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The new normal – facilitating non-traditional global mobility

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More flexible cross border employment solutions to suit the digital nomad may be becoming the norm for forward thinking global enterprises and their top talent. But how can these be best facilitated and promoted and what are the key issues that need to be addressed?

Workforce mobility is a rapidly evolving commercial reality and, in my experience, risks and opportunities associated with this evolution present themselves frequently. As a functional lead, it is my responsibility to mitigate risk or seize such opportunity as I see fit and in line with business interests.

To start with, the burgeoning number or greater diversity of cross border employment models facing multinationals today is both a risk and an opportunity. 

Some companies, for example, define themselves or their employer brand through the international working opportunities they offer as a key attractant for talent; particularly, perhaps, for those employers whose employees are at an age where moving overseas is not excessively disruptive. Furthermore, I’m sure that most organisations are also very conscious of the simple reality that with the growth of commercial globalisation with employers of all sizes going global themselves, cross border working is fast becoming the norm.

Increasingly, however, some organisations are seeing resistance to traditional cross-border opportunities such as the short-term assignment, expat deals and permanent moves. People want the opportunity to see the world but on their terms; be it duration or even location. 

“A local package in Amsterdam? No thanks – but I always wanted to live in Paris…’’

This is fast becoming the framework within which mobility managers must work today and I believe it comes down to expectations.  In a challenging employment market, employees have more leverage to state what they want and where they want it.  The ongoing ‘war for talent’ and a new, multi-generational workforce with its own demands, realities and personal circumstances add fuel to this fire.

Cross border employment developments

Beyond the traditional commuter and short term business visitor, three other relevant and new constructs spring to mind. Firstly, the virtual employee; employed in one location but working in the office of another group affiliate overseas. Secondly, the employee with a global role that rarely travels yet serves different subsidiaries with technical support and, thirdly, the employee with a multinational role and responsibilities sited in one location but supporting other countries.

These developments all present significant and different challenges from remuneration and tax issues through to social security, permanent establishment, transfer pricing and cost allocation implications. And all of them can create major problems with serious consequences if uncompliant.

Risks of non-compliance are significant and of consequence for both employer and employee. These range from blacklisting, backdating of personal and corporate taxes and even criminal conviction for immigration fraud. I recently read that of 407 immigration investigations in the UK regarding short term assignments and commuters in a given year, 72% resulted in prosecution and criminal sanctions – including 46 ending in a prison sentence.

Doom and gloom aside though, if we can work towards a landscape of cooperative compliance – that’s to say, control processes and technology that simplify and properly account for these evolving employment models - the rewards can be significant. 

Engage and retain key talent

Strategically, get it right and an organisation can far more easily balance talent supply inequalities with global business growth and be in a much stronger position to engage and retain key talent. And, from a tactical perspective, it enables a far faster response to short term business demands and socio-economic risks and the more rapid deployment of management and technical skills.

Finally, from an employee engagement perspective, the effective application of these new mobility opportunities can help ensure that organisations are more responsive to individual wants and needs and can present more rounded and attractive career and developmental opportunities. Increased flexibility around working locations can balance personal career objectives and, in so doing, drive greater employee engagement and a willingness to remain with - and be an advocate for - an organisation in today’s challenging employment landscape.

David Enser

By David Enser

David is a co-founder of the RES Forum, the world’s largest and most active independent community for global mobility (GM) professionals. He is also head of international mobility and reward innovation for adidas group, based in Bavaria, Germany.

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