The changing nature of workforce mobility

Czarina R. Miranda

Given the volatility of the labor market, organizations are grappling with a talent-related conundrum — balancing their global talent investment while maintaining a degree of flexibility amid uncertainty. The pandemic introduced novel ways of working, bringing renewed expectations regarding technological innovation, workforce adaptability, and talent-related opportunities. Leaders today need solutions that allay risks and yield rewards to build and sustain value, measures that could enrich employee experience and facilitate cross-border growth.

According to the recent EY 2023 Mobility Reimagined Survey, which shares insights from more than 1,000 global mobility professionals and employees recently posted on international assignments, workforce mobility has failed to reach its full potential. While lucrative workforce mobility programs are imperative for the global talent race, with respondents voicing that these programs facilitate growth for individuals and their organizations, the survey showed a discrepancy between mobility programs offered by organizations and talent demand.

Among those surveyed, 92% believe that workforce mobility opportunities help organizations drive growth by supporting organizational goals while investing in top talent. However, most respondents were unsure as to whether organizations can handle the potential tax, immigration, and regulatory risks.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development projects gross domestic product growth to be 2.2% in 2023, which is symptomatic of lagging economic growth. Much like the situation under the pandemic, where employees gained more leverage due to the need to retain talent, this slow growth could prompt organizations to renew their priorities to adapt to continually changing conditions.

Organizations can focus on retaining key employees to save on costs and establish hierarchical stability. One way would be to develop ways to build on the preexisting employee experience to enhance talent and improve skills and capabilities.

The EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey reveals that mobility professionals believe they significantly influence the talent landscape. As much as 88% believe that mobility is one way to manage global talent shortages, while 76% assert that mobility could affect organizational strategy and 74% think that mobility is fundamental to business continuity. The study also shows that employee priorities have evolved to focus on flexible work arrangements, expansive total rewards offerings, and overall career goals and values.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (93%) believe international assignments are lucrative career-building opportunities, with other benefits that include career development, training, and intercultural exchange. Joint research from EY and Oxford University also shows that prioritizing employee concerns regarding workforce mobility results in organizational transformation, making it more important for organizations to view mobility as an integral component of talent strategy, not a siloed transaction.



The study presents a disconnect in the strategic and operational identities of workforce mobility. While 42% of respondents believe mobility is highly centralized, mobility practitioners still have to coordinate with various stakeholders to accomplish tasks such as immigration compliance and technology enablement.

The strategic potential of workforce mobility increases with the seniority of mobility professionals. More senior mobility professionals view their function to be influential towards business operations and strategy, and believe that a lack of visibility from other functions hinders them from capitalizing on mobility programs to achieve business objectives.

This presents an opportunity for organizations to better determine their priorities regarding talent attraction and career development. The mobility function can transform to cover the organization’s overall strategy and business needs such as hybrid work arrangements and both short- and long-term relocation opportunities.

There is a greater need for technologies that help streamline employee workflows, such as task automation and the simplification of tax, relocation, and immigration procedures that come with cross-border work. Technology is therefore pivotal in transforming workforce mobility programs by alleviating traditional burdens while increasing employee productivity.

Most respondents (92%) believe that digitizing processes is advantageous, whereas only 35% believe their organizations have started doing so for various mobility processes. The discrepancy is notable as most believe digitalization investments will increase in the next five years. Respondents agreed that mobility systems are fundamental, with 79% saying they have used two or more when relocating. Organizations with global operations often require multiple vendors to deliver services in select jurisdictions.

Streamlining the user experience is especially important when working across borders, as the same tools should function regardless of location. Organizations will benefit from having complete visibility over specific legal, tax and regulatory processes to be aware of accompanying risks.

The ever-changing work climate has made international work more complex, and organizations should focus on building capability pipelines to adapt as they scale. Additionally, geopolitical instability has driven organizations to place a premium on risk visibility. An overwhelming majority (97%) of CEO respondents from the EY CEO Outlook Pulse have shared that they have halted investment strategies due to geopolitical issues.

While organizational leaders have started assimilating geopolitical risks into their strategic equation, mobility professionals are wary of their organizational capacity to handle risks. Only 29% of respondents believed that their organization could withstand changing geopolitical circumstances.

Organizations must know where their professionals are at all times to safeguard against physical or cybersecurity threats and be knowledgeable of potential immigration, tax, or regulatory risks. Most respondents believed their organization have a policy or procedure concerning hybrid mobility (e.g., temporary and permanent remote work, cross-border work, and virtual assignments). However, less than half of the mobility professionals (47%) said the policies were consistent across borders, and an even smaller percentage (41%) believed that the policies tackled significant issues.

Amid the unsteady geopolitical climate and intense race for talent, mobility programs can facilitate long-term growth and sustainability. Capitalizing on cross-border work entails reimagining mobility programs to gain an advantage in the race for talent.

In the Philippines, the pandemic has brought to the fore certain realizations for companies that would allow its workforce to be mobile, where applicable, driving hybrid or flexible work arrangements, virtual teaming, and cross-border work and services to address recruitment and retention concerns.

However, not all organizations are mindful of the tax, immigration and other regulatory risks and issues that arise under these arrangements which impact both the company and its mobile employees. More often than not, employers are observed to be more reactive rather than proactive in addressing these risks. Much therefore has yet to be done for companies to create value that will help strengthen corporate strategy for cross-border expansion and facilitate a better employee mobile experience.


This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Czarina R. Miranda is the People Advisory Services Leader of SGV & Co.

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