5 Keys To Managing A Mobile Workforce

Despite worldwide turmoil, growth is still very much happening on the global front. Companies are expanding into new regions and deepening their presence in existing ones. The challenge is building a workforce rapidly and effectively. It’s never been that simple, but moving your talent where it’s needed the most adds far more complexity — and we’re in an era when competition for talent and skills is at its peak.

Add that all up and you’ve got a renewed mandate to focus on mobility as part of your talent strategy. Whether overseas or intra-national, the companies that mandate that mobility is part of their HR strategy are going to see the results . They’ll see the most growth, performance, succession and leadership development and — critically — retention. You might call it putting your money where the mobility is.

Five Keys To Consider:

Make it future-focused: An organization’s talent strategy should focus well into the future. Depending on what it does, are there plans to expand? Are there international markets to expand into? The failsafe should be to assume yes: You will need to move a workforce. It will likely involve an international assignment. Among those on the rise: the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) as well as the UAE and Qatar. All are clearly hot spots for talent, and the trend is projected to not only continue but increase by another 50% by 2020. 

Develop a local successor chain. What enables an organization to succeed in new locations isn’t just a matter of shipping a select group to the new office and putting them to work. According to a survey report from EY/ Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the top benefit of having a global mobility strategy in place was being able to develop local successors — 55% of top performing companies who responded noted that. Also note that global mobility strategies had a clear positive impact on retaining talent, growing new business, and also financial performance for 65% of the companies surveyed.

Cover the bases. Retention is a sharper issue still when factors include relocation. The challenge is not just to reallocate the workforce where you need it, but keep them happy as well. A drain of talent, particularly before contracts are up, could be devastating. Cover logistics and legalities (there may be different labor laws and regulations). Provide dedicated support: with visas; with finding safe, secure and comfortable housing and family support; with the host country’s customs, cultural differences and etiquette. There’s also the issue of the organizational culture, which may be different overseas, given the workforce. Enable everyone to embrace it, and (here’s a concept) make mobility and globalism part of its fabric.

Concentrate on the willing, ready and able. Not all are going to be willing or able to move overseas or travel frequently as they spearhead international efforts. Price Waterhouse Coopers research of millennials found that 38% were interested in pursuing career opportunities with the firm overseas. But another PWC study found that 70% of millennials wanted or expected that they would take an overseas assignment at some point in their careers. 

Make sure the door is open when they come back. Re-entry after an overseas assignment can be rocky to say the least. According to a survey by Brookfield Global Relocation, 38% of returnees quit within 12 months — and that figure hadn’t changed for three decades as of 2010. Your employee now has international experience and may well have outgrown their previous title, and the organization’s own expectations may not align with this increase in experience. Well before they are due back, start working towards facilitating not only their return, but retention. Capitalize on their professional growth with an appropriate position, or you may lose them to a firm who better recognizes their value.

The 24/7, hyper-connected and endlessly networked culture of the new workplace dovetails with the profound expansion into a global economy, which means that streams of talent are going to be moving back and forth as needed. In this situation, there’s one irrefutable bottom line: Yes, this is about mobilizing talent. But it’s also about altering the course and root of people’s lives. We’re all working to increase employee engagement and retention. It’s likely best to remember that.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.