Trends in global talent mobility

No longer just about managing expats, global mobility is key in realizing business and workforce strategies

Posted by Shannon Anderson-Finch and Ying Wang on December 06, 2017.

Like its fellow HR functions, global mobility has been impacted by broader market trends and is evolving to better meet the organization’s needs and those of the workforce. Its largely logistical, transactional role of the past has given way to a much more strategic and integral role in how the business attracts, develops, retains, deploys, and advances talent. In the first of our series on global mobility, we look at what’s driving the development of global mobility and introduce four global trends that are disrupting the mobility landscape, fueled by—and fueling—the digital age.

Megatrends at work

Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report points to a number of factors influencing global mobility.

  • The arrival of the organization of the future, highly digital and designed to be agile, adaptable, and always learning.
  • Focus on the employee experience, with a goal to help companies attract and retain skilled employees who, in turn, can drive a strong customer experience.
  • A push toward digital HR, redesigning HR programs to leverage digital and mobile tools and being a leader in driving the organization to “be digital” rather than just “do digital.”
  • Emphasis on diversity and inclusion as a business strategy to enhance employee engagement, strengthen corporate and employment brand, and drive performance.
  • The increasing role of automation, cognitive computing, and crowds in reshaping the future of work and the workforce.

These broader organizational and workforce trends—more mobile, more digital, more flexible, more diverse—are driving changes in almost all facets of global mobility and affecting a much larger number of organizations than in years past.

More move types

No longer characterized by a narrow role in handling expats sent out for 2- or 3-year assignments with plush packages, the mobility function today is greatly expanded, handling short- and long-term rotations, permanent transfers, international and domestic new hires, extended business travelers, commuters crossing state or country lines, and even remote workers.

+ More locations

As business footprints have expanded, so has mobility in multiple directions—to, from, and within developed, growth and emerging markets.

+ More diverse employee profiles

The image of the traditional expat (typically white, male, middle management or higher, often with a family and stay-at-home spouse) has given way to a diverse mix of individuals on the move. Every group represented in the workforce—generationally, ethnically, and professionally diverse—expects to have access to international opportunities.

= More complexity and the need to be more strategic

The workforce trends and the expansion in mobility make the mobility function’s role more complex and are driving change in how the function operates and which services it provides. Rather than focusing on logistics—moving employees from Point A to Point B—mobility is evolving to become an enabler of strategic talent and business priorities.

At the micro level, it’s working with the business to understand the reason for a move and helping the business determine if a move is the most effective solution. Perhaps local talent could be hired instead, or the assignment length should be adjusted, or the move should be a one-way transfer rather than a temporary assignment.

At the macro level, mobility is getting involved much earlier in business plans that impact the global workforce. For example, if the business is considering a new market entry into China or India, mobility would collaborate with other functions to understand the local talent landscape, stand up operations and source talent, and plan for any moves of talent into the new location. We also see mobility getting involved early on in M&A transactions that involve significant employee populations to advise on talent strategies and regulatory considerations to support the transition.

From “movers” to “talent experts”

Overall, the function is progressing from being simply movers of people to cross-border talent experts, looking at workforce planning on a global basis to see where the talent gaps are and how mobility can be used to achieve desired business outcomes. In doing so, it is melding typically siloed functions (talent acquisition, learning and development, leader succession) and blending buy-build-borrow talent strategies to better serve the business.

Mobility in the digital age

Like the broader organization, and to better fulfill its expanded role in the organization’s talent strategy, the mobility function is also embracing digital. Formerly highly manual and segmented processes are becoming more digitally enabled, making the experience more simple, predictive and personal. For example, disappearing are the bulky binders typically sent as references for relocating employees in favor of more personal and engaging platforms, such as mobile apps or digital content delivery that provide just-in-time information and allow users to choose their own path of interactions based on preference. For the business, by infusing AI into workforce planning, hiring managers can quickly identify the quickest, most cost-effective talent solutions to fill a gap, therefore making smarter decisions.

Four mobility trends

Our new publication, Digital Mobility | Talent: 2017 Trends, takes a closer look at how global mobility leaders are shifting their organizations to leverage technology and advance their ability to deliver a better experience and greater business value:

  • Employee-driven global workforce programs. The fast-changing and diverse employee landscape requires global workforce programs to adapt.
  • Mobility and talent acquisition. The employer brand that attracts talent and effectively uses its existing hand requires mobility and HR to work more closely together
  • The human side of mobility. A global move is professionally and personally disruptive. An inclusively designed, people-centered mobility experience can increase engagement, productivity, and impact.
  • Mobility analytics. Data-driven insights from active business processes can inform better proactive decisions on talent, deployment, and future global workforce planning.

We’ll look at each of these trends in more detail in upcoming posts and share some of the ways organizations are evolving mobility to help drive individual and organizational performance on a global scale.

Shannon Anderson-Finch, PhD, leads our Business-Aligned Mobility group in the Global Employer Services practice of Deloitte Tax LLP, helping organizations address the challenges of a rapidly changing business, talent, and regulatory landscape through innovative global talent, mobility, and rewards programs.


Ying Wang is a senior manager in the Global Employer Services practice of Deloitte Tax LLP, specializing in global mobility transformation with a focus on global talent mobility strategy, program design, and functional service delivery.


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