Anyone who has spent part of his or her career working on onshore remote sites remembers at least one (but often more than that) dreary site with nearly derelict portacabins for bedrooms and similarly damaged public areas. I was in one in Angola where there were actual holes in the floor the size of my foot (and that's not small)! There were several with leaking roof (hello rainy season), one with communal showers and toilets you would not have wished to your worst enemy. I could go on and on, but I think most of you know what I mean.
Then there was the matter of equipment: how many silent-because-dead air-con units, noisy ones blowing warm air, TV on the blink or no TV at all, recreation facilities nowhere to be seen and so on. Sometime even power and water were missing!
I nearly forgot services! Food, laundry, the list is long and sad.
We all know and accept that expat's life is not meant to be a bed of roses and that conditions on remote sites often make it difficult to reach as good standards as in western countries. Fair enough. But wait! Of late, I have seen some sites with very decent accommodation areas, good ablution facilities, reasonable laundry service only losing a few of my garments, and even some with decent food, internet and so on! So what's turned the Guantanamo into holiday resorts (well, with a bit of imagination)? What made operators decide that it was time to do something about life base living conditions? Because, let's face it, it's bound to cost a lot more money to offer a nice living area than a less nice one! Companies don't get rich on throwing money out of the windows! Or don't they? I think several facts explain this wind of change. Let me try and explain..
TRANSPORTATION is a lot easier today than it's ever been before. Even to go to remote countries and sites. There's no doubt that delivering equipment is now possible, if not quite simple, nearly anywhere in the world
STANDARDS are higher. I remember in the early 80s (yes, I am that old), just about no one would have questioned anything on a site. If it wasn't good, tough luck and hope that the next one will be better. Not so today! People - even expats are people- now demand a minimum standard of life and personal comfort. A working air-con unit is not regarded as a luxury item anymore. On some sites at least.
COMMUNICATION has become such a basic commodity that few people would accept to be without internet, email and even sat TV.
Easier TRAVELLING and global ECONOMY CRISIS have forced more and more people to look for jobs away from their homes. Medias have made the general public more aware of remote sites though documentaries and information. No one wants to show something that could possibly tarnish an already fragile public image.
OPERATORS have grown intensely aware of their public image. Marketing RULES. Image is omnipresent.
I believe all the above to be true and important. Not essential. I think that the quintessential reason that made Operators want better life-bases is elsewhere.
I think it is PRODUCTIVITY. Nothing wrong with that. Better conditions mean less personnel turnover. Less turnover equals less flights, lower travel costs, less no-shows, less back-to-back having to work longer waiting for replacement and so on. Better living conditions mean that the expats workforce is globally happier at work. Expats often feel better when they can communicate with their families regularly and easily (thank you, Skype!). Happier at work means less accidents and better quality of work. All that means better productivity. The net result is positive for a lot of Expats and Companies are also better off for it.
So, let’s all rejoice that all is well in the best of worlds! Or is it? Not quite. There are still different ways of accommodating an expatriate workforce depending on their countries of origins. Globally, people originating from non-western/non US are still often housed in large dorms with communal facilities, vs. somewhat more private dwelling for the rest of us. I could also mention rotational leave, which varies from 28/28 (28 days ON, 28 days OFF) or 5/2 – 5/3 (weeks) to something like 11/1 (months!) for the least fortunate.
However, conditions are globally improving for all and that’s good. The irony of the situation being that because of those more decent conditions, more people are now willing to work abroad and expats jobs get harder to find, but hey! You can’t have your cake and eat it!
Next time I will look into why Life-bases need better and finer management than ever.