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Six Ways to Better Serve Your Mobile Workforce

Digital tools for managing a mobile workforce have become a lifeline for businesses and employees in less than a year. COVID-19 has forced organizations to have a reliable pulse on where their people are and to review programs that used to work disparately, exposing where digitization is necessary. Technology is no longer a nice-to-have for international HR teams trying to collaborate, exchange data, ensure a positive employee experience, deliver on ROI and assess compliance issues on a global scale. 

As consumers, we now adopt new tools quicker than ever in our daily lives to work, interact with each other, shop and get things done with more speed, ease and visibility. This has created new employee expectations for customized experiences at their fingertips. 

In 2020, we saw a strong focus on HR transformation, and the global health crisis played a vital role in accelerating this trend. It became apparent that a lack of integrated tools and platforms is not only a source of inefficiency — it prevents international HR teams from working effectively in an emergency. 

A new generation of technology solutions, specifically designed to meet the needs of decentralized and international HR teams, has boosted the adoption of automation. Building a solid business case is an essential first step in enlisting top management support when implementing new technology for international HR management and talent mobility. Here’s how digitization helps you better serve your mobile workforce.

1. Keep Pace With the Rapid Evolution of International Teams

Years ago, the division between mobile expatriates and local employees dominated talent mobility management. Many tools and approaches supported this dichotomy. Today, global workforce concerns have become more complex. Long-term assignments have to be considered — as do short-term moves, permanent relocations, locally hired foreigners, commuters, extended business trips, employee-initiated moves, and remote or flexible workers. 

These evolutions are transforming international HR teams, forcing them to consider alternative approaches to compensation, career-pathing and HR business processes. Technology needs to reflect these changes and keep pace with evolving priorities, including delivering more flexible work options and enabling remote or virtual assignments.

2. Connect the Disconnected

An international workforce creates challenges in aligning talent management processes with strategic business priorities. Successful organizations apply an integrated approach to the HR function, including a cohesive model that brings together global operating structure, technology, policies and processes. Importantly, this model also seamlessly integrates external vendor ecosystems. 

From a practical perspective, one benefit of an integrated platform is linking talent mobility administration to talent management, resulting in a greater focus on recruitment and retention strategies and identifying skill gaps. Talent management issues make up some of the most significant barriers to mobility: 22% of companies report difficulties identifying the right candidates, and 18% report career management problems.

Integration with external systems allows for creating a central technology ecosystem for handling all vendor relationships in one place. The result is a streamlined and seamless process for everyone — from expatriate employees to leadership — that helps fulfill the expectation of a consumer-grade experience in the workplace, clearly visible in our recent research. 

3. Put Employee Experience and Well-Being At the Forefront

Employees want to feel like they aren’t just numbers in a process but people with names whose employers consider their unique situations. Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends study reveals a growing appetite for greater personalization and the development of employee value propositions that address the needs of different mobile employee groups. 

The capacity to identify and apply new tools to increase task efficiency and demonstrate value will determine global mobility’s long-term success.

This doesn’t mean an organization needs to create a new policy for each group or even discard existing segmented policies. But it requires that organizations embrace approaches that humanize an individual’s specific scenario and make adjustments that home in on a sustainable, employee-first business approach. 

New technologies allow employers to provide assignees with relevant information tailored to their specific needs. Companies can customize an employee message and automate the output, allowing for a balance between administrative efficiency and bespoke experience.

4. Use Data and Metrics to Empower HR

Although it’s essential to turn assignments into valuable experiences for mobile employees, what is talent mobility’s added value for businesses? Making sure metrics and cost-tracking basics are in place is a first step in empowering your HR team to deliver real value. 

Using new technology to develop meaningful analytics while turning the results into actionable suggestions to improve people management will be a true differentiator for HR professionals. According to Mercer’s 2020 survey on international assignment policies, although 69% of companies make detailed cost projections when relocating an employee abroad, only 45% track actual versus budgeted costs. The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI), combined with a growing appetite for detailed mobility metrics and analytics, offers new tracking possibilities. Better tracking will be needed to help ensure that assignments are backed by solid evidence of benefit for the company and employees. 

Today, automation and AI have become key areas of focus across industries and business functions, particularly HR. On average, 90% of companies are already using AI and automation in HR today or have plans to invest in these areas.

5. Master Risk and Compliance

With an automated and integrated system for mobility management, the modern mobility team is poised to become the essential contact and facilitator for any potential issues. 

According to a Mercer survey, compliance is one of the top barriers to novel forms of remote working for mobile talent and a pivotal element to review for 29% of companies. In multinational organizations, compliance and risk management are often split between departments and geographies, with no high-level oversight. A centralized platform allows the mobility team to act as an advisor to the business, anticipating potential issues, such as tax, social security or immigration rule breaches.

6. Manage Costs Wisely

How you balance costs and benefits has a direct effect on your mobile population. Many employers — 35% of participants in Mercer’s survey — think current conditions are too costly. But it’s important to note that traditional cost-cutting approaches, which focus on reducing assignees’ allowances and premiums or drastically limiting the number of expatriates, often fail to meet employers’ objectives and can lead to lower assignee retention. 

Furthermore, organizations need to reframe cost management to incorporate the cost of assignees’ packages, the overall cost of the mobility function, and the cost of attrition, failed assignments and missed opportunities. Understanding all these elements requires an integrated mobility management ecosystem capable of consolidating data from various HR databases, payroll and career management systems, and external vendors. 

Beyond the costs and benefits of the assignments themselves, the value of global mobility functions will likely come under scrutiny in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The capacity to identify and apply new tools to increase task efficiency and demonstrate value will determine mobility’s long-term success. Digitalization will empower international HR professionals to create sustainable futures for the mobile workforce, while it also remains vital for them to understand where the human touch adds value to processes and activities.

Olivier Meier

Principal in Mercer's Mobility Practice

Olivier Meier is a principal in Mercer’s Mobility practice, based in Munich. He has 20 years of experience in Global Mobility and international talent management. He is currently working on the development of tools and solutions to compensate internationally mobile employees.

Michael Nash

Michael Nash

Global Mobility Technology Solutions Leader for Europe at Mercer

Michael is a principal at Mercer and the Global Mobility Technology Solutions Leader for Europe, based in London. He was previously running his own manufacturing business, during which time he became passionate about the positive effects of digitization and process automation, successfully implementing a variety of digital accounting, manufacturing and sales tools. He is part of the Mobility Technology Leadership team, with his focus on Mercer Mobility Management Platform™.

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