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Top five hot topics for global mobility in 2017

Lisa Johnson

Advancing technology, sociological change, political upheaval and economic shifts are combining to make 2017 a challenging and fascinating year for those in the global mobility industry. By Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader, Crown World Mobility.

In some cases there are new concepts emerging for those who manage global mobility programmes as more and more corporations look to send staff on global assignments to build global experience. At the same time, processes that were seen as cutting edge even one or two years ago now appear as popular trends. In any given year of course there are emerging topics and evolving issues in what is a dynamic field – and 2017 is no different. But it is increasingly an exciting time to be a global mobility professional. Here are five top trends and focuses which could help shape the year…

1: Increasing desire to close the gender gap by attracting more female assignees
The number of female assignees creeps and crawls forward, with some progressive organisations, industries and regions moving faster than others, but the reality is that overall the percentage of female assignees is still hovering around 20 per cent after more than a decade talking about it. Like any diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, the only way to change behaviours and make an impact is to drive the change from the top down and develop a culture where inequality is unacceptable and actions are taken to ensure inclusion.

The pressure on corporations to look more deeply into reasons why women are not being engaged – and make changes from the top to address it – are growing. Not least because global companies and future leadership development increasingly requires employees to have global experience and competencies. The barriers in place for women may include unconscious bias (as assumption, for instance, that women may not want to accept at international assignment), the length of assignments (and the preparation time for them) and lack of understanding of the impact of dual careers and responsibilities in modern families. As a result, expect to see more flexibility and support for family and spouse/partner needs, changes to communication and upfront decision making support to include identifying and addressing potential family barriers.

2: Reacting to the gig economy and its impact on mobility
The gig economy concept has been a growing discussion point in HR for a few years now. In some industries it is a common business model already. The gig economy reflects a work environment where temporary contract positions are common and companies use independent workers to fill short term engagements. The growing gig economy is expanding outside of its more traditional industries. An Intuit study predicts that by 2020 40 per cent of American workers will be independent contractors. That is a big leap for any country’s employee population. This year we will be talking about gig employment mobility policies, compliance challenges, the emerging industries that compete globally for gig talent and the locations where it is becoming more common.

3: The simplification of policy documents
We are at a turning point in how mobility policies are communicated. This is the year to start simplifying (or doing away with) the 30-40 page documents. Leading the way over the past few years has been having information available via websites and apps. There is less and less patience, especially from those employees who were born with smart phones in their hands, for long, text-heavy documents. Infographics, animation and other visually appealing mediums are being applied to traditional HR documents and mobility has lagged behind in this area.

4: Taking advantage of technology’s impact on mobility
No one needs a trends report to know that technology continues to change our day-to-day lives in so many ways. In 2017 the  industry is inserting virtual solutions into mobility to support or replace assignment planning, pre-decision trips, home-finding solutions, pre-move home surveys, etc. Virtual solutions can save time and money. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can simulate human conversations in the form of chatbots to offer support that falls somewhere in between a really good FAQ list and a conversation with an expert. These technology advancements add a cool factor to our industry, though they do have their limitations. This year we will see growth in the advantages that technology brings, and yet we predict that we will also see an increase in discussions around the limitations of technology. Companies have very real concerns around the risks that technology brings and are working hard to prevent cyber breaches and protect employee data.

5: Reacting to political uncertainty
This final topic is not so much a trend as an example of how outside influences affect our industry. There are many parts of the world where political instability exists; however, this year, the two countries that are consistently at the top of the list in terms of volume of international outbound and receiving locations (the US and UK) are undergoing political transitions that are creating uncertainty for many companies doing global business. There is the potential for great change. Brexit appears to be moving forward in the UK and extracting itself from the more than 40 year old relationship with the EU will be neither quick nor easy. So far the message from the British government is a rejection of the free movement of people, goods, capital and services.  While the process may take at least two years, the business community is already responding.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US is undergoing a political transition for which there is no modern precedent. Should the new government strategy at all reflect the campaign promises of last year, we anticipate a less immigration-friendly environment, fewer government regulations on some business issues (i.e. banking oversight, the environment, equal employment opportunity, diversity & inclusion), whilst at the same time enforcing an anti-globalisation policy that could include potentially punishing US-headquartered companies that act on a global strategy.  Recent examples in the US automotive and defense industries are confirming a potential return to a long-dormant US isolationism attitude.

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