Dr Barbara Zesik assesses the challenges facing mobility specialists, and how HR teams can overcome them

The past 12 months have delivered an unprecedented level of change. In the UK, policy-makers and the public alike have grappled with Brexit, while the election of business tycoon Donald Trump as president of the US has created a radical new international climate.

Refreshingly, seemingly unfazed by an increasingly protectionist rhetoric, business leaders continue to recognise the importance of fostering a diverse and globally mobile workforce. Likewise, there is a continued demand from employees for a diverse and varied career, sometimes spanning several continents and multiple locations.

Findings from Santa Fe Relocation Service’s latest Global Mobility Survey demonstrate that the number of international assignments businesses are creating is expected to grow significantly over the next year, with graduate programmes, short-term assignments and one-way relocations all set for a considerable increase. A third of the business leaders surveyed claimed that an internationally mobile workforce was critical to meeting their strategic objectives, and that building a globalised workforce should be at the heart of a business’s commercial strategy.

But deploying employees internationally is becoming increasingly challenging for HR teams. For example, while the US is the most popular destination, it also tops the charts for the most challenging location to send assignees – which is hardly surprising given Trump’s executive orders and ‘America first’ policies.

Similarly, Brexit will have a considerable impact on secondments across Europe, but the continent is likely to remain an important destination for overseas relocations. Exactly how freedom of movement for international employment and commercial activities will be affected is unclear, and remains subject to conjecture and negotiation. But what is clear is that HR and talent teams will need to be proactive and apply rigour in how they manage internationally mobile employees in the face of tougher checks and more stringent application processes.

Here are three steps HR leaders and their teams can take to overcome these immigration and legislative challenges:

1. Be proactive in engaging with talent and business leaders

HR and talent development teams need to ensure they are proactive in engaging with staff and business leaders to ensure that they are aware of opportunities and requests as early as possible. Having advance notification is important to align with business timelines and allow for sufficient time to factor in more stringent visa, vetting and immigration processes.

2. Undertake due diligence in new locations

While many organisations understand the local employment and social conditions in their existing company footprint, it is prudent to ensure full due diligence is undertaken when considering new locations. Global relocation and tax expertise will ensure both the company and employee have transparent expectations.

Organisations should also make sure to have a structured way of assessing and selecting both candidates and their locations to ensure that the right investment in cultural training and preparation is made from the outset.

3. Adopt new technology and systems

There is a growing need for businesses to demonstrate to governmental departments they have systems and processes to track and monitor cross-border movement. So it is essential that HR and talent teams have clear protocols in place to provide this information as and when it is needed.

New technology and systems can help streamline the process in areas such as immigration and work visa authorisations, as well as home/host fiscal obligations. Ultimately this can help to reduce the resources required and limit compliant-related difficulties down the line. There are a number of systems that are new to the market that can provide these tools in real-time, speeding up the process considerably.  

In my discussions with HR peers and our clients it is becoming increasingly clear that predictive data analytics and the digital agenda are key initiatives being looked into across the board.  

What’s next?

In the years ahead, it is likely that HR professionals will have to become more future-focused and adopt a more strategic way of working with business leaders – especially with establishing a global workforce and enabling international mobility now becoming core business objectives.

But with clearer goals also comes a need for measuring and tracking progress, both of the success of relocation and overseas assignments, and also its impact on things such as productivity, intercompany working relationships and staff engagement. But most crucially, how a globally mobile workforce affects and improves the bottom line. All of these will be important considerations for HR leaders over the years ahead.

Dr Barbara Zesik is chief people officer at Santa Fe Relocation Services