This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
| 5 minutes read

Workforce Mobility – What It Means and How It’s Changing

At its core, workforce mobility is an easy concept to understand – it’s getting your company’s people where they need to be as your organization grows and changes. Realistically, though, workforce mobility is complicated, especially for global organizations with offices and locations around the world. While the name may differ—global mobility, corporate relocation—from company to company, workforce mobility is usually part of an organization’s larger strategic workforce planning and human resources operations. In fact, bigger companies may have a separate mobility team that operates in a more independent capacity.

Simple goals, complex strategies

Regardless of what it looks like and where it fits in your company, workforce mobility usually has three key goals:

  • Supporting talent acquisition
  • Developing your own talent and leadership
  • Supporting global operations

All three of these goals are accomplished through the same core idea—getting employees moved to where they’re needed most. Workforce mobility means helping a talented new hire move from their current location to yours, or sending an up-and-coming company leader to temporarily work in another location so they learn and grow while being in a different area of the company.

All of this sounds simple, but in a practical sense it can be extremely complex. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change quickly, forcing us to adapt and respond. Knowing this, it’s worth taking a look at the fundamentals of workforce mobility, regardless of if your company has a well-established mobility program or if the entire idea is new to you. What you’ll want to know, especially right now, is what workforce mobility has looked like in the past, how it’s changing today and how your company can adapt to best meet the needs of your employees.


Traditional workforce mobility practices


Most mobility programs operate as a function of human resources, with a dedicated mobility team that manages workforce mobility strategy and operations. Some companies manage relocations internally, and many work alongside a relocation management company (RMC) that manages moves, communications and logistics as a representative of the employee’s company. Because they are dedicated mobility providers, RMCs frequently offer more efficient move management support with better experiences for relocating employees, with the trade-off cost of service fees and the complexity of implementing the RMC into your employee management systems.

Employee relocation policies and packages

The relocation benefits that companies choose to offer are usually organized into pre-determined policies and packages that offer mobility support depending on the type of move and the level and needs of the relocating employee. Some common policies include:

  • Domestic permanent moves, usually offered to new hires who need support for a one-way move to one of your company’s office locations or to a field operations area.
  • International permanent moves, typically offered to international hires who will be moving to work at a domestic office, or to current employees who will be permanently moving to an international office.
  • Short-term assignments (STAs) for current employees who need to temporarily be moved somewhere else for talent development or to support company operations, typically for 12 months or less. STAs can be domestic or international, and many companies have different policies for each.
  • Long-term assignments (LTAs) for current employees who need to be moved for 12 months or more, but who will eventually be returning to their original home location. As with STAs, LTAs can be international or domestic, and are often extended as business needs change.


Different benefits for different employees

Because relocation benefits will change drastically depending on the move type, many mobility programs have dozens of different policies for different employee populations—executives, new hires, interns, families and others—depending on need. The benefits that relocating employees receive differ from company to company as well. Some organizations offer comprehensive (and expensive) support for home sale, temporary housing, vehicle shipments, cost-of-living adjustments and more, often coordinated by an internal manager or RMC-provided counselor to make life easier for the relocating employee. Other companies focus more on cost containment, offering only basic benefits like household goods shipments and visa/immigration services.


How workforce mobility is changing


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other changes in the business world, workforce mobility is evolving alongside companies and their employees’ needs. There has been a refocusing on the real needs of relocating employees and how mobility programs can provide the support that employees and their families truly value. Not everyone needs a household goods shipment or temporary housing, so flexibility is key.

Plus Relocation’s research into current trends shows that relocating employees need choice, control and care throughout their entire move:

  • Choice of the benefits that will actually be useful,
  • Control over how and when those benefits are delivered, and
  • Care from a mobility team or RMC that will help guide decisions and advocate for the employee and their family.

A number of new move types have also appeared and become more common over the last few years, and many companies are including these emerging moves in their workforce mobility strategy, using them to compete for talent and develop current employees in new ways.

  • Hand-raiser moves are situations where a current employee volunteers to move or asks to move for work rather than being requested for an assignment. This type of move has typically not been supported with relocation benefits, but some companies are offering support for hand-raiser moves to keep and develop existing talent.
  • De-locations are when an employee moves away from major cities or office locations. With remote work now the norm for many jobs, many people want to move away from expensive and densely packed cities for safety, family or cost-of-living reasons. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but some companies are supporting de-locations as part of remote work initiatives to compete for talent.
  • Virtual assignments are possibly the most familiar—an employee stays in their home location while doing their job virtually. International virtual assignments don’t require the same level of mobility support as actually sending someone on an overseas assignment, but assignees will still need some benefits that fall under mobility, such as tax compliance support.


How companies can keep up with workforce mobility needs

Your company’s workforce mobility strategy will almost always be a part of an ever-changing strategic workforce plan, so keeping up with what your relocating employees need can be daunting. Here are some ways that you can stay up to date:

Benchmarking your relocation policies

Whether you’re getting feedback on your own or having an RMC do the benchmarking work for you, the relocation benefits that your company offers should be in line with your industry. If they aren’t, you risk overspending on items that aren’t typically offered, or missing out on talent because your competitors have better benefits.

Rethinking your workforce mobility strategy

With new move types becoming commonplace, you may want to consider virtual assignments or de-locations to supplement your existing mobility options. Traditional workforce mobility hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years, so take some time to look past what’s been done before and broaden your approach.

Partnering with an RMC

If your mobility program is struggling to keep up, your company might benefit from finding an RMC that will partner with you and support your mobile population. RMCs can offer benchmarking, policy guidance, cost savings advice, consulting services and dedicated support from relocation experts, taking the pressure off your own mobility team.

Making use of new technology

The mobility industry isn’t usually known for its innovative technology, but there are exceptions that might be a good fit for your company and relocating employees. For example, Point C is a new platform developed by Plus Relocation’s center of innovation, Plus One. Point C offers a transformative approach to relocation benefits. It lets employees build their own personalized move packages with complete control from beginning to end, rather than restricting them to a policy, and can be used with any RMC or internally managed mobility program.