With the cost of hiring permanent employees on the increase – think auto enrolment, NIC, benefits & reward schemes, statutory leave and pay – employers are increasingly looking for more flexible and cost-effective approaches to meeting their people needs.

This is particularly the case for employers recruiting skilled workers from overseas, where hiring in contractors to the UK rather than employing on a permanent basis offers advantages in terms of both cost and commercial flexibility.

However, this increasing reliance on contractors is having a significant impact on how HR are dealing with staffing.  We have seen many instances of a ‘push’ on companies only wanting to hire third party contractors for cost saving measures.

The result - one-size-fits-all mobility assignments are struggling to meet modern business needs, creating organisational demand for flexible, ‘purpose-based’ mobility assignments.

Progressive employers are turning to ‘purpose-based’ assignments, to satisfy organisational requirements for a more agile workforce, while building competitive advantage.

Under a purposed-based assignment, the type of move, the reward package offered and career development prospects are all aligned to each specific assignment and the individual assignee.

While UK immigration rules are not designed to support this fluid concept of purpose-based mobility, within a clearly defined and well-governed mobility framework, HR has the potential to leverage increased degree of flexibility for wider organisational benefit: strategically, adding value to business objectives ad anticipating talent needs, and operationally, for the organisation to access support and operate in a compliant manner.

How can HR approach global mobility while delivering much-needed flexibility and commercial advantage to the organisation?

1. Devise a clear roadmap.

Global mobility as an area of expertise is moving beyond the ambit of an administrative function - responding to ad hoc requests for relocation support or processing visa applications.

As a function, its focus is moving toward strategic contribution, aligned to wider corporate objectives, which could include:

  • Enabling growth within existing markets
  • Expansion into new markets
  • Developing internal talent at all levels 

Delivering strategic value can be achieved through effective planning and developing a clear roadmap for the organisation’s global mobility programme, while enabling HR to continue to manage the cost and compliance challenges of modern mobility in an increasingly complex environment.

This entails taking a proactive approach to global mobility, supporting longer-term people needs and sustained return on investment in the context of business objectives.

A crucial part of the strategic support you can provide for your business is assessing the future mobility needs of your organisation. How can you ensure you will have the necessary talent in place when it’s required?

More than responding to relocation requests, the vision is to move people with purpose within a framework that promotes compliance, cost savings and consistency.

Alignment to business needs will also help with support from the wider business – if value is being perceived and enjoyed.

Developing a consistent approach and standards for types of mobility. For example, when recruiting senior international hires into a new country, for example, means the business can move quicker to hire the talent they need rather than be slowed down negotiating bespoke agreements every time.

2. Develop a portfolio of mobility classes.

By developing a strong suite of policies for different mobility types, rather than shoe-horning employees into policies that don’t, teams can partner with the business more effectively.

Devise a portfolio of mobility classes for organisation to draw from – with supporting infrastructure, policies, procedures that are consistent, standardised and streamlined to deliver operational excellence and effective compliance.

The right framework should lead to the right questions to be asked at the outset.

Do you really need to fully relocate a person or can they achieve the business aims with using technology and attending on site in the country as needed?

Should you look beyond the traditional permanent hires or long-term relocations? Contractors, common within some sectors such as construction and petrochemical, are being engaged more commonly across more and more sectors. On this basis, the employer benefits from flexibility and agility.

Consider candidate selection procedure. The choice of person and type of move evolves from an ad hoc decision within a business unit to a systematic selection process based on the planned objective and value of the move.

Determine key objectives of the assignment upfront, and select the most appropriate type of mobility accordingly. The goals might include leading a designated project, passing on specific skills to local teams or developing the next regional CEO.

Offering a predetermined selection of suitable mobility solutions will mean that deviations – and the associated risk and cost - should become the exception.

The result is the ability to act quickly and effectively when the need arises – such as hiring a senior executive, where delays are known to defeat deals, or to deploy teams on the ground with minimal operational disruption.     

You should also factor into this any compliance requirements and ensure that all mobility candidates are onboarded or transferred in line with prevailing immigration rules and duties to avoid Home Office penalty.

3. Review your reward schemes.

Attracting and retaining talent remains a key business challenge. The role of global mobility can play a positive role in enhancing the attractiveness of your organisation to existing and potential employees.

For example, in some instances, overseas assignments are seen as reward in themselves – particularly among ‘millennials’, who attribute inherent value of international experience to their professional development. The prospect of career progression following assignment may well be more attractive than an enhanced financial package while on deployment.

Old style bonus and benefits schemes are becoming less relevant. By simply doing as you have always done, you may even be causing issues, such as incurring cost or failing to align to individuals’ expectations.

Question what incentives your employees really want?  And what are you able and prepared to provide in the context of the assignment as a whole? The mobility deal for a senior executive on management development programme is likely to differ from an IT specialist on short-term assignment. 

Apply the same approach to flexibility with reward schemes as with other elements of your mobility programme. Again, a flexible approach within a developed framework can help you achieve more impact at reduced cost.

4. Budget planning.

One of the weaknesses of a reactive approach to mobility activity are the resulting bills that are presented after an assignment or relocation – unplanned, unallocated overspend is a pervasive risk. From a management perspective this should no longer be acceptable.

Mobility programmes require a discreet budget allocation, ring-fenced and owned by HR or global mobility. The focus then turns away from the internal conflict between who is responsible for the cost, to managing the budget – through planning, transparency, projections, actual spend, savings. 

5. Performance reporting.

Enhancements in technology spporting global mobility are making data more prolifically and accurately available. For HR, the potential for insight into current activity, performance benchmarking and measurement becomes the basis of informed business decisions. What types of mobility offer the most return? Which require more upfront spend or resource drain?  Data also serves as evidence to management of return, contribution and value.

This will require a progress tracked during the assignment to make sure it is delivering on the investment.

Purpose-based assignments for future mobility

With HR under pressure to support the business in recruiting and mobilising talent wherever the business needs, against a backdrop of cost pressure, flexibility in global mobility programmes can place organisations in a stronger position to attract talent and capitalise on market opportunities.

The onus is on HR to take control of this fast-emerging area to build competitive advantage.