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A Personal Touch - Mobility Program and Policy Customization

A review of recent global mobility insights, including an article on flexjobs.com titled “6 Cool Trends in Workplace Flexibility for 2017,” indicates that workplace and workforce flexibility is a key theme in today’s market. Mobility program flexibility is not exempt, joining cost as a major focus for mobility programs.

In many ways, this trend is not surprising to mobility professionals. Mobility program users have often felt pressure to minimize program costs. However, the shift to remove support from the program bottom line resulted in poor employee experience, increased program administration requirements (exception management), and failed assignments.

Mobility programs needed to define a way to achieve cost rationalization by providing “structured flexibility” to the mobility customer, all with a focus on enhancing the employee and customer experience.More personalized and adaptable approaches can better meet the unique needs of relocating employees while helping to address organizational concerns regarding cost containment, compliance, and resource and talent needs.

The Big Picture

Disruptive trends—including changing program demographics, geopolitics, and customer- or employee-facing technology—are driving a shift in how a mobility program does business to support employee and organizational preferences.

Despite the increased focus on program cost containment, mobility volumes have not decreased. There are now more moves to more locations than ever before to address business growth and talent needs. Global workforces are more diverse than ever, and mobility must flex to accommodate these requirements.

In many cases, the available talent pool has yet to be fully tapped, despite global skills shortages and the business case for more workforce diversity. Deloitte’s report “The Impact of the Digital Age on Global Mobility: 2017 Global Workforce Trends” shows 69 percent of the 10,400 executives it surveyed around the world rate diversity and inclusion as an important issue. Increased female participation in paid employment, longer working lives, and less linear career structures have contributed to the widening of the available talent pool for deployment. (See “Workplace Demographics,” below.)

Immigration and tax compliance

Tightening immigration policies and legislation relating to permanent establishment and taxation are also shaping mobility practices and policies. The G20-OECD base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project to modernize international tax rules for the digital age has seen compliance become a significant focus for program managers for much of the past decade.

In a study by PwC of more than 200 multinational companies at the end of 2012, a few months before the OECD published its background report, 89 percent confirmed they were directing more attention to the issue of permanent establishments.

The OECD published its new recommendations in October 2015. Since then, individual countries and the OECD have continued to issue guidance and update governance codes, adding administrative workload, complexity, and cost to mobility programs.

At the same time, national governments are reviewing and amending immigration legislation. Again, this iscreating extra administration to ensure companies as well as their employees on assignment comply with the respective laws. 

Buyer's market

An Accenture Strategy survey of Generation Z—defined in the survey as people born between 1993 and 1999—showed 83 percent would move to a different city or region for the right job. This consolidates a trend noted by various studies for the previous generation (Generation Y, or millennials), for whom travel is part of their identity.

workplace demoInternships and international volunteering programs are some of the creative approaches companies are using to attract and develop the next generation of leaders. Yet, volunteering to relocate early in a career is different from being asked to make a business- critical move as a mid-career expert.

Senior professionals’ willingness to move has declined by 6 percentage points since 2012, the Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) reports. Moves to relatively remote destinations can offer little appeal for skilled experts, particularly as organizations focus on cost containment and are less inclined to incentivize relocation.

The rise of dual-income families adds an additional barrier to deployment. The study notes twice as many employees could be encouraged to relocate if their employer provided support for their spouse to get a job in the new location. Employees are demanding relocation on their terms, for shorter durations, in order to minimize the impact of the relocation on their personal and professional lives.

Together, these trends increase the complexities that mobility program managers face, and they make the traditional one-size-fits-all approach—based solely on assignment duration—costly, and often impractical or undesirable. Flexible program approaches that include program segmentation and package customization offer an intelligent response to these unpredictable and sometimes contradictory forces.

Creative Responses to Disruption and Unpredictability 

Increased program segmentation (“structured flexibility”) and the ability to customize relocation benefits based on business and/or employee needs are helping companies keep pace with some of the challenges that accompany global expansion and shifts in employee preferences.alt assign types

Successful mobility teams consider not only innovations to program support, but also innovations in the way support is delivered.

Revising an existing policy framework

A recent SIRVA survey found more than 62 percent of respondents perceived the mobility function as a mix of operational or administrative support and a strategic or consultative business partner.

As mobility aligns more closely with the strategic talent priorities of the organization, global opportunities have become a standard component of global employers’ value propositions for attracting, developing, and retaining high-performing and business-critical talent.

The traditional program framework that supports long-term (one- to three-year), short-term (up to 12-month), and permanent relocation deployments is branching into a rich delta of alternative assignment types. (See “Alternative Assignment Types,” this page.)

Rethinking program support delivery methods

Delivery of mobility support is evolving to align with personal and organizational goals. Core-flex and lump-sum policies are gaining in popularity, as both put more control in the hands of relocating employees.

Lump-sum policies are one avenue for incentivizing and compensating moves that put relocating employees in control of the relocation budget and enable the employee to choose support that best suits their needs and preferences.

The lump-sum approach also provides an opportunity to manage program costs, with some mobility programs showing a decline in policy exceptions. However, this approach can have a negative impact on employee experience if employers do not prepare and support relocating individuals with regard to what the relocation entails.

Global core-flex packages are also on the rise. These packages are designed through the identification of “core” relocation support (e.g., tax compliance) and offer “flex” options that are needs-based and specific to the priorities of the business and/or the relocating individual. Packages are designed within a pre-defined structure around the nature of the assignment and the level of support provided.

Each of these approaches to mobility helps to balance employee relocation motivation with program cost management. The intent of both approaches is to create transparency of cost while maximizing the flexibility—and value—provided to the employee. Rather than dealing with a one-size-fits-all approach, relocating employees receive support that is customized for their priorities and preferences—and employees are recognizing the value.

The Role of Technology

The shift to more flexible programs with a focus on employee experience is being supported and facilitated by technology. Millennials, the original “digital natives,” are accustomed to using mobile technologies to make personal travel decisions immediately and comfortably. Other generations are also enjoying the convenience that 24/7 technology allows—from making travel arrangements to booking a dinner reservation and managing work-related activities away from their desk.

Mobility is made up of many moving parts, all of which center around the physical relocation of an individual from one location to another. The efficiencies technology makes available for individuals’ personal travel arrangements can now extend to their corporate relocation. Employees are demanding greater control over their moves, on-the-go ability to manage their relocation, and an increased line of sight to the status of a given activity.

Millennials’ preferences in relation to business travel and mobility are reflected in figures from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). Its 2016 “Business Traveler Sentiment Index Global Report” survey suggests 72 percent of millennials and 64 percent of all business travelers use mobile devices to check travel itineraries at least once a day during trips. More than half (55 percent) of millennials and 44 percent of all business travelers use them to check their expenses daily.

While disruptive app-based services such as Airbnb and Uber are runaway successes for personal travel, GBTA data suggests that, for now at least, there is some resistance among employers to rolling these out more widely.

Yet, employees’ preference for and level of comfort with technology offer a great opportunity to align policy customization with data-driven insight, lifting global mobility programs and policies into the strategic realm.

Technology can deliver the sought-after self-service element for mobile employees and real-time reporting for mobility professionals. Digital platforms, especially those customizable to individual business needs, bring greater focus on management reporting, transparency, and traceability to the program, making compliance easier to manage.

However, for the time being, mobility’s use of technology is relatively low. Key findings from EY’s “Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey 2016” noted that 52 percent of respondents believe they do not have access to data that brings insight to their mobility programs. Just under half (45 percent) reported having very little or no technology to support decision-making for talent management. A further three-quarters were unconvinced they had enough insight into their global compliance risk.

The Way Ahead

Mobility policy and program customization in response to complexity and changing demands is a key trend. Technology has a vital role in connecting individual preferences to program frameworks and supporting evolving delivery models, offering enhanced transparency and insights in the process.

Creating a competitive mobility program that meets organizational and employee needs means striking the right balance among cost focus, individual needs, organizational preference, and compliance.

To respond creatively to disruptive forces and innovate to ensure global mobility continues to facilitate talent management and business priorities, consider the following options:

  • Link to workforce planning and talent management to identify locations where and what kinds of assignments are likely to take place, and the profile of employees relocating.
  • Consider how your current approach to mobility can be tailored better to meet the current and future needs of your organization.
  • Identify where policies are falling short and what expenses can be contained more effectively through program customization.
  • Seek specialist advice around relocation best practices, tax and immigration, and duty-of-care responsibilities.
  • Explore the role of technology in mobility service delivery and management, cost containment, and employee experience.
  • Consider the value of the data you collect, how you manage and secure it, and the insights you are looking to deliver.