The challenging economic environment has put pressure on businesses to explore new ways of facilitating overseas assignments with reduced mobility costs.

Global mobility teams have been tasked with lowering their costs, just as other organisational functions have. But they have to do this while maintaining standards such as immigration compliance, and continuing to derive value from their mobility programmes.

After allowances have been slashed and packages squeezed, where do you go next? Where else can mobility costs savings be made sensibly and commercially?

How can businesses ensure operational compliance while driving down mobility costs and enhancing the value of their global mobility programmes?

Be strategic

The role of mobility within global businesses has gone beyond the tactical, and is now a recognised strategic contributor. Any fundamental review of mobility costs should similarly be undertaken by looking at the programme as a whole, and on a strategic basis, rather than focusing on small-scale, piecemeal savings.

Look at your processes, set-up, systems, the types of mobility and assignments you are using; do these all meet the current and future needs of the business? Are they helping you to mitigate compliance risks? If not, what can be done to realign them? In doing so, you should arrive at more cost and time efficient solutions that are focused on adding value to your organisation’s aims.

For example, many businesses are moving away from the regional model to centralise their mobility operation. This brings cost benefits of economies of scale while enhancing control and compliance risk mitigation.

Other organisations are redrafting their entire approach to mobility to provide a more flexible framework for the organisation, that is more fluid and adaptable to changes in strategy and business need.

This includes adoption of different types of mobility, which are emerging primarily due to employers’ needs to drive down mobility costs without impacting on compliance, operations or competitive advantage – in relation to both talent attraction and commercial proposition.

Plan, budget, analyse

To achieve mobility costs control, organisations should operate basic cost management processes, for example logging expenses and undertaking cost projections. Budgeting is important but you’ll always need to factor in contingencies such as temporary accommodation and fast-tack processing.

If you are open to adopting a more flexible approach to mobility by, for example, utilising different types of assignment, you will need some form of criteria and a consistent selection process to establish which type of assignment best fits a particular business need. A cost benefit analysis is helpful as a paper exercise to compare mobility costs of assignments and their potential value in satisfying the business need. You’re looking to move away from relying on ‘ball park’ figures and build credibility for making more informed decisions based on specific scenarios and calculations.

Carry out regular internal audits

You want to prevent problems arising; they’re unexpected drains on cost, and usually avoidable.

A smart way to avoid compliance issues arising in the first place is by auditing your internal mobility policies, processes and procedures at least every two years. They need to be maintained regularly, kept up to date and amended in line with new rules or interpretations.

While there is an on-cost attributable to being vigilant, it is far outweighed by the unpredictable costs associated with resolving live issues, when under considerable pressure and cost is not the immediate concern.

Spread the word internally

Arguably the biggest source of commercial value of global mobility is enabling employees to do their job wherever they need to do it – without being overwhelmed by paperwork or other demands relating to the logistics of their assignment.

But as more employees become mobile, it raises the need for the workforce to be updated regularly of their responsibilities in managing costs and ensuring compliance.

Educate personnel about the value of global mobility and the expertise that is available to them. Employees will feel supported and importantly, that they have one less headache to worry about. Creating an engaged workforce will positively impact on mobility costs by helping to mitigate the risks of non-compliance.

Measure and show value

The aim for mobility experts is to steer the conversation toward value, not just cost. While cost tracking and measurement provides helpful financial insight, there are broader, organisation-wide returns that should be captured and shared internally.

Immigration compliance practices offer considerable scope for measurement, and there is clearly value to the business of avoiding non-compliance and the resulting consequences – civil penalties, operational difficulties, reputational harm.

Tracking post-assignment movement of employees also offers insight into the return on investment of the assignments themselves, and more – such as the success (or otherwise) of your talent retention efforts and repatriation processes. For example, tracking the rate or path of progression of returning employees. If you are seeing a high proportion of employees leaving the organisation shortly after a return from overseas assignment, you may have a problem with your repatriation strategy. It’s something most organisations seek to avoid, as you are essentially investing in personnel who then take that enhanced experience and multi-cultural insight elsewhere.

To resonate, measures of evaluation should be aligned to the organisation’s needs, and will require collaboration with other departments to provide credibility and impact from a cross-functional perspective.

Seeking investment approval for new systems to enable data capture and analysis is without doubt a substantial challenge in most organisations, with internal competition rife for a slice of a constricting budget. Mobility teams should be positioning their business case around measures that can be utilised for strategic insight for the organisation to identity areas of value.

And finally – while the FD may not agree – remember there’s more to mobility than the numbers. It’s a people business; emotive, individual, unpredictable, human. Don’t overlook this. From a value perspective, it can be as simple as seeking feedback via satisfaction surveys to evaluate performance or morale or to gain insight into wider identified measures.