRECTLY:
∞ complete in one file per insured person (not all insured persons mixed together), possibly clearly grouped into one large file;
∞ make sure your documents are arranged by date;
∞ avoid mixing invoices or supporting documents from previous files with new ones;
∞ report your form filled in as completely as possible: describe the cause of the accident, the diagnosis of the disease and such as accurately as possible, supplemented by witness statements, medical reports or other evidence;
∞ don’t forget to mention the account number on which the reimbursement can be deposited.

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So why place data and technology at the top of our trends list? Relocation is a people business and few (if any) of our members are likely to be looking into AI or data mining to grow their businesses anytime soon. But we think it’s important you understand the most influential disruptor of the decade that impacts absolutely everything, right down to our weekly food shop. So here goes.

DATA & TECHNOLOGY

1. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and GDPR

Artificial intelligence is essentially the kind of task that, if humans performed it, we’d say they had to apply intelligence to execute the task. AI is not simply chatbots on a customer service helpdesk. It’s about machine learning and data analysis. Every query you make and every decision you take helps the system give a better, more personalised response as it learns to anticipate your requirements. And Waze telling you the best route in view of the current traffic situation or Facebook’s algorithm deciding which posts show up in your newsfeed, is just the start of it. No matter what you might principally believe about AI, chances are you are already relying on it.

Similarly, as a company, you possess data. There is personally identifiable data, or PPI (home address, dates of birth, work visas and more), and non-personally identifiable information (such as gender, age range or nationality). GDPR has changed the way we look at data from a business and personal perspective, and it’s a good thing. However, it’s the massive amounts of non-PPI data, also known as Big Data, that are currently driving marketing efforts around the globe as ROI becomes ever more measurable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the counterweight to all this machine driven activity is a powerful need for a more human connection, more on which later.

2. Smart Speakers and Long Tail Keywords

The never-ending quest to rank well in search engines continues as before but has now gained an additional facet with the rise of Alexa, Google Assistant and other AI powered devices (hello, machine learning). The very nature of online searches is changing drastically, with ComScore estimating that half of all search queries will be voice-based by 2020. Deloitte recently predicted the smart speaker will really breakthrough in 2019.  So what might this mean for your business?

Imagine you are considering moving halfway around the world on a foreign assignment. You’ve told your boss you’ll have to talk to your partner before coming back with a firm decision, and so whilst cooking dinner you ask Siri about international schools in the Brussels area or residential neighbourhoods in Waterloo. Siri will only give you a handful of answers, maybe even just one, instead of the 79.2 million that a Google web search will. To cater to this new technology you need to start including long tail keywords to bolster your online presence; highly specific multi-word phrases that answer the very specific questions someone might ask their smart speaker.

“I predict that storytelling will be one of the major differentiators between brands that get noticed and those that don’t. The market will continue to get noisier and brands that create human connections through the art of story will rise. This means that now more than ever, becoming a prolific writer and communicator is a key characteristic of effective marketers.” – Holly Tate, Vanderbloemen Search Group

STORYTELLING AND THE HUMAN TOUCH

3. Social Purpose, Authenticity and Brand Storytelling

We’ve spoken about the importance of purpose in previous issues of ReLocate and this continues to be the case in 2019. In fact, it is going to drive more decisions than ever before. No longer can we simply sell a service or a product, we have to lead with our business purpose to convince customers of our proposition.

“Social purpose is rising up the corporate agenda as consumers look for companies demonstrating (not just talking about) shared values. Watch out for brands taking Iceland’s orangutan lead and placing accountable leadership at the heart of their organisational strategies – and social media – to drive company value over the long-term,” says Sarah Hall of Sarah Hall Consulting.  Supermarket chain Delhaize lost a lot of credit in the public eye just a few weeks ago for plastic wrapping the plastic wrapping on a plastic toy giveaway a week after their pledge to minimise use of plastics.

Authenticity is key and as such your brand story should be the solid ground on which all your communications are built. The Stackla Report tells us that 86% of consumers feel authenticity is an important factor when deciding what brands to support.  This number is even higher among millennials. No matter how big or small your organisation, customers and employees alike are increasingly expecting your mission, vision and values to be more than just words. Driving your strategy, it is what you do and how you do it.

“Consumers used to accept that their favorite brands were neutral. “Don’t pick sides, and avoid topics and statements that alienate any audiences” were the common PR marching orders,” says Deirdre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications. “Today, there is a different set of consumer expectations. Businesses are required to have a voice and to take a stance for their customers on important topics. Maybe it is climate change, politics or other social issues? Social media and the citizen journalist have ignited brand purpose and social activism. There are businesses not only ready to join the conversation and be the voice, but that are also helping to create the change their customer wants to see.”

4. Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing

Advertisement fatigue is real and with 30% of all internet users expected to be using ad blockers by the end of the year, marketers are having to come up with creative new ways to reach target audiences. Sponsored articles (also known as native advertising) and user generated content are great ways of doing this. Their main strengths are that they entertain and inform audiences and – when done right – feel natural and authentic. GoPro for example almost solely relies on user generated content as a quick trip to their website will show you. Asking users to send in their best clips, they offer cash awards and promotions for the footage they use.

“In 2019, brands are going to find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain their audience’s attention on social media. The brands that develop creative content strategies that tap into themes that are culturally relevant (and topical) to their audiences, will win. People don’t go on social to see content about your brand, they don’t care about you or your brand. They want to be educated, entertained and inspired. The sooner you realise that and start creating content that fulfils those needs, the better.” states Dan Knowlton of KPS Digital Marketing

Similarly, influencer marketing is enjoying a meteoric rise. “For years we’ve been reviewing and rating products and services, which has paved the way for the rise of influencer marketing. Offering companies and brands a new way to survive, it looks like this trend is here to stay,” says Carol Lamarque of Duval Innovative Marketing. “People will always be receptive to recommendations by others. Think back to the last conversation you had with a friend about a new restaurant. If they enjoyed it, you’re highly likely to book there too. Social media have only strengthened this process as they offer committed influencers a great platform. You can’t underestimate the impact of a micro-influencer with a few hundred followers. Because they’re so small people see them as an individual, not a medium. It’s how they instil confidence.”

“Stories have redefined the way brands communicate on Instagram, and creative marketers are now learning to use this format to address each stage of the customer journey, from awareness to direct purchase. We’ll see even more investments in this channel in 2019.” – Todd Grossman, Talkwalker

5. Social Stories, Takeovers and Video Marketing

With 3.196 billion global social media users, equating to 42% market penetration (We are Social), social media’s significance to society cannot be ignored. Offering companies with limited resources access to powerful marketing tools, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are adjusting their advertisement models to make marketing more effective for companies.
In this, video and social stories are leading the way. Done well, video marketing produces amazing results. According to HubSpot, simply adding a video to an email boosts click-through rate by a staggering 200-300 percent, and putting one on a landing page increases conversion rate by 80 percent. Forbes research supports this, reporting that 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% will call a vendor after viewing a video.

Thankfully, including video in your communication strategy doesn’t require a multimillion euro budget. Think about allowing team members to ‘take over’ your social media pages for a fresh new view. From interviews, demos and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses of events, life in the office and more, thanks to smart phone technology, video is easily integrated. Use photographs and short video clips to create ‘stories’ on your newsfeed, and as they will only stay up for a limited amount of time, they serve to create a sense of excitement with followers. The more savvy marketers make use of the interactive options provided in stories such as ‘vote yes or no’, ‘click here to discover more’ and so on.

6. Personalised Content

If you want to stand out in 2019, you need to personalise your marketing – and that means personalised content, products, emails, and more. With the availability of data-like purchase history, consumer behaviour and links clicked, custom content has never been easier. In fact, Evergage reports that 96% of marketers believe that personalisation advances customer relationships. And it’s not just marketing that is driving this trend. Infosys found that 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalised. According to Forrester, 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience. And Digital Trends tells us that seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experiences more relevant. Time to start looking at your customer data then.

When done correctly, using personalised marketing in digital and print business-critical documents can help you effectively reach your customers and yield a high ROI. In addition to revenue opportunities, personalised document marketing can help create a better customer experience by delivering content unique to an individual’s specific needs. Businesses like Netflix and Amazon are already leveraging the power of personalisation. Logging on to your Netflix account, for example, immediately shows you the evidence of this: the banner, carousels, order, artwork, text and search are all personalised for you. As Kevin George, Head of Marketing at EmailMonks, puts it: “The future of e-mail is real-time, behaviour-based personalisation. A study by Marketo shows that personalised, triggered e-mails based on behaviour are 3x better than batch-and-blast e-mails.”

INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS

7. Employee Engagement and Positive Experiences

From communicating with your target audience to communicating with your team, employee engagement is where all of the above comes together. Your corporate story is built on your strategy, which in turn is what brings your mission, vision and values to life. Your company culture needs to inspire and engage, as the business benefits of getting this right are impressive. Harvard Business Review reports that organisations that boast a clear and inspiring company culture can expect to achieve 20-30% better business results than their competitors. Michael Hartland wrote about the importance of delivering a positive employee experience in HR News last year, and we couldn’t agree more.

“An increased focus on building positive employee experience will be a core goal of internal communications plans. The benefits in improved customer experience and retention of top staff performers are undeniable. But while the value may be understood now, practical implementation has lagged behind. Nearly 80% of executives rate employee experience as important, but only 22% believe that their companies are building a genuinely different employee experience. In fact, employee engagement generally has been flat in recent years. One cause for this lies in our increasingly complex workplaces. Virtual teams, dispersed staff, technology, and multi-generations and cultures have all added to this complexity.”

8. One Tool to Rule Them All

This, in turn, segways into our final point quite nicely. We live and work in an increasingly mobile world. Over half of all internet usage is done on mobile, compared to just 31% three years ago. And although businesses have recognised the importance of a ‘mobile first’ mentality, the implications – and opportunities – for internal communications are both technical and physical. Witness the growing popularity of programmes such as OneNote, Google Docs and other cloud-based applications that facilitate team input and creativity.

Technological innovations have also opened the door for company apps as a new way to strengthen employee communication, engagement and loyalty. Allowing you to manage projects, assign tasks and keep other team members updated, free apps such as Slack, Trello and Asana offer a modern and convenient way of working within a team environment, irrespective of physical location. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.

sources:
www.forbes.com
www.talkwalker.com
www.lanvera.com
www.towardsdatascience.com
www.thefastmode.com
www.hrnews.co.uk
www.thevisualcommunicationguy.com
www.singlegrain.com
www.gartner.com
www.forbes.com
www.gartner.com

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The most frequent questions immigration providers receive from clients are:
∞ What Brexit scenario should we prepare for?
∞ When should we start preparing?
∞ How should we prepare?

Answering these questions is difficult, but not impossible.

Preparing for a soft or a hard Brexit?

So what scenario should you prepare for? To answer this question, companies should look at what decision makers are currently doing. Both in the UK and in the EU (at EU and at national level) decision makers keep highlighting their commitment to finding a deal. However at the same time, everyone is also preparing for a no-deal scenario. For example, the French government published a draft law in November 2018 to create a no-deal legal framework. Other countries, such as Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic have made public their no deal preparations as of the beginning of 2019. In addition, the European Commission published three communications last year – one in July, one in November and one in December – urging all stakeholders, from national administrations to citizens and economic operators, to prepare for a hard Brexit.

This is indeed the most cautious thing to do. On the one hand, possible disturbances caused by a hard Brexit could be very costly for companies. On the other hand, all the efforts put into preparing for a hard Brexit would not be wasted if, eventually, a soft Brexit occurs. Why? Because the hard Brexit and the soft Brexit scenarios are in the end not so different from each.
Three main aspects distinguish them. The first one is the two year transition period (30th of March 2019 – 1st of January 2021) which would be implemented only if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified and enters into force by 30th of March 2019 (soft Brexit).

The second one is the level of protection to be granted to UK/EU nationals residing in the EU/UK prior to the Brexit day (less generous in case of a hard Brexit). And the third one is the nature of the future EU-UK relationship. In a hard Brexit scenario there would be no time to negotiate. So, from an immigration perspective, we would fall back immediately on already existing immigration schemes (GATS mode IV, EU permits, national permits) as of 30th of March 2019. This does not mean however that, in the future, this could not be re-negotiated and amended. In a soft Brexit scenario, there would certainly be talks about the future arrangements during the transition period, and some more ambitious schemes could be put in place.

Nevertheless, understanding what impact Brexit will have on current employees and future employees is crucial for all businesses. And some of this analysis will be the same in both scenarios. The major consequences will be felt only two years later if there is a soft Brexit. Yet, the sooner companies start preparing, the better chances they stand to avoid all possible disruptions and negative consequences on their employees.

When should companies start preparing?

Ideally, preparations should already be on-going. Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, companies and employees can already take steps to protect their rights and prepare for the future, irrespective of what the future will look like. All concerned people must make sure they are making use of all existing tools and schemes already in place and that they are ready for when new ones will be available for them.

How should companies prepare?

The first thing to do is classify the stakeholders within the company who will be impacted. Some of the stakeholders are easy to identify: EU nationals locally hired in the UK or UK nationals locally hired in an EU country. But Brexit might also have an impact on cross border workers, business travellers, employees temporarily assigned in the UK or an EU country, and even third country nationals in some situations. Moreover, Brexit will also impact future employees. Therefore, recruiters and HR departments must be aware of how their work will be influenced by Brexit.

Once the stakeholders are identified, it is crucial to put a communication strategy in place with tailored messages to all groups of stakeholders. Employers should reassure employees to make sure they retain them. In addition, they should train recruiters and HR specialists to help them understand the implications of a soft or a hard Brexit.

The third step – not necessarily in a chronological order as some of these steps can be taken simultaneously – would be to collect data about the impacted employees. It is no longer sufficient to know who they are. Companies must also have information about their length of stay in the host country, nationality of their family members, type of employment, employment conditions, education, etc. All of this data is necessary to create preparedness strategies and contingency plans.

And lastly, get ready to implement these strategies and plans. Brexit is an ever changing landscape and is very difficult to keep up with. There are no exact deadlines, no exact timelines, no precise outcome. Companies must be flexible. They must make sure they have all the necessary resources and are ready to act at any time. With all the uncertainty around Brexit, only one thing is certain. As cliché as this may seem, companies should definitely hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

With thanks to Andreia Ghimis, Senior Consultant EU Government and Client Advisory at Fragomen

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ReLocate spoke with professor Greg Clark, urbanist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute Europe, to find out more. He is a widely published author on city development and investment issues and advises a wide array of international organisations. In May 2016 he presented a new report analysing the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp. Where most analyses of a city’s competitiveness rely on economic performance, The Urban Land Institute report looks at a much wider range of issues. Ranging from liveability to geopolitical risk and sustainability, these are the things that influence a city’s attractiveness to residents and companies alike.

Brussels and Antwerp are very different in nature: how did you approach the comparison?
“We put together two benchmarking groups, ran workshops, visited the cities and conducted a ton of interviews before running this comparative analysis in which we measured Brussels and Antwerp against groups of peer cities to arrive at an assessment of their competitiveness,” explains Greg Clark. “We didn’t just look at economic performance, but at other issues that impact a city’s attractiveness to residents too. Matters such as liveability, governance, geopolitical risk and sustainability are just as important in urban life. Brussels was tested against well established capitals such as London and Paris, cities that provide tough competition. Antwerp on the other hand was held up against peer cities that are reinventing themselves – some of them port cities – like Hamburg and Amsterdam, and other (former) industry greats such as Manchester and Liverpool.”

Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.

What are their main selling points?
“Both cities have very good fundamentals, and their own, unique attractions. Antwerp is compelling for its extraordinary DNA. It has always been one of the world’s greatest trading cities and has invented many ideas about the connection between trade, innovation and discovery. Antwerp knows how to build a city around a port. Located within a north-western European economy of roughly 100 million people with a huge GDP, it’s well connected with Belgian, Dutch, Northern French and German cities on all sides. Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.”

“The Antwerp port is embracing innovation in terms of how goods are managed, how energy is used and what technology is applied. They’re building an innovative port and energy complex, with a big focus on the circular economy, which is important and fascinating. Of course, the city of Antwerp is synonymous with the craft and design of high-quality goods. From the diamond industry to its fashion sector, Antwerpians know how to make items of high value work in the market place. This mercantilist attitude means it is truly open for business.”

left: Antwerp right: Brussels

“Boasting a young and vibrant population that is committed to taking the city forward, Antwerp is further boosted by a government with big ambitions. From building a canopy over the ring road to creating more public spaces and developing the left bank, the city is redesigning its urban fabric to make a future-proof city. Smart citizen initiatives activate people to act as the eyes and ears of the city, giving feedback on the quality of bicycle lanes or roads and public facilities that might need maintenance. These distinctive edges of Antwerp amount to things that are quite exciting considering its small size. Thinking about the business opportunities that arise from disruption runs deep within the Antwerp DNA.”

Brussels’ youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity give rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries.

“Brussels on the other hand is distinctive in a completely different way,” Greg continues. “It is a major capital city, and as home to the various European institutions and NATO it has an influential presence on the global stage, although it is yet to leverage it to its full potential. It’s interesting when you compare Brussels with cities like Washington DC or Singapore, which play an influential role by hosting global institutions, international summits and other gatherings that really work for the city.”

“It has a youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity giving rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries. The high calibre of educational institutes in Brussels is somewhat obscured by the presence of international institutions such as the EU and NATO, but the educational cluster has enormous potential thanks to leadership in fields such as IT, life sciences, or medicine. Most obviously it has enormous potential to be a global school of government, public policy and management.”

“When you look at productivity progress in Brussels a lot of it is to do with the dynamism of the labour market and its liquidity. People want to spend time in Brussels, partly because of its influence, but then find they want to stay and do other things too. It’s important to remember that government institutions feed and support a huge cluster of other kinds of decision making and communication activities. There are very big, positive spill-overs and multipliers that you can leverage into other industries. If you thought a government town can only ever be a government town, you’d be wrong.”

All attractive qualities indeed, surely there must be some drawbacks?
“They also both suffer from a number of challenges,” agrees Greg. “Part of this is that they are located in Belgium, and, great as Belgium may be, it is not a country that enjoys a clear institutional framework. Both Brussels and Antwerp struggle to build their identity and present themselves in a way that cities in less confusing countries do not. Brussels has far greater assets than say Vienna or Zurich, yet these cities have fewer difficulties presenting and promoting themselves on an international stage. Similarly, whilst Antwerp has greater or equivalent assets to Liverpool, Lyon, Genoa, and Turin, it has difficulty articulating what it is, where it is, and why.”

“They’re also rather late to the urbanisation agenda compared to other European cities. Citizens in Brussels and Antwerp are highly dependent on their cars and prefer the suburbs to the city centre. The Belgians tend to sub optimise the use of land and real estate, which translates into low levels of densification and very few mixed-use development projects. It also means there has been very little focus on transport and connectivity as a way of embracing and spurring on urbanism. The third thing that seems to be true for both of them – although each city has a slightly different version of this – is that they have had some difficulty creating the right geographical and institutional space through which to apply leadership to the city.”

“Brussels Capital Region struggles due to the way it is defined; geographically it’s too small for the – much larger – Brussels metropolitan area and then of course there is the fragmentation of having 19 separate municipalities, which rather effectively prevents an integrated governance model. You need a leadership platform for the whole area, otherwise you end up with different policies being pursued in different parts of the region, which is not particularly helpful. For Antwerp it was more of a question of leadership appetite in the past, although I think this is now being addressed. The current leadership has the appetite to succeed and a vision for moving the city forward. It’s just been slow getting there.”

“The public sector almost has a monopoly on leadership control in Belgium. Other sectors, such as business, cultural and higher education, have not played active civic leadership roles like they do in other cities of comparable sizes. There’s been too much waiting around for city government to put things right, rather than civic leadership working hand in hand with city governments to create forward momentum. I suppose you could say both cities have become somewhat institutionalised. This is now being addressed in Antwerp where civil and trade movements are working together with the city towards creating a more sustainable future for the city.”

Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together with organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map.

How can Brussels and Antwerp improve on their competitiveness?
“We focused on three main areas for our recommendations on addressing these weaknesses,” Greg tells us. “First, Brussels and Antwerp need to start embracing urbanisation. This means being proactive in extending and developing public transport as a way of reducing car dependence. By strengthening the urban mix, you create excitement and vibrancy. Creating exciting city centres and sub centres, together with a more active transport mix, helps attract and retain corporate investment and the dynamic workforce needed by these companies.”

“Secondly, the institutional frameworks have to be right. This creates room for city leadership that is continuously thinking about their city as somewhere people will want to live and work, rather than getting stuck in Belgian politics. Thinking about public and private partnerships on a city level is a big part of this, just look at how Antwerp is involving its citizens in the maintenance of its city.”

“This in turn leads into our third point: the promotion of Brussels and Antwerp. Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together an alliance of organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map. This is certainly happening in Antwerp, and I believe efforts are underfoot in Brussels now too.”

“Finally, both cities have really creative industries which are part of the impact of the cosmopolitan diversity of the city. You should be able to really use that cosmopolitan diversity as a driver of creative endeavour. The idea isthat diversity creates competitive advantage through interaction. To realise that, you’ve got to address the challenges of social exclusion and segregation. Brussels has two cosmopolitan populations: one is the elite that services the global institutions, the other is the population of migrants who have come from a poorer set of countries in search of a better life. Somehow, you’ve got to make those two kinds of populations work together.”

To read the full report, visit the Urban Land Institute website:

Brussels and Antwerp: Pathways to a Competitive Future

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The Forces Shaping the Future

“The pace of change is accelerating. Competition for the right talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today,” says Carol Stubbings, Global Leader People and Organisation, PwC, in her foreword. “How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will your talent needs change? How can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need? And what does all this mean for HR? The ‘Four Worlds of Work’ for 2030 report aims to kickstart your thinking about the many possible scenarios that could develop, and how to best prepare for the future. Remember that your starting point matters as much as your destination; the best response may mean radical change, or perhaps just a few steps from where you are today.”

MEGATRENDS

The megatrends are the tremendous forces reshaping society and with it, the world of work: the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe; the disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity that are impacting every sector. Businesses need a clear and meaningful purpose and mandate to attract and retain employees, customers and partners in the decade ahead. How humans respond to the challenges and opportunities which the megatrends bring will determine the worlds in which the future of work plays out.

∞ Technological Breakthroughs
Automation, robotics and AI are advancing quickly, dramatically changing the nature and number of jobs available. Technology has the power to improve our lives, raising productivity, living standards and average life span, and free people to focus on personal fulfilment.
∞ Demographic Shifts
With a few regional exceptions the world’s population is ageing, putting pressure on business, social institutions and economies. Our longer life span will affect business models, talent ambitions and pension costs.
∞ Rapid Urbanisation
By 2030, the UN projects that 4.9 billion people will be urban dwellers and, by 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by some 72%. Already, many of the largest cities have GDPs larger than mid-size countries.
∞ Shifts in Global Economic Power
The rapidly developing nations, particularly those with a large working-age population, that embrace a business ethos, attract investment and improve their education system will gain the most. Emerging nations face the biggest challenge as technology increases the gulf with the developed world.
∞ Resource Scarcity and Climate Change
Demand for energy and water is forecast to increase by as much as 50% and 40% respectively by 2030. New types of jobs in alternative energy, new engineering processes, product design and waste management and re-use will need to be created to deal with these needs.

HOW WILL THESE MEGATRENDS SHAPE OUR WORLD?

■ The Red World: a perfect incubator for innovation with few rules
New products and business models develop at lightning speed, far more quickly than regulators can control. Big business is outflanked in a digital-enabled world that’s teeming with small entrepreneurial companies. Digital platforms match worker with employer, skills with demand, capital with innovator, and consumer with supplier. This allows serial entrepreneurs to reach far beyond their size in terms of influence and scale. Anxious to compete, larger employers fragment to create their own internal markets and networks to cut through old-style hierarchies. Specialism is highly prized in the Red World and a career, rather than being defined by an employer or institution, is built from individual blocks of skills, experience and networks. The most sought-after skills mean the biggest reward package and workers move frequently, staying only as long as the project or business lasts.

■ The Blue World: capitalism reigns supreme
In the Blue World, companies see their size and influence as the best way to protect their prized profit margins against intense competition from their peers and aggressive new market entrants. Corporations grow to such a scale, and exert such influence, that some become more powerful than nation states. Workforces are lean and exceptional talent is in high demand – employers secure a core group of pivotal high-performers by offering excellent rewards but otherwise buy in flexible talent and skills as and when they’re needed. Human effort, automation, analytics and innovation combine to push performance in the workplace to its limits; human effort is maximised through sophisticated use of physical and medical enhancement techniques and equipment, and workers’ performance and wellbeing are measured, monitored and analysed at every step. A new breed of elite super-workers emerges.

■ The Green World: companies have to care
In the Green World, corporate responsibility isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a business imperative. Companies are open, collaborative organisations that see themselves as playing an essential role in developing their employees and supporting local communities. Reacting to public opinion, increasingly scarce natural resources and stringent international regulations, companies push a strong ethical and green agenda. This is characterised by a strong social conscience, a sense of environmental responsibility, a focus on diversity, human rights and fairness of all kinds and a recognition that business has an impact that goes well beyond the financial. Employees enjoy family-friendly, flexible hours and are encouraged to take part in socially useful projects.

■ The Yellow World: we’re all in this together
In the Yellow World, workers and companies seek out greater meaning and relevance in what they do. A strong desire for ‘fairness’ in the distribution of wealth, resources and privilege drives public policy. Workers find flexibility, autonomy and fulfilment, working for organisations with a strong social and ethical record. This is the collective response to business fragmentation; the desire to do good, for the common good. Technology helps by lowering barriers to entry by providing easy access to crowdfunded capital and a worldwide market. The Yellow World is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of new worker Guilds that develop in order to protect, support and connect independent workers, often providing training and other benefits that have traditionally been supplied by employers.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR JOBS?

PwC’s Four Worlds of Work are each markedly different, but through each runs the vein of automation and the implications of robotics and AI. It’s clear that automation will result in a massive reclassification and rebalancing of work. Some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out but others will be created. Automation will not only alter the types of jobs available but their number and perceived value. By replacing workers doing routine, methodical tasks, machines can amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills. This view is supported by business leaders worldwide who responded to PwC’s most recent CEO survey. While CEOs are keen to maximise the benefits of automation – 52% told us that they’re already exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together and 39% are considering the impact of AI on their future skills needs – the majority (52%) were also planning to increase headcount in the coming 12 months. Finding the skills they need has become the biggest threat to their business, they say, but the skills they’re looking for are particularly telling: problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation top the list.

For the full report, please visit the PwC website:
https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/publications/workforce-of-the-future.html

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What kind of preparations are recommended before relocating to Belgium in regards to immigration and visas?

“It is key to find out if you need a Belgian visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Belgium. The Belgian legislation applicable to the employment of foreigners makes a distinction in the rules applicable to the right to enter and stay and the rules applicable to the right to work. EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can work without a work permit in Belgium. Third-country nationals, however, will typically need a work permit to engage in economic activities.”

What is the Blue Card System? Why is it necessary to differentiate between highly-skilled / highly-paid workers and everyone else?

“In 2000 the European Council met in Lisbon to define the strategic plan that could help the Union’s competitive position in the global market in terms of employment, economic reform and social cohesion as part of a knowledge-based economy. In that meeting the Union set the strategy to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

In order to establish this goal the EU established measures to attract highly skilled employees from outside of the EU, one of those being the European Blue Card. Why exactly was it deemed so important to put the focus on this? At the time the Council concluded that the growth of the EU would be at stake because of the lack of highly qualified and skilled human capital. Therefore, special schemes and measures had to be put in place to increase Europe’s attractiveness towards highly-educated and talented foreigners to help build this competitive knowledge-based economy.”

There are three types of work permit:

Type-A work permits allow you to work for any employer indefinitely;
Type-B work permits allow you to work for a specific employer for up to a year (renewable);
Type-C work permits allow those staying in Belgium only temporarily – such as students – to work for any employer for up to a year (also renewable).

There has recently been some reform to the “Blue Card System”, have the changes benefited workers or have they made the process more difficult and restrictive?

The EU Blue Card scheme has been in operation since 2009. The scheme was proven unsuccessful for a number of reasons, including more attractive national parallel schemes, limited associated rights and its limited ability to attract young talent. The European Commission adopted a proposal to review the EU Blue Card scheme to address those weaknesses and to improve the EU’s ability to attract and retain highly skilled workers in 2016. It foresees more flexible admission criteria, extended labour market access and intra-EU mobility rights for EU Blue Card holders and facilitated access to EU long-term residency. The Commission’s proposal is currently discussed between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council and will hopefully be adopted in the course of 2018.

What are the most common queries that your team deals with in regards to visa processes in Belgium?

  • Can my spouse work? Not automatically. “The spouse of a foreign worker does not have an immediate right to work on the basis of the dependent residence permit. They still require a work permit B sponsored by an employer. The good news on the other hand is that the status of dependent spouse offers access to a work permit B category with more relaxed eligibility criteria.”
  • Can we expedite the procedure? “Unfortunately it is not possible to opt for an expedited procedure in Belgium. The relevant authorities usually handle applications on a first come first serve basis and strive to deliver in a consistent manner against stable processing times (2-4 weeks for work permit applications and 5-15 working days for visa applications).”
  • Does the embassy keep my passport? “Some of our clients who have a very busy travel schedule are terrified of having to surrender their passport at the Embassy while applying for their visa. Luckily we often have good news as most embassies quite cooperative towards the requests from applicants to to give the passport back if they can substantiate the urgent need for this (eg. Business travel).”
  • Does the EU Blue Card offer me the right to work in the entire EU? “Unfortunately this is not yet the case. The EU Blue Card only grants work rights in the member state that has issued the EU Blue Card. I have to explain to our clients that they still require work authorisation if they would go to work in any of the other member states.”
  • Can my (non-married) partner come with me? Again, not necessarily. “This often creates a “reality shock” for non-married couples as they are forced to make a choice to apply for family reunification by either marrying (abroad or in Belgium) or concluding legal cohabitation upon arrival in Belgium (subject to various eligibility requirements).”
  • My work visa is about to expire, should I renew my visa even when I’m already in Belgium and have a residence permit? “The work visa is “transferred” into the residence permit upon completing the town hall registration procedure. The legal status of the foreigner in Belgium is not defined by the visa as soon as they have the valid residence permit. Their status is 100% compliant and covered when they have a valid work and residence permit.”

What is the process from work permit (A, B or C,) to residency (D) to citizenship?

  • To apply for unlimited residency you have resided legally in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of five years.
  • If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU, this can count towards your five-year period.
  • Acquiring citizenship requires the applicant to have a permanent residency status.
  • Once permanent residency is acquired it then follows a ‘Nationality Declaration’ track.
  • Nationality Declaration:

– Legal residence of between five and 10 years in Belgium;
– Be able to prove that you speak one of the three main languages;
– You are socially and economically integrated.

Want to acquire citizenship through marriage to a Belgian national?

  • You must have been living together for three years;
  • Still fulfil the five-year residence requirement;
  • Also have knowledge of one of the three main languages.

Are entrepreneurs able to apply for a Professional Card without holding any other visa for residency in Belgium? Are the visa and immigration rules different for entrepreneurs?

“As a rule, a foreign national exercising a self-employed activity in Belgium needs to be in possession of a Professional Card. Some foreign nationals are exempt from this requirement, such as foreign nationals who come to Belgium on a business trip, provided that the trip does not exceed three consecutive months. Whether the entrepreneur needs a visa and/or Belgian residence permit will depend on their nationality and duration of stay in Belgium. The general rules apply which are similar for foreign employees and self-employed.”

What is the EU Intra-Corporate Transfers directive and when do you think it will be transposed into Belgian legislation?

“The EU ICT directive harmonises the conditions of entry and residence for third-country nationals amongst the EU Member States (excluding UK, Ireland and Denmark) in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer (ICT). An ICT is the temporary secondment of a third-country national who resides outside the EU, from a company established outside the EU to which the employee is bound by an employment contract to a group company located in a Member State. This directive introduces for the first time a European ICT work permit that enables the third-country national to work under certain conditions in EU Member States other than the one that issued the EU ICT permit.

Given the intra-EU mobility rights associated with this new EU ICT permit, it is crucial that Belgium implements the European Directive as soon as possible. Not doing so places Belgium at a significant competitive disadvantage not only in attracting this type of skilled worker but investment as a whole. It creates an obstacle for economic growth and strategic planning for multinational companies that have their regional headquarters in Belgium and have positions with pan-European duties or have to develop skills in a multicultural international environment. The transposition of the Single Permit and the EU ICT permit is anticipated for the second half of 2018.”

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 19 October 2017. What does this mean for travellers?

ETIAS is an electronic monitoring system and will be compulsory for third country nationals who do not need visas to travel the Schengen Area. It will be the equivalent of ESTA (similar system in the US) and it will aim to ensure that people travelling to the EU do not threaten the security of the Schengen countries and to impede irregular migration.

Legislation setting ETIAS up is being discussed internally in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Once both institutions agree upon their respective position, discussions in trialogues between the European Parliament, Council and European Commission will begin.

EDIT: 23/11/2022

The European Union has postponed the launch of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for another six months to November 2023.

With thanks to Jo Antoons, Alexander De Nys, Christine Sullivan, Andreia Ghimis and Rimma Abadjan of Fragomen.

www.fragomen.com

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Choose your Platforms

First things first. There is no point in trying to be on every single platform out there. Unless you can put someone on this (almost) full-time, you will have to decide which channels are the most interesting to you and then carefully consider which of these will be your main priority. At a guess, for most of you this will be LinkedIn. Facebook may have more users globally, but broadly speaking most people will use this for their more personal updates: holiday photos, inspirational quotes, lighter news topics – and lest we forget – the “silly” stuff such as memes and name games. As such it is unlikely that you will be drumming up a lot of serious business here anytime soon.

Facebook

That doesn’t mean to say you should forsake your Facebook Company Page entirely: it’s a great platform for quick updates that catch your followers’ eye and that will drive them to your website or LinkedIn profile when they are actively looking for your professional support. Use your Facebook page for the more personal approach and keep the updates coming regularly. As a general rule of thumb your content here should be around 80% industry relevant news, expert tips & advice, relevant articles, memes, videos and other entertaining content. Just 20% of your posts should include product updates, special offers, contests, and the like, if you want followers to stay invested in your story.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn on the other hand is where businesses and decision makers hang out. This is where we go to find out about industry relevant news, making it an essential part of any company’s social media presence. As the number one* social medium for lead generation, it is the perfect place to showcase your expertise and industry knowledge, so make sure you post regular updates that stand out from the newsfeed.

Use your LinkedIn page to ask questions, post articles and industry insights, conduct polls and research, press releases and other items that you would like to share with a business audience and that showcases your expertise.

Of course, you want to ensure that anything you publish is seen by as many people as possible. The best thing to do is to publish company content through the company page and then repost it to your personal newsfeed to share with your personal contacts. Ask team members to repost the content as well, so that it can pass by their followers’ newsfeeds too. And finally, make sure to share your content with the ABRA Groups for maximum visibility.

A Professional Profile

Most likely you will already have a personal profile on LinkedIn (which of course has a professional looking headshot instead of a holiday picture with your partner cut off), but do you have a company page as well? If not, then this is the place to start.

Your company profile should feature a clear description of your services, aims, and company philosophy, as well as your contact details. Employees should link themselves to the company profile page so that “2-10 employees” doesn’t just look like an empty statement, but actually shows the people behind the organisation. We all prefer doing business with actual people, and this is a quick and easy way to give your company that personal touch. Share your most important content across different platforms for a quick and easy way to keep that newsfeed moving: with a small tweak that industry report might work for Facebook and Twitter too. Most importantly: don’t give up. There is no magic pill for instant social media success, instead it’s very much a case of try and try again before you hit the perfect note that will have new clients knocking on your door.

For ABRA Members only: Knowledge Sharing

That being said, we want to help get you the attention you deserve. Our members deliver the highest levels of service and professionalism and are each experts in their field. And with our combined knowledge base being the most extensive in the Belgian industry, we want to maximise our impact.

As well as articles published by ABRA, we want to invite you, our members, to share your expertise with our readership through the newsfeed on the ABRA website, as well as through our Group pages. If you have published a white paper, conducted industry related research or have a well-researched answer to a particular topic or current affair, then please do share it with us so we can help spread the word.

Find out what the EuRA panel had to say on leveraging the power of social media by visiting their YouTube channel.

GREAT NEWS! ABRA members receive a free best practice guide to social media sharing. Drop us a line at relocate@abra-relocation.com for your free copy.

Join the conversation with ABRA on LinkedIn and Facebook.

* “For B2B companies, LinkedIn is one of the most powerful social media channels available. …research of more than 5,000 companies has shown that LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter.” – MarketingLand

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Looking across the business world, approximately 70% of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. A mere 10% remain active, privately held companies that continue to operate under the leadership of the third generation. In stark contrast to publicly owned firms (in which CEO’s hold the reins for an average of six years) many family businesses have the same leaders for 20 or 25 years, and these lengthy and established leadership tenures can make it harder to cope with shifts in technology, business models, and consumer behaviour. Today family firms in emerging markets face new threats from globalisation. In many ways, leading a family-owned business has never been harder.So what is the answer? Stay put or sell out? ReLocate has consulted the experts in both these fields and brings you the best ways to do either.

Tips for Growing a Family Business

Offering your offspring a fallback option
Many owner/operators of family businesses built their dreams on the idea that their children would work together with them, that they would create something lasting that would provide for their offspring in the years that follow their retirement or passing. In some situations this creates a positive and profitable collaboration as the child is familiar with the running of the business and knows the product or service back to front by the time that they take over. In other family businesses, where the business is quite successful from the beginning, the children are raised in a wealthy atmosphere and may indulge in more frivolous pursuits in their late teens and early twenties. So by the time they need to get serious and settle into their role of proprietor, they are unprepared for the task and due to lack of experience the business fails in the hands of the second generation.

Ensure essential screening and training is employed
Following on from the two situations explained above, ensuring that those family members that do join in the efforts of the family business are experienced, educated and qualified to do so, is essential to the continuation of achieving profits and developing the nature of the business. Simply being born into a family that runs its own enterprise is not qualification enough to take the lead, or even a management role. There are many family businesses that employ best practices such as ensuring their offspring have attained the proper education required of such positions (in the outside world) such as a diploma, degree or even masters. This is also coupled at times with enough relevant experience in a business outside the family business. Some families even go to the extent of having their family members apply for the vacant positions alongside non-family members.

“Everybody thinks about ‘The Succession Plan’. I had great ideas, but no successor.” Patrick Oman, Chairman, Irish Relocation Services

The family expands more quickly than the business
Quite interestingly, some families expand more quickly than the business does. Growing a business can take a few decades, and dealing with economic highs and lows, market dips and competition can take its toll. In contrast to a growing family, a business expands and shrinks with the flow of economic growth and decline. When a business founder has a few children, and each of those children take a spouse and have children of their own, each of whom are interested in taking on a role within the business, employee supply can outweigh demand. Ensure that you do not merely take family members on as staff to please spouses or continue interest from grandchildren. The business must continue to operate as a business and not cater to the emotions of growing families.

Plan for growth to include the growing family
The first two tips are about planning to avoid failure. You want to ensure there is genuine interest from family members, and that this is complimented with a solid education that meets the experience requirements from the hiring company (yours). This is about developing strategies to grow the business and create roles for the ever-increasing family members. For example: two brothers who took over the family business from their father anticipated handing leadership to their combined seven children. The brothers realised that their business would need to expand to accommodate their children to the extent that enough high-level roles could be created within the business. As their offspring completed their education and found the relevant experience to join the family business, the fathers employed the strategy of purchasing two other companies in the surrounding area with the intent of dispatching members of the next generation to run things in the other locations. This in turn generated the revenue required to support the newly employed family members as well as offering enough operational roles for them to fulfil.

Bloodline determining job function when joining the business
It happens quite often in family owned businesses: the tendency for parent and child to specialise in the same aspect of the business. This could be finance, operations, marketing or sales. However comforting this may be for the parent to teach the child their specialty and for the child to feel they are “stepping into the shoes” of the parent, this can cause problems within the business. The first issue this raises is by staying in specialised silos: managers in the next generation do not gain the cross-functional expertise required for overall operational leadership. Secondly, there can be negative consequences of close family members supervising one another. Personal dynamics come into play and this can interfere with coaching and the candid feedback that’s necessary for career evolution.

Engage the services of non-family mentors
A great way to avoid this situation is to appoint mentors that are not part of the family. Even in circumstances where the business is quite small and family members need to supervise one another, ensuring there is input from an interested external party means they can provide objective performance evaluation.

It is important to recognise that family owned and run businesses will always operate differently to publicly owned firms. There are many positive elements of working closely with your family, in an industry that could possibly define the character and nature of those family members. However, to survive the long-haul, family businesses must ensure that they adopt formal policy and strategy on employment, promotion, growth and investment interests. In that way they can ensure that the business continues to be passed from one generation to the next.

Tips for Mergers and Acquisitions

In the event that there are no family members to pass the business on to, or the next generation are uninterested, uneducated or unavailable, the inevitable decision to merge with another business or to sell your business on may have to be made. Or, it could be the case that you want to increase your stronghold in your industry or expand your business to include more family members and you want to acquire another company. In general terms, more than 50 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail and more than 80 percent fail to enhance shareholder value. Let’s review some ideas on the best way to ensure the upcoming change in your business is a positive one.

There is more than just one way to merge, or acquire. Depending on the unique characteristics of your business and the business you are about to engage with, you may want to consider the following:

A buys B
B buys A
A trades shares in A for shares in B
B as above
C is created and shares provided to shareholders in A & B

In all cases, there are a few points to consider and taking note of these before you take the plunge can help you avoid the pitfalls of a joining of enterprises.

What are your motives?
Growing the business for the good of your family is a wonderful motive for merging with or acquiring another business. Selling your business due to lack of interest or lack of family personnel to take over is also a solid reason. However, be honest with yourself. Is it a good time to make this change? What is the economic climate at present? Would it be a better choice to wait a few years to grow, instead of buckling to family pressure right now? If you need to delay due to a difficult market you could ask your children to take some more time to invest in their education or experience. Making a rash choice due to family concerns is not business-savvy. If facing a merger or acquisition your role in the organisation may change entirely, so you need to be clear with yourself what you expect and what you want to get out of the new union.

“We saw the industry changing and knew we’d have to make an investment in order to stay ahead of the curve. But making such an investment at our age had us asking ‘when will we see the return?’ The time was right personally and professionally.” Dean Foster, Executive Strategic Consultant, Dwellworks

You’re building something entirely new
Building your company from scratch is something sole proprietors should be proud of. You are used to making the decisions entirely on your own and taking sole responsibility for them. Taking on a new company with a history and operational structure of its own is a big task and getting two teams of people to work together and accept the new leadership structure takes some planning. You can consider the following to pre-empt any difficulties that may arise:

• From the get-go clearly define your new role: and the role of each member of the executive team. Clarity is crucial in the early days as this will prevent any niggling concerns and enable the team to focus on the big picture.
Be exact about the new leadership structure: as you now command a larger team than previously, ensuring a representative from each area of the new business is involved in the integration of the two entities encourages cohesion and constant communication amongst team members.
Pre-empt concerns: more people in the staffing structure means more feedback and possible complaint about decisions that need to be made. Being mindful of the reasons behind taking the chosen course of action and being able to readily explain them can take the sting out of criticism during the changeover.

“I was keen for Patrick [Oman] to stick around for a while and he was keen to stay too, but you have to lay out the ground rules of how that relationship is going to continue. There has to be clarity of roles.” Dan Sennet, Managing Director, Irish Relocation Services

Be real
It’s all about the integration of the two businesses. When those involved are too distracted by the completion date and possible payouts, the new entity itself loses focus and can fail right from the start. It can be a lengthy and sometimes dull process when ironing out the logistics of the deal, however losing sight of what the two business are going to become once joined is quite dangerous. Be clear with your staff, ensure they have no unreal expectations of how much better (or worse) the new working structure is going to be, and be honest – some questions they have may not be able to be answered for a while.

Preparation for change
Those staff employed in family run businesses (be it family members or non-family members) are used to a particular way of working. Just like a family, with its traditions and preferences for let’s say, a particular supplier or a brand of soap in the bathroom, a family business can become accustomed to a particular way of operating. When change occurs, this can be confronting for both family and staff members. Getting together with the leadership team and realistically setting out possible risks and downsides to the upcoming deal ensures you’re not caught out when having to face emotional responses to change. Have a plan and you will find those tricky moments are settled more quickly than you expect.

On the same page
Making sure not only the leadership team, but also the staff themselves are on the same page is crucial to what happens after the deal has been done. You have to look ahead to after the dust has settled and agree on common goals for the future of the business. Success is more easily achieved when everyone involved is aware of what needs to be accomplished. Set down some milestones and ways of measuring attainment of these goals. Short-term goals keep the energy levels up and push you onwards towards the long-term goals.

Find out more about what the EuRA panel had to say on their personal experiences in merging and acquiring their various companies by visiting the EuRA YouTube channel.

 

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The idea of “work” and “working spaces” is changing rapidly, and a business needs to keep abreast of what attracts new staff and what keeps them content to ensure their business stays afloat. ReLocate brings you an amalgamation of two reports, both entailing information crucial to the attraction and retention of staff. The first report being a survey on students and young professional expats by BNP Paribas Fortis, understanding the motivations behind their want or need to relocate based on their job prospects gives businesses an insight on how to position themselves to attract the best staff. The second report is a Global Talent Trends Study from Mercer, an innovative group that uses analysis and insights as catalysts for change within organisations. Their report details the steps employers need to take to ensure they are retaining the best employees and explains how we are moving forward into an era of fierce competition between businesses for talent like we’ve never seen before.

Looking back: what motivates students and young professional expats to relocate?  – BNP Paribas Fortis

Understanding what motivates students and young professionals to up sticks and move their whole lives to another country is key in attracting the best talent. Knowing what the driving factors behind their decisions are enables companies to put in place the most effective recruitment campaigns and attractive employment policies. “Millennials are the driving force behind this contemporary intra-European mobility, with more and more young expats in Europe seeking new academic and professional experiences elsewhere,” states Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis. Despite big changes in UK and American approaches to immigration these past months, the professional market in Europe is still open to vast levels of mobility. The survey was executed by the Think Young think tank, founded in 2007 and focuses entirely on young people, providing decision makers with high quality research on key issues affecting millennials.

MOTIVATION TO RELOCATE – MOST SPECIFICALLY TO BELGIUM
Students
Just over half of students polled stated that the main reason for leaving their home country and relocating to Belgium was dependent on the opportunity offered by university or school in their home country. A further 39% cited experiencing another culture was enough for them to want to leave home. Learning a new language or developing existing language skills was the key factor in motivating 39% of those who responded. The final outstanding motivating factor in students deciding to relocate to Belgium was that they felt that the move would have a positive impact on their CV and would then in turn maximise their career opportunities.

Young Professionals
The results of this survey on young professionals are much more defined, with a massive 80% of respondents stating that the move to Belgium was wholly based on the career opportunities here. Half of those surveyed cite personal development as a driving factor in their decision to move. While motivations such as learning another language, the standard of living or quality of life and indeed even financial reasons are way further down on the list. Andrea Gerosa, founder of ThinkYoung sees the clarity in the results: “It’s a meaningful move, driven not by the desire to have fun but by the willingness to learn more, improve skills, and enhance career opportunities.”

What does this mean for employers and educational institutions?
Employers and educational institutions have the hard task of pre-empting students and young professional’s career aspirations, and ensuring that they provide clear opportunities for career progression.

Educational institutions need to ensure that the courses they offer contain the latest curriculum developments, and that these are transferable should their students wish to change track – as students often do. Universities and colleges should do their best to attract the best teaching staff that employ modern teaching methods that are also tried and tested. It is also important to offer a wide variety of extra-curricular programmes where students can employ their talents in a more practical environment, gaining them valuable experience for their future in the workforce. Scholarships also ensure that students from a wide variety of backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn, providing the learning environment with a variety of opinions and perspectives.

Employers can use this information to entice the best young professionals to their organisation. Providing potential young employees with clear paths of career progression through well thought-out organisational structures, allows each employee the chance to climb the ladder or explore other areas of the business. Progression isn’t always up, it can be left or right, and when employers offer flexibility, such as secondments to other departments, or other locations – this can be the deciding factor for a young professional full of enthusiasm.

Looking forward: what practices can we put in place to retain the best talent? – Mercer

There’s no denying that 2016 was a trying year in more than one area. With the uncertainty faced by the Brexit vote, the big change in American politics and constant conflict in the Middle East it is crucial that companies shift their focus onto their workforce, to care for the health and wellbeing of their staff. Technological advancements are also having a massive impact on the workplace, how we work, where we work and how we can balance that with enough “down time” are all changing our view of the world of work. On top of all this, Mercer reports that 92% of employers expect an increase in the competition for talent this year.

According to Mercer, these are the top six ways in which they feel companies are going to respond to these new challenges:
1. Attracting top talent externally
2. Developing leaders for succession
3. Identifying high potentials
4. Building skills across the workforce
5. Supporting employees’ career growth
6. Increasing employee engagement

FOUR TRENDS TO WATCH FOR IN 2017
1. Growth by design
It’s all about transforming the internal structure of organisations and ensuring that the “people agenda” is not overlooked. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study they state that 93% of organisations are geared up for a reorganisation in the next two years. Those who aren’t already in the throes of redesign may be left behind.

2. A shift in what we value
If an employee feels undervalued, it is likely that their output will decrease and they will eventually look elsewhere when deciding upon their professional future. Mercer’s study reports that 97% of employees want to be recognized and rewarded for a wide range of professional contributions, not just sales targets or financial results. The rewards employees are seeking are not just fair and competitive compensation, they want more flexible work options, they want opportunities to get promoted, they want leaders who set clear direction, as well as peers that will challenge them and help set the tone for the future of the company. Knowing how to reward employees is key to holding on to them.

3. A workplace for me
When an employee feels that they are not just a number, they are more likely to produce work of a higher quality and also more likely to stay within your organisation. Being able to personalise your employees’ experience will bring significant advantages to your output and staff retention levels. One way for your employees to personalise their working experience is to introduce flexible working options. Mercer’s study showed that the majority of employees want more flexibility within their roles, however not all organisations are as flexible as their employees would like. 1 in 3 employees indicated that they had requested a flexible work arrangement in the past, however they were turned down. Further to this, 1 in 2 employees expressed some concern that working part-time or remotely would negatively impact their promotion opportunities. There is clearly more work to be done here.

4. The quest for insight
Companies are collecting more data from both candidates and employees than ever before, Mercer questions how this data can be better used to gain actionable insights – we don’t seem to be using the data to the best of its abilities. Mercer states that even though many organisations around the globe are collecting data, very few are able to translate the data into predictive insights. Just 1 in 4 are able to produce basic descriptive reporting and historical trend analysis. Looking forwards, predictive analytics – such as identifying which employees are likely to leave – would be incredibly valuable however less than 35% of HR leaders are able to provide this information.

It is an exciting time for the employment market. Organisations are redefining and redesigning their internal structures and the results will eventually be a complete overhaul of employment and work in general as we know it. Concurrently, employees are demanding more of their employers and the more vocal they are the better. The more transparent employment processes are employees can be assured of a better fit within the organisation and employers will then benefit from loyal, happy, engaged and steady employees. Workplaces are becoming not just a place where we feel obliged to show up to within certain timeframes, they are morphing into fluid and flexible spaces where our talents are nurtured, our contributions are valued and we work together towards a future that we are all content to be a part of.

TOP TIPS TO WIN THE TALENT WAR
• Promote a contribution culture where everyone feels welcome to give input;
• Focus on the “whole person agenda”, including health and wealth benefits;
• Define exciting career paths for a positive impact on retention;
• Take a chance on non-traditional talent who have potential but not experience;
• Mitigate risk by building a diverse port-folio of skills and a culture of innovation;
• Create a sense of belonging that resonates with your diverse workforce.

Read the full reports:
BNP Expat Survey
Mercer Talent Trends

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Going back to the roots of good old customer service
What has been lacking in the era of online reservations, self check-in and quite a number of AirBnB interactions, is a prominent level of face-to-face customer service. This is a key element of the hospitality industry and the power it wields is not to be ignored. It makes the difference between repeat customers, solid reputations and can be the deciding factor in tourist’s choices, as well as those guests providing a steady income for hoteliers: the frequent flyer. Thusly we are seeing a change in AirBnB’s approach with Experiences. Not only are AirBnB hosts able to let you experience their home town by letting out their house, apartment or room, they can literally play host to various experiences that will enrich your journey and ensure you engage with your surroundings such as a truffle hunt, an aquatic interaction or a solid favourite: wine tasting. In competition with this new functionality from AirBnB, hotels that distinguish themselves from the pack by delivering quality customer service every time and ensuring unique attention to detail will be the winners in the months to come.

Pod Hotels
Based on the concept of Capsule Hotels – which were originally developed in none other than the space poor Osaka, Japan – by stripping away unnecessary amenities hotels make best use of limited space. Providing the guest a place to sleep, wash and of course log on. Most pod hotels are wholly on the grid, offering in-room climate control, pre-check-in viewing preferences, breakfast ordering and most importantly mood lighting. These pod hotels have come a long way from the idea of sleeping in a fibreglass box and there are more and more pod hotels popping up in the most crowded of cities, offering this state of the art in-room technology to distract from the lack of space. Many pod hotels also offer fantastic communal areas such as cafés, vape bars and even hot tubs, encouraging guests to ditch the pod and interact. Most recently, the vision of “cross-pollinating” is starting to surface where non-pod hotels integrate pods on the ground floor. A further example of this type of cross-pollination follows…

Hotel meets Student Dormitory
Fusing luxury short-stay with student style accommodation and then topping it off with long stay options, these new hives of communal activity are popping up in every university city across the globe. Balancing out their high-end guests, who are usually a seasonal treat with the reliable source of funds, that long-stay student lodger ensures these hotels some staying power. Also boasting stunning communal spaces that encourage guests of all backgrounds to interact and exchange ideas, workspaces are a key part of the build and are not just limited to a desk, a chair and a WiFi code. These hybrid hotels encourage workshops, gatherings, lecture series or an area to just contemplate. For the “stay a while” guest there are communal kitchens, bicycles for hire, laundry rooms and a genuine feeling of home.

Smart Hotels
We’ve heard of Smart Cities, Smart Roads and even Smart Parking. It’s now time for Smart Hotels. When we talk about Smart Hotels images of George Jetson inspired gadgets and gizmos flash before us, the whole room powered by a tap on an iPad. That’s not what’s being referred to here. Smart hotels are more about the intelligent use of space and the ability to plug a guest into the local information grid, making best use of real time data and therefore providing the ultimate stay – not forgetting all this at an achievable price. In the US especially the rise of mobile working is opening up space once used for offices and now providing the hotel industry with the bare bones of urban chic hotels. Millennial business travellers are not after five star luxury like our bawdy ancestors were, they are looking for pared-back décor, an authentic experience and tend to shy away from over-the-top branding and superfluous logo usage.

Dynamic Pricing
As all online businesses are experiencing, those that can offer dynamic pricing (also known as time-based pricing) see increases in their profits and better utilisation of their product. Dynamic pricing is the real-time adjustment of rates based on supply and demand. Hotels conduct the majority of their business online and can take advantage in occupancy fluctuations, seasonal changes and employ dynamic pricing structures to offer competitive rates that meet the ever-changing demand. We have seen dynamic pricing work for other industries such as the parking industry (basically hotels for cars) with incredible success. This type of revenue management strategy can be uniquely precise, changing rates daily or hourly based on sophisticated technology and the trusty old internet. However, hoteliers-be take note: this kind of pricing strategy can alienate corporate guests by restricting negotiations on corporate rates as dynamically priced rooms can work out to be more expensive than the agreed corporate rates.

Add-ons and up-sells
It’s definitely the perks of a hotel that make it stand out from the rest, and refining the skill of providing guests with the extra option that will make their trip unforgettable will be one to watch for in 2017. Hotels will have to work harder in 2017 to ensure their establishment offers top-notch loyalty programmes, where guests don’t have to spend a fortune to earn one measly point. The fact that AirBnB has launched Trips is a clear indicator to hotels that they need to be playing host to their guests in the most generous manner. It’s not just about a bed and a shower anymore. It’s about providing a complete travel experience. Organising bespoke tours, workshops, local events and enabling guests to feel as though their host city is their city, all important factors in providing a total guest experience. Especially with online bookings, or hotels that use apps for reservations, the trick here is to ensure that the potential guest is not distracted by a rainbow of events and services prior to tapping in their credit card number. Patiently waiting until the reservation is made, the guest is more likely to add once the booking is secure as they can be distracted during the booking process. Add-ons such as a bottle of champagne or a breakfast buffet make the guest feel special and takes advantage of all a hotel can offer. Packages are also crucial to this trend, and hotels can be as creative as they like to entice guests: free airport pickups for those booking on weekdays, free concert tickets for guests booking for periods in advance, or free dinner vouchers at the hotel restaurant for a booking of three consecutive nights or less are great examples of creative incentives.

Servicing the Local Community
An interesting niche in the market that hotels don’t usually latch on to are the services they can provide for the local community. Hotels are usually viewed as places for out-of-towners, only for those visiting the area and gone within a few days. A trend to look out for is the mobilisation of services that a hotel can offer their next-door neighbours: this can be as simple as holding packages, or advising on the best places in town to eat, drink and be merry. There are a plethora of services that hotels can offer local residents and we anticipate that 2017 will see hotels becoming community hubs more than they have ever been before.

Travel agents are making a comeback!!
Yes, once the internet took over we turned our backs on the local travel agent and pieced our own journeys together, just as we wanted. However, we didn’t realise just how much hard work that would be. Online travel agents are making a comeback and showing us just how much expertise is involved in organising that “once in a lifetime trip” or making that tricky connecting flight work. The overwhelming options available nowadays are often too much for the not-so-well-seasoned traveller. Do we lose time or do we lose euros when deciding how our itinerary should look. The expert traveller who has been there and done that all before, is more likely to be looking for unique experiences that are sometimes out of layman’s reach. Let’s not forget also that it is quite often about who you know in the industry and travel agents can be a fantastic way to secure an exclusive price on a well researched and fuss free trip.

Whatever type of stay you’re after, there truly is something for everyone.  Be sure to look up our outstanding accommodation providers by visiting:
//abra-relocation.com/member-by-business/

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Thanks to Leuven University, Europe’s eldest, the city has long been an international hub for students, researchers and companies. Their presence has done the region good, but it doesn’t mean the people who want more for Leuven can sit back and rest on their laurels. That’s why, in 2016, Mohamed Ridouani (alderman for SP.A) initiated Leuven MindGate, a network of local institutions, government bodies and industry sectors joining forces to guarantee long-term sustainable development, innovation and welfare in the region. How? By creating optimal circumstances for businesses (e.g. attractive tax conditions), research & development, studying and living.

Research + White Paper
Everything starts with people. With the aforementioned survey Leuven MindGate wanted to “investigate what makes Leuven an attractive place to live and work and where there’s room for improvement. A special taskforce was created to come up with practical recommendations and to specify the right actions required to establish this high-level living and working climate within the region”. The results are bundled in a white paper titled ‘Towards An Outstanding Working and Living Environment: needs and practices for supporting international knowledge workers’.

To start with a general conclusion: success boils down to integration. Not surprisingly these are the paper’s three main focus points: integration of the worker in his or her job, the family or partner into the new environment, and both of them into the Leuven community. In spite of the abundance of help on a wide variety of subjects that is offered by relocators and other specialists, several gaps in the supply of information for newcomers kept surfacing. It is here that the city has decided to step up and take responsibility.

A selection of conclusions from the report:
• The knowledge workers were least happy with the help offered in the search for a daytime activity (e.g. a job) for the partner, a school or day-care for the children and cultural integration;
• The partner’s wellbeing often seems to be the determining factor for a longer or even permanent stay in the Leuven region. Fewer than half (42%) of international staff currently feel part of the local community, 45% of partners who want to work in Belgium experience difficulties;
• The City of Leuven plays a vital role in the integration of international knowledge workers, but their initiatives are scattered and not all accessible;
• [Most] people want the City of Leuven to inform them about administration and registration, activities and healthcare;
• The gap-analysis between the importance rated and the quality of the support shows that in the future the greatest improvement (high importance combined with current low quality) can be made with actions targeting partner job search, housing, relocation, schools and childcare and tax matters;
• 54% of respondents indicate that more information from the City of Leuven about cultural and social activities would be useful.”

Leuven, hidden pearl (policy)
Alderman Mohamed Ridouani makes it his personal matter to address these issues. From an interesting but rather unusual portfolio containing (among others) economy, education and real estate, he works on the internationalisation of Leuven. Again integration is key here. “I try to make it one of my assets, because a city with a high quality of living – liveable, tolerant, bustling – is an attractive city. I visited Shanghai during the course of our research for MindGate, and found they’re experiencing trouble attracting knowledge workers partly because of the smog.”

Like many innovations, Leuven MindGate and the dream of an International House originate in frustration. Ridouani: “Leuven has and offers a great deal of opportunities. Everyone knows it as university town, but it’s much less known that we’re also leading in research. Because of that we’re only reaching part of the international talent that might be interested in working here, which means less companies, and less European research funds.”

Ridouani wants the world to see Leuven for what it is: a pearl. In order to do this Leuven MindGate has set two main goals. One: putting the city on the map for health, hi-tech and creativity (Did you know Teno-fovir, one of the most frequently used medications to treat AIDS was developed there?). Two: Combining forces for a larger (social) coherence. “There’s research going on at IMEC (world renowned nano-electronics research centre), there’s research going on at the university hospital, combine those two and you get biotech. This in turn opens up a world of possibilities for start-ups, investments and so forth,” Ridouani enthusiastically explains.

“The university is good for six hundred years of scientific development and gaining knowledge,” Riduani continues, “twenty years of transforming that into products and solutions lead to companies like IMEC that brought wealth to our region. And I don’t just mean financially, with 156 nationalities in one city we can speak of cultural wealth as well. The next step is to make sure we attract and foster activity and business for more prosperity, more jobs, an even higher quality of life. We can only make that happen if people stay.”

Laying the Foundations
When asked about remarkable conclusions that came out of the Leuven MindGate research, Ridouani says: “I was surprised to learn that such a large percentage of respondents like to live here, but they don’t feel integrated. I think 80% of the respondents said they don’t know who their neighbours are. In fact a very important reason for people to leave Leuven is their partners’ lack of activities and integration. I was also surprised that the city’s offerings like cultural activities, schooling, child day care, etcetera are hardly known. It supports my conviction that social cohesion starts on a very local level.” That’s where the International House comes in. Besides investing in affordable workspace and housing, issues like schools for accompanying children are a necessary means to remove the barrier to come to Leuven. In Ridouani’s words: “integration into the local society is a top priority”.

Even though the idea of one location where everything the expat needs is concentrated under one roof was a product of his own imagination, Ridouani is humble enough to admit that he might not be the only one to have had this thought. Research took him to Denmark, to the International House in Copenhagen. The house accommodates public authorities, public services, private services and the University International Staff Mobility team. It offers support before, during and after relocation and integration. “We also visited the International House in Eindhoven. Each has it’s own specialties, but the basic offer is the same: an overview of online resources and forms to prepare the expat’s stay and help in his or her search for accommodation. Once they arrive they will be guided through their emigration process. The International House will be a home base where expats can find all possible information they need to integrate as quickly as possible: information on schools, (cultural) activities, volunteering, job markets. Besides practical and administrative help, we are planning to organise events and a festive International Day. What I think will be unique in the Leuven International House is the integration of the International Primary School that is currently situated in Heverlee.”

“We already have 17.000 international workers in Leuven. I want them to feel at home, to break the barrier between them and the Flemish community, something the people from Leuven would like as well.” Ridouani sounds inspired. “The International House should become the central place for all affairs international, but I hope it will also become a symbol or flagship for Leuven’s international aura and ambition.” By no means is Ridouani planning to replace the service providers that are currently operating in Leuven: instead he’d like to join forces. As far as integration goes Ridouani is thinking big. “Think of all the local applications that research could lead to: city planning, mobility, safety, air quality…”

It looks like 2017 is the year in which many a relocator, expat and employer’s dream finally comes true: Belgium’s first International House is well on its way to becoming a reality. We highly recommend reading the report. Find it here:
www.leuvenmindgate.be/en/news-press/hr-event

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How come Belgium’s such a big player? And what does this silent giant of an industry actually entail? Life Sciences are those fields of study that deal with living organisms and their life processes. You may think in the direction of biology, healthcare and medicine, nutrition, microbiotics, ecology and the various interconnections between those fields. Especially Research & Development, and more precisely the expertise in the area of clinical studies, puts Belgium at the European summit of biotech, the cross-pollination between biology and technology. Twenty-nine out of thirty top pharmaceutical companies that operate in this field (including of course Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer) have offices in Belgium.

Let’s start with some facts and figures. The Belgian biotech industry:
• Is the number one R&D employer in Belgium;
• Was the 2nd largest biopharma exporter in Europe in 2013;
• Creates three indirect jobs for every biopharma job in Belgium;
• Has high global rankings in actual production and patents.

As for the other question, why Belgium, there are a number of factors to account for. Call it a tripod made up of political, economical and scientific factors. Of course this industry didn’t drop onto Belgian soil out of thin air. It all started in the early 80’s. Mark Vaeck, currently CEO of Complix, was “lucky enough” to witness it. “In 1980 Amgen, one of the pioneering biotech companies, was founded in the US,” recalls Vaeck. “In 1983 I started out with Belgium’s first biotech company, which was founded only a year earlier. Only two years later a second company was raised and from there it was a speedy development on account of very important molecular biology research done at the university of Ghent and the spin-offs this created. Two laboratories in particular were important to that development, that of professor Van Montagu, scientific founder of Plant Genetic Systems, and the virology laboratory of professor Fiers that formed the basis for Innogenetics. A lot of the people who now hold top-jobs in biotech in Belgium started out in one of those two companies. So you could say Belgium is a cradle of biotech.”

“Flanders has an innovation culture similar to Silicon Valley. It’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual – research shows that people from such a background are better innovators,”  – Bernard Munos, founder of InnoThink

The whole region of Flanders, with clusters around Ghent, Leuven, Brussels and Hasselt and Antwerp, compares very favourably to the rest of Europe. “It has an innovation culture similar to Silicon Valley. It’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual – research shows that people from such a background are better innovators,” says Bernard Munos, founder of InnoThink (innovation in pharmaceutical industry, ed.). What’s more, the proximity and cooperation between different companies and researchers make Flanders attractive to small companies and small(er) companies can innovate more easily.

But that still isn’t all. Let’s not rule out the importance of a government with a nose for opportunities in growing business and welfare. Minister De Croo (Open Vld, Vice-President, involved with the World Economic Forum) summarises the reasons why he believes Belgium holds a 16% market share in Europe:

• Top-notch academic research facilities;
• Fiscal system geared towards innovation;
• Tax reduction on labour costs for researching;
• Big amount of foreign investors.

Mark Vaeck explains why he and Complix chose to set-up and stay in Belgium. “I have experience in The Netherlands, the US and Belgium. Since I was born and raised here, it’s the most evident territory for me. The technology of Alphabodies was developed within Algonomics, also a Belgian company, in which I was a Board member until we decided to establish a new corporation especially to develop the Alphabodies for therapeutic applications. So my network is here. It’s hard to predict the future, but the next logical step might be to start a subsidiary in the US, as stepping stone towards a listing on the Nasdaq stock market. Other than that, I don’t see any reason to go anywhere else but Belgium, especially the UK,” Vaeck chuckles.

“The surface of Flanders is comparable to that of a large city in the US. If you consider that, the amount of businesses here is hallucinatory,” Vaeck continues. “This density is good. There’s a network of related service companies, good staff, short distance to the universities and we are centrally located in Europe with connections to all the large European cities. Fiscal and practical governmental support also adds to the attractiveness of the region. Subsidies and a reduced income tax for expats compensate for the high taxes and labour costs.”

Science Parks
The activity is mainly concentrated around the universities and the affiliated science parks, the largest being those of Ghent, Leuven and Brussels, which are in a sense a combination of the previously mentioned factors: location, knowledge and financial benefits which attract investors and thus create more jobs. No wonder they call them incubators (from the dictionary: ‘a place, esp. with support staff and equipment, made available at low rent to new small businesses’).

Mark Vaeck acknowledges the benefits of a science park. “We cooperate with several of the universities on a regular basis, but also with VIB, an umbrella research group. Being near such locations makes communication easier. Because of the short physical distance and close cooperation, our branch in Hasselt for example provides us access to the animalium for animal testing. Complix also has a small subsidiary in Luxembourg. The offices are situated at the LIH (Luxembourg Institute of Health), which grants us access to their infrastructure, including machinery that’s too expensive for a small company like ours to buy.”

Expats and a Global Mobility Policy
When asked about a global mobility policy, Mark Vaeck can’t help but laugh. “We’re only twenty five people, what do you think? No, we try to stay lean and mean, with little administration. At this moment we have one foreigner working for us, the Chief Scientific Officer, who is an Irish lady. It’s an important subject though. To be competitive you have to be able to attract the right people, and you won’t find all of them within one small country. Luckily we’re attractive right now, also because of our alliance with Merck & Co (a US  pharma giant, LLtV) which means a real boost for the company’s profile. When we start growing in the future we’ll be able to attract more international people. I always refer to Ablynx (another biotech company that Mark Vaeck also co-founded and led as CEO for the first 5 years, LLtV), we started out small there, and now it has a 300-people staff, which counts, especially within the management, several foreigners.”

“Belgium is an attractive place for biotech companies,”  Vaeck concludes. “The advantages on income tax for expats makes it agreeable, the fact that most people speak English much better then in our surrounding countries, Brussels’ multicultural melting pot, a high standard of living and decent housing at acceptable prices, short distances between hotspots like Ghent and Leuven, good restaurants, nice festivals; Flanders scores pretty well on all those subjects. One thing that needs improvement is the number of international schools. And the traffic jams, they’re a real pain.”

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When the world wasn’t much bigger than a thirty-minute ride in the back of my parents’ car, I remember people being critical of those who moved across the border of our neighbouring country Belgium. These were rich folks, or at least they aspired to be, the others supposed. I didn’t understand much of it, only that they must be smart, as they were able to buy a bigger house and a fancier car by, in theory, moving just a few exotic kilometres away. Something to do with taxes, people said. I recall seeing pictures of these supposed mansions and being disappointed; it looked just like home, no ornamental pillars, eternal sunshine or prancing pink ponies whatsoever. I still don’t understand much of it today, but for different reasons. I’ve since learned that this phenomenon is called a tax haven and that it involves much more than one border, a short stretch of land and an actual, physical house.

Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti were drawn by this same question: what constitutes a tax haven? For two years Woods (NL 1970, grew up in Italy) and Galimberti (IT, 1977) worked on ‘The Heavens’, a photographic documentary research project that sheds light on the obscure workings of seemingly exotic tax havens and the so-called offshore world. Given the publication of the Panama Papers and the Lux Leaks scandal earlier this year, the duo proves their nose for current affairs.

Woods’ and Galimberti’s interest was awakened as they were bent over a map in Woods’ Haiti home. Galimberti casually remarked that after a pretty good year the Italian government would claim half of his profits. I should hide it, he joked, upon which they observed that the notorious Cayman Islands were only an hour away. Could he actually pull it off? For that they needed to unravel the workings of a tax haven, about which the duo only had vague notions, even though the subject makes the news every day. A bigger challenge, given they’re photographers, was how to picture a phenomenon you can’t see.

“Many James Bond-movies were filmed on locations where tax havens are located. Long-legged beauties, mysterious wealth and spies travelling the globe set the tone. It gave the fast-growing off shore world a sexy touch.” – Nicholas Shaxson ‘The Great Escape’, The Heavens, 2015

For over two years the duo travelled to thirteen different tax havens to capture associated phenomena, places and people. It included a lot of fact checking, “not because we’re nerds, but to avoid getting into trouble with any big companies’ lawyers”. Part of their research was setting up The Heavens LLC, incorporated in Delaware, USA with the same company Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Google, Walmart and 285.000 other companies. It was done in twenty minutes, no papers required.

tax havens
A man floats in the 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the skyline of “Central,” the Singapore financial district, behind him. Singapore

In a visual language borrowed from glossy annual reports and interior magazines, this is the image they present us with: shiny shoes, flawless rows of safes and post boxes, a tropical skyline (a forest of overtly designed but empty skyscrapers littering Panama’s coast), rooftop swimming pools, a moon speckled sea where a single yacht is anchored (waiting to bring Donald Trump Towers’ guests to a deserted island). Men with motorised hobbies, meetings with take away coffee, ugly carpets and comfy chairs, men and women in business uniforms. Singapore Freeport – part of the Singapore Diamond Exchange headed by Belgian Alain Vandenborre –  built with extra solid foundations to be able to carry the tons of gold, diamonds that pass through each year and more art than you will find in Firenze. Flipping through the book is looking at surfaces and shells. It’s looking at nothing much, except for the occasional outstanding view. Tear sheets collected by an ambitious young man with big dreams and a lack of scruples. It’s playing James Bond, only the villains look stunningly uninspiring and they hardly ever get caught.

The duo learned the proof is in your pantry, your bookmarks, your wardrobe: Starbucks, Chiquita, Lays, Gillette, Amazon, Google, they all make use of ingenious, questionable, but legal ways to pay less tax and make more money. Unless you’re a hermit, there’s no escaping it. Billions of private and corporate dollars are stashed in tax havens, “often legally, to escape financial regulations or to reduce their taxes, draining the resources countries can spend on education, health care and security.” During the Vietnam War the USA even attracted blood money from Africa to finance the conflict, implicitly approving of armed conflict.

What lingers besides that dazzling world of polished make-believe is a pit in the stomach. Can a book like this change anything? Maybe not, but it does challenge you to a thorough reflection on today’s society. And although some Barbie-esque villa’s and palm trees are involved, I can now say for sure that a tax haven isn’t exotic at all. Thanks guys, for a depressingly good book.

‘The Heavens. Annual Report’
Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
Dewi Lewis media, 2015

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“This machine is not a space ship; it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It lets us  travel the way a child travels: round and around and back home again to a place we know we are loved.”

The compelling ‘Mad Men’ character Don Draper, creative director at a New York advertising company, pitches a campaign for a slide carousel to Kodak. While projecting pictures of his family and reminiscing on his mentor, he smartly interweaves his personal story with Kodak’s new technology and their wish to become a household name.

In every season of the Emmy Award winning television series one pitch stands out. The common denominator is the personal experience that helps sell a product. In Don Drapers words: “Trying to establish a deeper bond with the product – it’s delicate but potent.” Or, as Peggy Olson puts it during a pitch for Burger Chef: “Every great ad tells a story.”

And although we’re referencing a drama series, the show’s appeal lies in how relatable not only the characters are, but the stories they are selling too. People tell business stories to communicate and connect with employees, customers, colleagues, partners, suppliers, and the media. Business stories differ from regular stories, in that you tell them with an objective, goal, or desired outcome in mind, rather than for entertainment.

When you tell a story well, it can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. Effective stories can change our opinions, they can inspire us to achieve goals that we didn’t think were possible, and they can show us how we can change things for the better.

Things to Sell and Stories to Tell
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell,” writes Alan Berkson from Freshdesk in a zdnet.com blogpost.

If traditional advertising is dead, brand storytelling is experiencing a meteoric rise, proving that although times may change, human nature does not. The easiest way to someone’s heart is through a perceived personal connection. Whether it’s your ‘about us’ page, your Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile or Facebook page – even the tone of voice of your internal communications – your ‘story’ is what turns your stakeholders into believers.  Authentic, transparent and relevant communication holds the key to your success.

Thankfully, great communication isn’t exactly rocket science. From your clients and suppliers right down to your team members, you’ve already built a relationship.  Strengthening that bond is simply a matter of combining all the ingredients you already have lying around to create your narrative:

mission + vision + values + strategy = brand story

In Alan Berkson’s words: “It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.”

According to Incite’s Summit White Paper 2016 on Corporate Storytelling “your brand story extends beyond your marketing campaign and defines your company holistically. People buy into that story, not your product. They are alienated when you don’t live up to that story, and they are increasingly loyal and passionate when you do. Customers have plenty of choice nowadays. Yours is not the only option. You want them to choose to associate with you, not the competition.”

And it’s not just customers either, employees too want to know the ‘why’ of the company they work in, they want to feel connected and inspired.  Chances are you chose your employees and suppliers conscientiously and without them your business wouldn’t be the same. By making them an important part of your narrative you are able to show how much you value and appreciate them.

Start Listening
“It [storytelling] is especially useful for leaders, for example when leading people into the future, taking them through change, influencing, unifying people towards a common purpose, transmitting values, motivating and inspiring. Incorporating stories into your messages helps to develop a shared sense of identity.” says Vera Woodhead, coach and brand developer, on allthingsic.com.

Some more sound advice from Alan Berkson: “Companies and their brand managers need to come to terms with the reality that they are no longer the only voices in the conversation. It begins with listening. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to hear and, most importantly, understand the consumer and then weave them into you corporate story. [That story] needs to be infused into everything, from marketing, PR and customer service, to HR, product development.”

It’s easy to miss an opportunity to connect so you want to be both selective and aware of your approach. In order to engage your audience your message needs to be concise, memorable, understandable, differentiating. A proper strategy is key. Your story is made up of different elements and not all of those are suitable for every channel. Once you’ve formulated your story and plan of action it’s time to share your message wherever, whenever you can.

Missed Opportunities
We’ve all been there: we’ve dedicated time to keeping our lines of communication open, have raved about our great new services and special offers to clients and have shared our best photographs and most titillating insights on social media, only to find that we’ve failed to garner the reactions that we were hoping for.  Our audience has failed to connect, our message has simply passed them by.

In fact, it’s your corporate storyline that ties everything together and not making use of what you already have is quite simply a missed opportunity.  In order to build a dedicated following you need to make sure that your narrative holds across the many communication channels you utilise.

Messages have to reflect your vision in order to stand out from the crowd.  Simply reposting interesting articles that are relevant to your field of business won’t do anymore.  Where is your company’s view on the matter?  Why should people care what you’re up to?  What does your team have say? Get your story straight and your audience will start feeling that personal connection you’ve been seeking.

Not everyone gets away with Don Draper’s charades, but if you stay aware of pitfalls and keep it real, your story will surely be one of success.

Our top picks from Incite’s White Paper:
1. Determine where your brand story will come from. The main lesson here? Don’t manufacture something from nothing. Pick something you’re already doing. This can be aspirational (a “campaign for real beauty”), it can be a legacy point (the rich history of…), it can be based on sustainability and corporate responsibility, or it can come from your employees.

2. Don’t tell it yourself. This is beyond marketing and communications. You want to accentuate a message that’s already out there. Twenty percent of marketers say customers have more power to define your brand than anyone else. Your employees are a good bet, too.

3. Make sure you can tell it persuasively. If you’re going to ascribe the responsibility to tell the story to employees instead of the marketing and communications departments, you’ll need a different set of processes to sign off. You can’t strangle a story by running it past legal every time you have an opportunity to propagate it.

4. Ensure that this is for the long term. A brand story is most emphatically not a campaign with an end date. It’s far more wide-reaching than that. You need to plan further ahead and build foundations that last longer than any typical marketing campaign planning process you’ve done before. That means getting employee buy-in (which is why we talk not about creating a story, but about accentuating an existing one). This isn’t a paint job – it’s something people sign up for.

5. Use the story with more than just your customer base. Your brand story will help engage and build morale with your workforce, too. Use it to do so.

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If we feel hard done by, we’re quick to share our displeasure with the world.  Today’s media is abound with public relations disasters such as sackings being tweeted live through the company account and disgraced public figures who said one thing and did another altogether, effectively ending their careers.

We have a strong sense of justice and fairness and as a society, we crave a more meaningful life.  This means that aligning our personal and professional values is becoming increasingly important to both our success and our happiness.

So how does this translate into the global mobility sector?  As a people oriented business the majority of the relocation industry is quick to see the benefit of strong customer relations, but with a continued pressure on cost and speed it is easy to lose sight of the rest of our stakeholders’ interests.

Elisa French, partner and founder of Ceeyana, brought to life how easily and quickly we can integrate our personal philosophy into professional practice. With over 2 decades in Executive Coaching and Strategic Management behind her, Elisa is actively involved with the Relocation Professionals Coaching Program in cooperation with Oxford Brookes University and has transformed lives for a wide range of clients from small businesses to large corporations around the world.

The Conscious Capitalist
“Capitalism has served us well,” posits Elisa, “but is has come at a great cost. We now own more mobile phones than toothbrushes and our world is being disrupted at a greater speed than ever before.  As consumers we have more choices, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. We don’t always feel heard or appreciated by our peers.  Depression, burn-out, loneliness; they’re all signs of our time and very much on the rise.”

“Businesses need to acknowledge that it is their role to serve society, and as business people we need to see opportunity in this,” she continues.  “We all prefer doing business with organisations that have a philosophy we can relate to, but it takes courage and commitment to change for good.”

“Typically organisations sense that they would like to take a more conscious approach to their day-to-day dealings, but it’s not easy turning such a big ship around.  Compliance and governance are big hurdles to overcome, but we don’t rea-lise how many easy and small things already set us on track towards creating a more fulfilling life in a better world.” Elisa adds when we catch up after the conference.

Most of us will already have made a start towards positive change without even being aware of it. Whether you’re recycling your printer cartridges or just making sure that you don’t print out every single email, taking those first steps towards instilling a more conscious approach throughout your organisation isn’t as daunting as you might expect.

Improving Lives
“For the vast majority of us money is not our driving force.  Whether your company mission is to have fun along the way, to make a personal difference to the families you relocate, or to support a local charity, for most of us work involves wanting to improve life in one way or another.”

It’s finding this higher purpose that helps take your company to the next level Elisa believes.  “Every organisation is different and what works for one, may not work for the other, so ask yourself, what does conscious capitalism mean to you? What are your principles, what are your values and what do you really want to stand for?  Tell me why should I work with you and not somebody else.  Ask yourself how you can integrate this common purpose into your day-to-day processes and relationships, but most importantly: turn up and actually do what you have set out to do.”

Money to be Made
Research supports the claim that defining and working towards this common higher purpose as a person, a team and as an organisation, is the key to creating a sustainable and successful business.  A study by Edelman Marketing even suggests that companies committed to conscious capitalism outperform others by a factor of 10, proving there is money to be made in adopting a more conscious approach to business.  The 2012 study also showed that when price and quality are equal, 71% of consumers would not just switch brands, but even help a brand promote their product or service if there was a good cause behind them.

“These companies are not settling for the cheapest suppliers or squeezing what they can out of prices, but instead work with selected suppliers to become loyal and mutually respected partners who invest in quality and innovation,” Elisa continues.  “By investing in salaries, education, health and wellbeing, staff feel validated and want to come to work.  Simply allowing people to speak up, paying them well, acknowledging them and giving fulfilling work builds a committed and loyal team who will carry your message out into the world.”

Being your Best
Your purpose is what anchors your organisation.  It’s the magnet that serves to draw in all of your stakeholders and gets them to buy into your ‘story’.  From clients and contractors to individual team members, you want everyone to be on board so that you can flourish by aligning with society’s need to lead better, more conscious lives.

It’s the millennials who are driving this desire for a more sustainable future.  It can be hard for management – and long-standing team members – to see the need for change.  They are often perfectly happy with how things have been running, but when you hire fresh young thinkers they bring new impetus to your company culture. So ask yourself: ‘are your processes bringing out the best in every stakeholder? Does your business allow you to be the best you can be?’ and then go from there.

“Think about it.  Only too often do we devote all of our energy to getting the job done, to the detriment of living up to our higher purpose.  We may choose to ignore the fact that a team member’s moods affect the entire office as we believe they get the job done.  Or perhaps you’re keeping on  a client that really you’d rather not have, simply because they pay the bills.  If you’re accepting situations that undermine who you are and what you believe in for the sake of saving time and resources, it’s bound to come back and bite you. It has a massive impact your organisation’s culture, and takes away from where you are trying to head.  You really need to critically assess what type of a culture you are tolerating: it’s the life force of your organisation. If your company is all about measuring quarterly profits and quick wins, then this is what you’ll get.”

If on the other hand you can not only define your values, but really embed them you start building values such as transparency, trust, integrity, compassion, generosity, autonomy and more into your company culture. Values that have a huge impact on your performance and that create great, energetic places to work.  If, for example, you were to look at employee turnover as a key performance indicator, you’re starting to think like a conscious leader.

Creating Structure for Growth
“When you truly start walking the talk everybody gets to play a part in making this higher purpose become a reality and becomes accountable for their individual input and actions,” says Elisa.  “When everyone is seen as equal you create a culture where feedback – even the most critical – is welcomed as an opportunity for learning.  Defining your values sets boundaries and creates structure for growth as well as offering the opportunity to become who you really want to be.”

Most importantly you have to check in with your values on a regular basis. Whether it’s your operating systems, your business model or your company culture, make sure you don’t stray from your path or allow yourself to become distracted by the one who shouts the loudest.

Be the Change You Want to See
“When we do purposeful work we treat people with trust, care, and respect, and restore the ecosystems around us.  We start recognising that all aspects of our lives and the world are interconnected. We go to sleep not feeling as lonely and depleted, but happier and more fulfilled.  We feel engaged with the world around us and our work environment gives us the opportunity to lead the most meaningful lives we can.  That being said, it’s up to us to step out of our comfort zone as individuals as well.  We all want the world to be the best place it can be and we all have a part to play in this.  Yes you want your company to be the force for good, but you have to live and breathe what you stand for as a person too,” Elisa concludes.

Find Elisa’s talk on the EuRA website or visit her online at www.ceeyana.com

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Daniel Poelman, Business Partner Expats, and Leen Goyvaerts, Business Partner Professions Libérales & Independants at KBC Brussels are keen to introduce me to Julie Fulon, Community Manager for the Brussels branch of Startit@KBC and owner of girleek.net.  We meet at the Brussels incubator and co-working space to find out more.

Happy Accidents & Unexpected Success Stories
“The face of business has undergone a radical change over the last few years,” Daniel tells us.  “There is a growing community of people who have bags of experience, or even none at all, and have a great idea that they seek to develop. Belgium hasn’t always been perceived as having a particularly friendly environment for businesses to develop and grow in, but thankfully that’s changing.”

It really was per chance that Startit saw the light of day.  “The bank organises an annual competition for all employees worldwide.  By getting our own people to pitch ideas we get to involve different backgrounds and cultures in improving our services and optimising internal processes.  There’s never really a set theme and two architects who were working in the Antwerp tower at the time, saw an opportunity to fill the empty floors through an original and socially responsible concept: bringing together young people with bright ideas and entrepreneurs and organisations that would be able to help them get their projects off the ground,” explains Leen.

“They won the pitch and were given a budget by an internal sponsor who simply told them ‘we have the space, now you have the money, let’s make it happen’.  Partnerships with the University of Antwerp, Flanders DC, iMinds and others mean that a great variety of expertises and networks have been brought together under one umbrella that start-ups can use to their advantage.”

It was an unexpected success that saw the first floor in the Antwerp tower filled almost immediately.  Today there are Startit offices in six cities across Belgium, housing some 287 start-ups and 28 nationalities, and the numbers continue to grow.  The Brussels incubator opened its doors last Oct-ober and their very first Pitch Day brought in 15 start-ups.  Today there are nearly 40 start-ups working on their plans for global domination and the co-working space is positively humming with activity.

“You become part of a community. Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another save time and money.” – Julie Fulon, Startit@KBC

So how does it work? “Start-ups really are just that,” explains Leen.  “They’re at the ideation stage.  Budding entrepreneurs are offered the opportunity to come and pitch their idea to our jury and, if they are accepted, are given 12 to 18 months maximum to develop themselves and to learn to do business.  This is their time to create a real business plan, to complete trial runs and ensure they have a viable business before heading out into the world and officially opening for trade.”

“One of the major benefits of being invited to work here is that you become part of a community,” adds Julie.  “Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another.  Only the other day at the lunch table one of the tech guys pointed out to two budding entrepreneurs that they would need to keep in mind credit card expiration dates for their online business.  A simple statement, but one that will save them lots of time, stress and money in the future as their monthly membership programme grows.”

And of course there’s the mentorship programme too: “We ask our mentors to meet with their start-ups for at least two hours every two weeks,” Julie continues.  “And although every start-up has their personal mentor, they can ask any of our mentors for help or introductions to potential clients, partners or departments.  It’s easier for the start-up to reach the right people when they can get an introduction through one of our partners or mentors. It’s an invaluable benefit to have.”

“Mentors are usually decided on at Pitch Day.  The jury often knows who will be right for which project but sometimes we ask the candidate who their ideal mentor would be.  Of course many say ‘Bill Gates’,” laughs Leen, “but it does give you an idea of what type of support they are after. We’ll always look at each individual case and find a local mentor who is best matched with their needs.  We also get a lot of interest from people who want to become mentors, but we remind them that it’s an unpaid job that requires a lot of time and effort, so only the truly dedicated should apply.”

Changing Times
It’s rare for start-ups, especially in the tech industry, to find people who understand what they are trying to accomplish.  “We’re increasingly coming into contact with innovative organisations and start-ups through Startit and our Bolero Crowdfunding initiative, which made us realise that we didn’t really have the proper tools in place to service them,” says Leen. “It’s something we very much want to change and the reason why KBC and KBC Brussels decided to establish a national multidisciplinary team that can share its expertise and knowledge and help guide these young enterprises on their journey.  We kick off in a few weeks when we’ll have some 40 people around Belgium whose job is specifically to offer a customised service.”

“We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us.  We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.” Daniel Poelman, KBC Brussels

“It’s a huge change for KBC too,” Daniel admits.  “We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us.  We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.”

So what does the future hold?  “The future just happens, our environment is becoming more favourable to business and it’s up to us to be a part of it.  No one said ‘we want to become the leading start-up incubator in Belgium’ but it happened.  The same goes for our industry itself.  We’re investing in digital and ‘the internet of things’ but no one really knows where it will take us.”

“This entrepreneurial spirit is increasingly becoming part of the DNA of KBC.  We’re seeing the benefits of networking and are integrating this into our own business model as well.  We’re longstanding partners of BelCham for example, and given KBC’s Startit commitment to supporting young companies in Belgium, it only felt natural for us to become one of the Founding Partners of BelCham Atelier in 2013, the pioneering incubator in the heart of New York City (located in the same building as the KBC and Belcham offices).  Under the leadership of Chris Burggraeve and Bieke Claes, respectively President and Managing Director, BelCham Atelier has already become the first port of call for Belgian scale-ups who want to explore their potential in the US.” Daniel is proud to conclude.

www.startit.be
www.belcham.org

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Master of the Universe
Where last year content was king, this year it has officially become Master of the Universe.   Keyword-laden websites and articles have been in the doghouse ever since Google’s 2011 Panda update, and with the rolling-out of the Hummingbird platform in 2013 even more attention is being paid to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than just particular words. The idea being that pages matching the meaning do better in search engines, rather than pages matching just a few words. This has put the onus squarely on producing relevant, interesting content that engages audiences across the board.

Additionally, consumers have become significantly better at spotting the meaninglessness of ‘cheap’ content, recognizing a lack of purpose in your message within seconds and excluding you from the content they wish to consume. Sharper positioning of your brand, the focus of your message, cutting through the clutter, condensed and more to-the-point content is the key to communicating online in 2016.  Connecting your inner value system holistically with your audience will increasingly provide guidance and direction for how you create your content: authentic, engaging and from the inside out.

Emotional Marketing
Another big trend in the world of corporate communications is brand storytelling.  According to the Brand Storytelling Report 2015 by Headstream, more than a half of consumers are more likely to buy a product if they really love the brand story. People want to hear stories about real humans, stories they can relate to. Relevant stories that speak to consumers make brands meaningful. On top of that, they can go viral, giving brands organic recommendations that are more trustworthy than any other corporate messages. Emotional marketing helps businesses to stand out in the highly competitive market.

Apple, for example, don’t sell computers. They offer a way of thinking and a challenge to the status quo by making their products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. It just so happens that they fulfil this vision by making computers.  Coke doesn’t sell softdrinks, they offer happiness, Samsung doesn’t sell mobile phones, they give you emotions and moments. Redefining your marketing strategy in 2016 can change the way people perceive your brand and bring them around to your offer.

Rise of the Social Influencer
That said, customers often trust peer recommendations more than a company’s sales message and curating user generated content (UGC) will become an increasingly important marketing activity. Internet users are more willing to trust a favourite blogger rather than a recommendation from a brand, making bloggers and other social influencers exceptionally powerful in the shaping of consumer opinions.  Of course, word of mouth has always been a valuable source for customer acquisition and retention. However, with social media development it moved to a different level.

Conversation Starters
The traditional sales message is not the only way to gain attention for your brand as we move beyond the traditional publisher/advertiser relationship in 2016. By sponsoring great content, wherever it lives, brands are no longer reliant on display ads and banners to generate awareness. Instead, they can be associated with genuinely engaging videos, imagery and interactives which work on the platforms their audiences are using.  Sponsoring content associates a brand with the site and topic at hand. Native advertising allows brands to develop their own content which looks and feels like a piece of journalism.

We’ll also see more companies partnering with industry peers and organisations with common goals to share know-ledge, start conversations, work on projects and campaigns together, and to generally increase the breadth of communications within the world they operate in.

Thought Leadership
Hot on the brand story’s heels is the increasing priority of thought leadership. Thought leadership is a newer marketing trend where business leaders and companies position themselves as experts in their area of business, which in turn serves as a great framework for related PR tactics and campaigns.  From the publishing of white papers to appearing as a keynote speaker or putting yourself out there on LinkedIn with well-written opinion pieces, thought leadership is fast becoming a great way to get yourself and your company noticed, so make sure you get your story straight, keep your content original and most of all, be engaging.

Continued Shift Towards Mobile
With more communication taking place over the web, traditional communication tools have become increasingly obsolete. In addition to ensuring your business contacts’ information is available at all times, the real benefits of mobile devices are seen in the applications that they run.

According to Techcrunch there are now over 2 billion deskless workers in the global workforce, outnumbering desk workers 3 to 1.  Collaboration platforms and productivity applications are supporting this trend towards remote working by allowing staff members to conduct business on the go as long as they have internet access.

These types of tools give employees access to business data and CRM platforms via almost any mobile device. Thanks to the power and versatility of mobile platforms and devices, the increased adoption of enterprise mobility is able to continue without hindering any business processes or negatively impacting employee performance.

Increased Reliance on Cloud-Based Solutions
This increased mobility provides an opportunity for cloud-based communication solutions to prove their worth. Many companies are already employing cloud technology because of its reduced cost and easy implementation. However, leveraging this technology’s capabilities will become necessary for companies who want to remain competitive.

Hosted real-time communications provide a superior business communication solution  and integrating this technology with existing CRM software gives client-facing employees, such as sales staff, customer representatives, or office executives, a single place to access client data to manage customer interactions seamlessly. This level of service enhances customer experience while improving business efficiency. It also offers the added benefit of allowing employees to log onto the back-end systems on any device, even if their company-issued hardware is not accessible at that time.

Bigger Emphasis Placed on Enterprise and Cloud Security
While this notion is nothing new, maintaining enterprise-grade security will be as important as ever in 2016. With organizations continuing to migrate towards mobile and cloud solutions, the increased number of associated devices means more potential breakpoints.

Recent high-profile cyber-attacks have highlighted just how exposed any system network can be. The technological progress that continues to provide us with new business tools means that new opportunities continually arise for hackers. Each new technology has its vulnerabilities that must be identified and secured, and the rapidly-changing threats to communication applications require dedicated efforts to ensure the continued integrity of sensitive business communications.

And finally, we predict this won’t be the last set of trend predictions you come across this year!

Sources: smartinsights.com; newsweaver.com; tech.co;
addison-group.net; forbes.com; cotap.com; headstream.com; brandaffairs.com; hotwire.pr.us

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We were warmly welcomed by  Mr. Bart Vandesompele, Managing Director of De Community Gent.  Ghent’s Mayor Daniël Termont, was the second speaker.  He explained, based on the questions and suggestions that came up during the previous expat event  in December 2014, which was hosted by the city hall of Ghent, the expat services Ghent has been working on the last year and the future, foreseen improvements.

Mayor Daniël Termont was followed by  Prof. Dr. Barney Jordaan, who entertained us all with his presentation about “Surviving in the corporate jungle. What can we learn from the conflicts in the animal world to solve our differences?” The lively remarks and questions raised by the public made for an interesting,  interactive discussion.  Afterwards, at the Vlerick’s ground floor cafeteria, an unconstrained networking drink was organised. The many expats in attendance, both from Ghent and other cities, were able to mingle with the stakeholders and sponsors of De Community Gent present that evening.

Again, De Community Gent’s effort to set in place an event especially focussed on its expats has been a real success.  Next up is the “Expat New Year’s Drink” on Monday evening 25th January. Around 100 expats have subscribed to this event and De Community is looking forward to it.

The association was created back in May 2013 and comprises three main partner groups: Expat Community; Jong & Wijs (Young and Wise) and Wijze Vrouwen (Wise Women).  In the future, other groups might be created in function of specific needs, Vandesompele tells us.

It was created as a meeting place for co-operation, exchange and interaction between the city of Ghent on the one hand and her societal, socio-economic, scientific, cultural, sport and other stakeholders on the other hand.  Its main aim however, is to further strengthen the city’s image by showing a vested interest and proactive approach to bringing stakeholders of all shapes and sizes together through regular networking and informative events.

The association is an interactive cooperative platform by the many organisations in Ghent that believe the city has the DNA needed to forge an even stronger identity in the international community.  “We want to show how attractive our city is to both the multinationals and the expats that they employ,” explains Vandesompele.  “Ghent is cementing its place on the destination map as Belgium’s third largest city.  We want people to see our city for vibrant, multicultural and welcoming place it is.”

The platform functions as a table for Ghent where people can meet around different themes.  With its 7 structural partners and over 50 member organisations, these topics span the broadest of ranges.  Visualise the activities of its member organisations as a four-leaf clover if you will:

“Expats who come to live and/or work in Ghent will always be made to feel welcome and contribute to the open-minded spirit that our city has become known for,” Vandesompele summarises.

Visit www.decommunitygent.be for further details on their work and upcoming events.

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