for talent mobility teams

By Olivier Meier, Mercer

Hexagonal chart illustrates the connections among mobility teams and six areas of workplace change discussed in this article: work culture, organization, work setup, tools, upskilling, and compliance.

From the perspective of telecommuting for the last year, one may be tempted to believe that the pandemic has ended global mobility, but what we are instead embarking on is a new era in mobility — and a new era in mobility management.

Traditional relocation concerns have given way to a more complex talent-brokering challenge in the context of global distributed workforces.

Just as assignees are adapting to such challenges as upskilling, flexible working, gig working, or working from home, HR professionals too must adapt their work practices.

Mobility and HR teams will need to review and rethink their work culture, organization, work setup, and tools.

They will also have to upskill themselves and learn to play a greater role in compliance management.

Work culture and career

Mobility teams need to shift from admin tasks to the design of solutions delivering visible and measurable value to the business and employee (“the smiling curve of mobility”).

In other words, delivering empathic solutions to improve employee experience, wellbeing, and inclusion is becoming a priority.

This positioning shift of the mobility function should be accompanied by a more flexible career path for mobility professionals.

The growing acceptance of lateral mobility (moving between jobs and functions) and the rise of internal gigs (temporary postings in other functions) are encouraging new trends.

This is especially true as organizations are becoming flatter: the combination of limited opportunities for vertical promotion and the expectation of employees to have frequent new experiences and learning opportunities spell the demise of step-by-step traditional career progression.


The short-term impact of the crisis is reducing the number of traditional assignments, but the future is not about less mobility: it is about shifting mobility patterns, new types of move (including virtual ones), and more regional moves.

We are witnessing the advent of a more regionalized globalization with shorter supply chains. This could have implications for mobility teams and could mean more emphasis on regional hubs.

The role of talent mobility professional is evolving from relocation managers to consultants for other parts of the business – the increasing involvement of mobility professionals in all forms of mobility including remote working and business travels is a sign of this evolution.

The idea of mobility professionals acting as internal consultants has been floating around for several years.

It is time to formalize this model and foster agile cross-functional teams able to deal with the complexity of coordinating a globally distributed workforce.

Work setup

Flexible working is changing not just the way assignees are managed but also the work of the mobility team itself.

A first step is to clarify the debate: What definitions are being used?

What do we mean by flexible, remote, and hybrid working?

The team has to clarify the definitions and communicate clearly to avoid adding to the general confusion.

Mobility teams also need to reflect on their own member’s expectations and requirements.

Was the team able to maintain its productivity and collaborate virtually effectively?

Were there gaps in resourcing and in support?

An HR team also needs to curate its own employees’ experience to be able to provide empathic and effective support to assignees.

Lessons learned during the crisis to maintain business continuity need to be reviewed and leveraged.

Methods and tools

Improving employee experience and delivering more empathic solutions will require new and methodologies: adopting design thinking to understand the employee experience and capturing employee feedback on an on-going basis as opposed to ad-hoc surveys.

Changes in policies and processes will need to be backed by robust evidence and metrics to gain acceptance by top management.

More generally, there will be a growing expectation to develop more structured evidence-based management approaches to replace decision-making based on gut feelings.

The crisis has also accelerated the adoption of technology by international HR teams: the combined pressure of new requirements (remote working, tracking, and coordination) and the rising expectations of users during the pandemics will prompt HR teams to accelerate their digitalization journeys. This will require new skills and an understanding of the potential of new technologies.


Compliance will remain high on the agenda for the foreseeable future. Companies will need to address the exceptions born out of the crisis and new issues triggered by new forms of assignments.

Mobility teams will need to flag risk but also, when possible, to act as coordinators of the overall compliance issues.

The risk is the potential to have a fractured view of risks and compliance, with different teams supervising the response to the different issues about tax, employment laws, risk management, etc. Once more, mobility teams have a broader brokering role to play.

Upskilling and Reskilling

The debate about upskilling and reskilling will be at the center of mobility activities. International moves have traditionally used for developmental purposes by companies.

There will be pressure to maintain these traditional developmental moves but also to understand how new forms of virtual assignments could support training and career development for high potential employees.

Mobility teams themselves will also face a reskilling and upskilling challenge.

Mobility team members will need to enhance existing competencies and develop new skills: building business cases, mobility metrics and analytics, mastering new technology, storytelling, and Agile management.

HR teams will need to move out of the comfort zone – especially when dealing with technology issues and statistics.

The objective is not so much about becoming programmers or statisticians as providing the right input to technical experts.

Framing issues, defining what questions are relevant and making sense of answers is what will help mobility professionals make a difference for both the business and employees.