For KPMG, talent mobility means “employees moving across borders”, both international and between states.
Marc Burrows, KPMG’s head of global mobility services, tells UNLEASH that this can be “at the company’s direction or because of employee preference”.
He explains that most of the focus up until the end of 2019 was “on mobility that was directed by the company”, but then 2020 brought a shift towards employees choosing to move across borders because of “personal preference and circumstances”.
This shift opened up “a whole new range of talent mobility considerations”. “It had implications for the commitment to equity and fairness, and has lots of implications around risk, compliance, and cost”, Burrows notes.
However, it is too simplistic to see COVID-19 as the only disruptor to talent mobility.
2008 financial crisis and talent mobility
Burrows explains that before the 2008 financial crisis talent mobility was “largely traditional” where companies decided to send employees to a new country or state for a set period of time (say three years), then once that period came to an end, they would return where they started from.
“Employers made sure they were covered in terms of housing, home trips once a year”, and also took care of kids’ schooling, and “of course the risk and compliance around their taxes and immigration status”, according to Burrows.
But after the financial crisis, “there was a real shift in the methods of how companies were getting people to where they needed them to be”; this was partly because of inflexibility and cost of traditional methods. Also, Burrows notes, employees were themselves less keen to uproot their lives given the “shaky state” of the global economy.
Instead, businesses relied more on “frequent business travel”, which disrupts employees’ and their family’s lives much less, while enabling companies to “move talent faster with less strings and costs attached”, according to Burrows.
Permanent transfers also became more popular; in this scenario, for “all intents and purposes it looked like the person was moving there forever”. This involved “no schooling or housing assistance for the company” and so creates less strings, costs, and arrangements for employers.
So what does the future hold for talent mobility?
According to KPMG’s recent Global Assignment Policies & Practices Survey Report: “The impact to traditional talent mobility remains a bit uncertain going into 2022 and beyond, however, as pandemic levels decline under global vaccination rollouts and borders continue to reopen, we fully expect business travel to resume, albeit with less frequency and shorter trips”.
Benefits for diversity
Central to why talent mobility is not going anywhere is that it is a real boom for diversity and inclusion.
As Mark Twain famously said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Burrows also shares his personal experience. “As an Australian who spent my career in Europe (and more laterally in the UK), there is nothing like being in a different work culture, a different language, and different work environment to help you re-evaluate your own approaches and understand how others will come at a problem”.
He is clear that talent mobility helps with diversity of “thought, culture and experience”, and therefore, helps to eliminate bias.
KMPG’s GAPP report noted that talent mobility makes it possible to have a high level of “intercultural and global business skills development, team building, networking, and cross-pollination of ideas”.
Working and hiring from anywhere as a future trend
On the topic of diversity, Burrows notes that talent mobility “allows you to consider your talent pool on a much wider basis”. This feeds into the emerging trends of hiring from anywhere, which makes “the world your oyster” for both talent and companies.
Hiring from anywhere means companies can hire the best people from across the world, and overcome talent or staff shortages in particular regions.
The KPMG report and Burrows are very clear that working from anywhere in general is going to be a major future of work trend.
This is particularly the case as the pandemic has created an “appetite for flexibility” from talent, including international and national flexibility, and that is showing no signs of going anywhere, according to Burrows.
Therefore, given the ‘Great Resignation’ and the highly competitive war for talent, it is important that companies find a way to accommodate working from anywhere requests as much as they can.
Burrows notes that the simplest way of hiring people “is not let them have any work from anywhere flexibility”; while “that is simple, it is not good for business”, especially if competitors are offering more flexibility about where you work.
He recommends that companies figure out how to balance risk and compliance challenges, and keeping employees safe amid an ever-changing COVID-19 situation, with workers’ desire for flexibility.
The importance of tech
“The only way to sole this efficiently and long-term is with tech”, notes Burrows.
During the pandemic, when companies had to grapple with remote working and international teams, many did not have systems in place to keep their employees and their businesses safe and compliant.
“The only way to get a grip on [safety and risk] is to have technology-enabled policies and processes and systems”; otherwise it is too much “for HR teams to handle”.
Putting the tech and system is only going to get more urgent as more and more employees are asking for national or international location flexibility.
Burrows explains that tech can help automate a lot of the manual work for HR teams. If “they have good analysis and the risk assessment in front of them”, then they can make better, well-informed decisions about workplace flexibility.
The conversation then turned to the sustainability concerns linked with talent mobility, and particularly the major polluter that is business travel.
While KPMG predicts that business travel will resume once the COVID-19 situation allows, it will be less frequent, and it is possible that “virtual temporary assignments” will continue primarily to reduce environmental impacts of flying for work.
Burrows explains that this conversation has been ongoing for a while. For instance, KPMG has worked with clients on creating awareness around the carbon impacts of business travel when employees are booking their flights.
He also notes that many companies have started to look at offsets to make sure they are neutralizing their environmental impact.
But in order to make a genuine environmental change, Burrows notes that companies need to go further than this. “The obvious thing to think about is air travel, [but] we need to think much broader than the obvious point”.
He says that companies need to link their pay and benefits at executive level to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. This is something that the UK’s Investment Association (IA) called for in the aftermath of the United Nation’s COP26 conference earlier in November.
“With COP26 focusing minds ever more sharply on climate change, and more and more companies rightly linking executive pay and bonuses to ESG targets, investment managers will be watching closely to ensure these targets are both quantifiable, and linked to the company’s strategy,” wrote the IA’s director of stewardship and corporate governance Andrew Ninian.
Specifically in terms of talent mobility, Burrows notes that companies need to ensure that they are hiring from different backgrounds, in order to meet social mobility objectives.
“Are we making sure that we’re giving opportunities to people from a broad range of backgrounds [and] ensuring that international experience through mobility is available to all?”, Burrows concludes.
This, of course, like hiring from anywhere, has a positive for filling talent and skills gaps that are troubling companies across the world now, and will likely continue in the future.
So, employers, listen up if you want to win the war for talent now and succeed in the future.