With new definitions of work, talent mobility will never be the same

The global pandemic provided an opportunity for many to pause and reflect on their contributions to creating value for their community. Questions like “How many hours of my week do I want to dedicate to work?” and “Where do I want to work from?” are disrupting the global workforce. While the nature of work at its core has not changed significantly, how work is assigned and completed is dramatically different. Many organizations started to see this as an area of opportunity beyond technology (e.g., investment into technological advancements to work remotely) to reconsider the structure of jobs, the composition of a meaningful career, and how our corporate and governmental policies support the fluid nature of work and meaning.

Technology also enables many jobs to be organized into discrete projects and tasks. This change, coupled with increased virtual work, brings enormous opportunities to maximize underutilized workforce segments. Semi-retired workers; parents and caregivers; anyone desiring more flexibility in when, where, and how much they work; and those who may have opted out of the workforce due to the dominance of 40-hour-per-week roles could re-engage with a shorter hour-per-week of projects and opportunities. With an increase in competition for talent (Great Resignation), companies should eliminate self-imposed restrictions to talent supply, like a singular definition of a job. Technology has enabled the deconstruction of “a job” into parts—six hours of project management, 200 hours of call center response, five hours of strategy consulting, and so on. This fragmentation creates an opportunity to unencumber ourselves from the traditional definition of a “job” that we grew accustomed to. An alternative approach will unlock new diverse talent sources and allow more fluidity within current talent assets to shift from skill set to skill set.

To make the most of today’s new opportunities, employers might also consider taking a multi-channel employment model approach. This is different from a “hybrid” model because the term assumes a combination of working virtually and on-premise. A multi-channel employment model is more comprehensive and includes emerging trends like virtual reality collaboration and increased international work arrangements. It is about much more than just location; it is about the talent strategy to optimize collaboration and achieve results. One way is to enable multi-dimensional employees to leverage their array of strengths to close skill gaps in a fluid, on-demand manner. This approach is in addition to programmatic, point-in-time skill-building. We use the term “talent mobility” to describe this—a deliberate change in role in any direction intended to support an employee’s career aspirations. The benefits of mobility are many and include employee engagement, career satisfaction, and retention.

Employee preferences are also evolving, and post-pandemic, we are likely to see renewed interest in working internationally outside one’s home country. This continued demand may naturally lead to more flexible considerations and broader trade agreements for cross-border employee arrangements. While the pandemic has demonstrated that many knowledge workers can work from anywhere successfully, and the “gig economy” is picking up steam, employee health benefits, particularly in the U.S., will have a considerable impact on progress.

Specific implications for global mobility

In addition to shifts in workforce composition and talent fluidity, where we work has shifted significantly. It is more important than ever that global mobility and talent management functions partner together to meet business and employee needs. The pandemic shift in the work location concept for knowledge workers (i.e., work from home, work from anywhere, hybrid schedule) led to a significant evolution of all global mobility components—nature of the work, the program structure, and also the role and skill set of the global mobility professional.

Regarding the nature of mobility trends, the movement landscape has been changing for at least a decade. For a while, we have seen a progressive shift from structured, long-term, traditional expatriate assignments to more cost-efficient host-country transfer policies. It is too early to examine whether the permanent hybrid (or remote) work will be a true benefit or only a lasting impediment for traditional mobility frameworks. Forward-thinking talent mobility programs cannot ignore the hybrid, flexible arrangements and have an opportunity to lead in creating the workforce strategy to successfully manage the inherently changing talent pool and market exigencies.

With the substantial changes in the workforce and transformed definition of the role, the global mobility program needs to step up, as an influencer in the talent movement space, working closely with talent and workforce strategy professionals in the organization. Because of multidisciplinary knowledge and previous exposure to different HR areas as part of core mobility services, global mobility leaders now have an incredible opportunity to get in front of the business and take a strategic seat at the table to address the inherent changes in the critical areas of work as described above. No successful business can ignore them.

The mobility landscape shifts do not only change talent mobility, but it is critical to point out how pivotal it will be to approach the post-pandemic global workforce footprint differently. From operational dexterity to situational agility, we often see how work does not need to be tied to a location. The long-term impact on employer-driven travel of flexibility enhanced strategic consulting and the need to pivot in an environment with multiple work arrangements have yet to be uncovered. Mobility demand will be critical to help businesses (and individuals) make the right decision not only about “the” move (as we have seen previously as a core mobility responsibility) but also influencing the decision on the balancing of business requirements, talent needs, and compliance requirements on a global scale within a footprint which has some (but often few) limitations.

Summary insights

Much has been said about what a post-pandemic world might look like for employees, the future of work, and the best ways for employees to develop the most relevant skills for their careers. At a high level:

  1. It is long past due to consider how jobs are structured. Engage in the work review and seek to break work down into smaller parts.
  2. Approach career and mobility design with fluidity at its core. It is time to move beyond traditional career models. Expect and encourage your talent to regularly move into new roles, assignments, and projects, often across different geographies. The world is changing, and employee skills and mindsets can only keep up if the organization builds regular talent movement into career paths.
  3. Consider enhanced focus on holistic private (employer) and public (government) interrelatedness that creates awareness and influence, and modernize current governing infrastructures (such as tax or immigration legislation) to support the demand of employees. Employee preferences are lightyears ahead of most governments around the globe when it comes to those seeking international experiences. It is time for private and public sectors to think beyond cross-border limitations to support these future predictive aspirations.

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