A conversation between Crown’s Giovanni De Carlo and Mercer’s Olivier Meier about the evolution of global mobility.
It has been a difficult couple of years for mobility professionals. However, the crisis has offered an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the global mobility model and question how we manage and perceive assignments, their actual effectiveness and contribution to the resilience and success of a business over the long term.
We are not necessarily seeing less mobility as we emerge from the pandemic, but the mobility landscape is more complex and new priorities are emerging. We have asked Giovanni De Carlo from Crown World Mobility to share his views on current trends.
1. The crisis has accelerated the evolution of global mobility. Many solutions and trends that were emerging have gained prominence during the pandemic. I am thinking about new forms of mobility and work setups, the acceleration of technology adoption and efforts to increase the satisfaction and retention of mobile employees. The role and purview of mobility teams are also evolving, and mobility professionals are acting more and more as internal consultants involved in cross-functional projects.
What are the most significant changes that you have seen when working with multinationals?
I completely agree that the ongoing crisis of the pandemic has accelerated and strengthened many of the trends and shifts that the mobility industry already had been coming to terms with. That rapid evolution in an industry not known for fast change has been a breath of fresh air!
For the first year of the crisis, the favorite industry topic was “virtual assignment”, and a lot of effort went into our trying to define that and anticipating what it will mean for the industry. We have some clients who have their virtual assignment policy in place, and I think the industry landed on it being a useful tool to add to the policy and program that will give structure for employees caught in assignment travel limbo, and even more importantly for employees who might not be able to accept an assignment in their current career and at this personal stage but would benefit from gaining international exposure and experience.
Your other comment regarding the changing role of mobility professionals is a great point. At Crown, we have seen those clients who have really been engaged by their organizations over the last three years to support business continuity, crisis management, cross-border problem solving, talent management, creative problem solving and more to now see their roles and purview naturally expanding into those of a cross-functional business partner. In some of our client advisory board meetings, the question is now less about “getting a seat at the table” and more about “do we want this responsibility, too?” – setting boundaries and scope creep. It has given the mobility professional new career paths and options for sure.
2. The debate about “working from anywhere” has taken the international HR community by storm. Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, it has become clear that this debate is here to stay. Hybrid working is the norm in many organizations. For some companies, remote working is becoming part of the Employee Value Proposition. Employees are bound to ask repeatedly if remote working guidelines are also applicable for cross-border working. Companies need to develop a clear point of view on these issues and have to decide how much in terms of resources they will dedicate to managing ad hoc cases.
What do you think companies should bear in mind when addressing these complex international remote working questions?
Let’s start with the last part of your question – these are complex questions! Hybrid working, remote working within your contracted tax jurisdiction… there are simpler variations on this theme but international remote working is not one-size-fits-all. We see variations emerging that are highly dependent on the technology of an organization, the threshold for risk and the company’s culture. I mean, the Big 4 and large consulting firms have always been ahead of the game on travel tracking, tax and immigration calendars, and managing a workforce with many moving parts – perhaps they will drive strategy for the general population.
I do think that, for now, rigid “no flexibility” is going to be detrimental to any organization’s recruiting and retention strategy, but there will be remote work limitations for most companies. I still think that, for now, the majority of organizations will opt for hybrid work and temporary, short-term remote options for most of the general population.
There is a lot more to this conversation. It isn’t just about immigration and tax compliance, clearly. But that is a big part of the puzzle to sort before companies can focus on the other infrastructure that they require. Until then, we will find a few companies that lead the way and make us all think it is an easy choice. But we know better for most companies… which takes us right back to your question/comment – it is complicated!
3. International mobility professionals are increasingly willing to contribute to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) discussion. Achieving gender parity and fair representation of minorities at the managerial level will be difficult if some groups are under-represented in the mobile talent pool. Awareness of DEI issues is growing and some organizations have launched successful DEI initiatives, but the overall picture is a mixed one. The pandemic has weakened DEI progress and not all employee groups are equal when dealing with the challenges of the new types of assignments.
What could help boost the diversity of the mobile workforce?
First, I want to disagree with you on the impact of the pandemic on DEI. I actually have seen a real acceleration in this space. One of CWM’s 2022 trends is the shift we see from words to action for DEI Mobility. There was a real awakening in the priority of social justice, probably triggered by the murder of George Floyd, but we have seen global discomfort with not just a lack of social justice, but in terms of increasingly less tolerance for the same people getting the same opportunities. I also think that now almost every company has had unconscious bias awareness training in their L&D curriculum for more than three years, and they are wanting to take it to the next level. This is a huge priority for CEOs and corporate leaders, and the strategic mobility industry leaders are going to move into action this year. I feel confident about that.
The number one way to add diversity to the mobility population is to hold selection managers accountable for selecting diverse and qualified candidates, and for mobility programs to showcase the small numbers of diverse assignees so that all employees can see someone like themselves in that space. There is more to this, but if you need a starting point, let’s start with these two steps.
4. Improving the mobile employee experience is not a new topic but it is becoming a priority for companies as they struggle to attract and retain skilled talent. The question of well-being in particular has been a major focus for companies.
What examples of best practices have you seen emerging?
Probably my favorite angle on this, which I think could be called a “best practice”, is just the fact that employees and leaders are not afraid to share how they feel when they don’t feel “great” and are more comfortable asking colleagues and team members how they are doing and really expecting an answer. Just look at LinkedIn and see the emoting that is happening. The disclosure of bad days or bad years being shared on a professional social media platform is something positive. That is new. The more our CEOs and leaders can share their challenges, the more we can all be human.
Of course, mental health and well-being are complicated issues, too! But I think the corporate world is gaining confidence in talking about it and offering outlets for support.
At Crown, we work with many companies that have strong people cultures and have mobility programs that demand high touch. Our move consultants, who work with our clients’ employees and assignee families, are being trained to lead their interactions with empathy in addition to being experts at organizing a move. Today, you can’t leave empathy out.
5. What are the top three tips that you could give to mobility professionals for the coming months?
There are many, but here are three:
- Ask your team to come up with one change that you can make in your program in the first half of this year that will move your program forward in the DEI Mobility space – that goes for the most advanced DEI program and the one just getting started. And in six months, celebrate that progress in public so that our industry can benefit and be inspired by your progress.
- Consider upgrading your mobility communication tools if you haven’t lately. If you were being recruited by your organization and the recruiter sent you the materials you have in place today outlining the relocation support you can expect, does the way the information is communicated reflect what your company wants to be in its industry and in the competitive talent environment?
- Don’t be intimidated by the Sustainability Mobility topic – all the research we see says that the industry is very interested in this topic, but very few mobility programs have made big changes to their policies and programs. Look at how your own company is prioritizing this important topic and ask your team (or if you have a team of one or two, ask your assignees) to come together and identify ways to have a Green Assignment Policy, for example. Take some steps forward this year.