8 minute read 24 Nov 2020
Traveler exploring the streets of Asian food market

How strategic is your mobility function?

By Gerard Osei-Bonsu

EY EMEIA Integrated Mobility Leader; EY Switzerland Managing Partner, People Advisory Services

Passionate about helping companies realize the full potential of their workforce. Enjoys traveling and skiing. Father to two energetic, football loving boys.

8 minute read 24 Nov 2020

With the COVID-19 crisis changing the world of work forever, there has never been a better time for mobility teams to transform.

In brief

  • The mobility function is facing a revolution, and businesses that fail to transform risk being left behind.
  • Leaders need to reimagine their program by evaluating the role of the function, the technology used and the processes followed.
  • There are three critical steps every business should be following to implement this change.

The role of the mobility professional is changing. Once a largely transactional profession, concerned with on-the-ground issues such as travel and insurance policies, relocation elements and compliance, modern mobility functions are focused on strategic business aims and redeploying talent — and the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this evolution. Businesses that fail to reskill and reimagine their mobility function risk being left behind.

So, what’s happened? Put simply, businesses have woken up to the fact that moving talent around an organization can provide a competitive advantage when it comes to meeting strategic aims.

For one organization, this might be about allowing it to expand into certain markets, for another it might be about revenue growth. Deploying the right people, into the right teams, at the right time is a key part of this, and c-suite executives need to be partnering with their mobility teams to execute on this strategy. Mobility departments need to find the most streamlined solution to dealing with the transactional side of the function so that they can pivot their time towards supporting executive strategy. Doing so can reduce costs — a key business driver when many organizations are facing falling revenues and reduced business. But more on this later.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is also having a transformative effect on the mobility function. Attracting and retaining talent has become harder, with employees reluctant to move jobs but also expecting greater flexibility and wellbeing programs.

Secondly, social distancing has created a situation where entire workforces are now working remotely. While flexible working is keeping employees safe and business flowing, it is causing all kinds of compliance issues for mobility teams, whose operating systems cannot cope.

According to research by EY and the RES Forum

Virtual work 1.0


of global mobility professionals expect a moderate to significant increase in virtual work and assignments.

Virtual work 2.0


of workforces are expected to be working remotely by the end of 2020.

With flexible working high on the agenda for years to come, being able to deal with this challenge strategically is a key concern.

The role of mobility functions

Because of the need to drive more value to an organization, many companies have been looking at the mobility function and deciding to embark on a transformation program to bring it up to speed. There are three elements to this — the role of the function, the technology you use and the processes you follow.

  • Role of the Mobility Function

    Mobility teams need to reimagine the profile of the people in the function. They need people with wider business acumen who can understand strategy, as well as individuals with customer experience and the ability to analyze data. By creating these skill sets within mobility teams, the function will be able to provide better support and analysis to the c-suite.

    A good example is talent development and pipelines. Previously, mobility teams would focus on the administrative side of talent, such as finding accommodation, working on visas and helping employees to settle. Now, mobility teams need to be working ahead of the game. If your organization is planning on opening a Stockholm office in 12 months, do you already have an identified list of candidates within the business that you can start to screen? Are you working with the talent team to find people who can work in a particular market or function who can make the move?

  • Cost optimization

    Next is cost. Many organizations are choosing to outsource the administrative side of mobility, utilizing vehicles such as managed service providers and shared service centers. This creates the all-important capacity that the mobility teams require to focus on strategy. With this comes a renewed focus on return on investment. As all businesses tighten their belts, many are now asking “what is our ROI on all the investment we spend on mobility?”

    It is no longer enough to provide subjective or qualitative responses. Today, business leaders expect hard data to back up any claims. However, most mobility operating models are unable to access or interpret such data, causing friction with the c-suite. By getting the data, technology and operating systems in place to monitor the impact on business strategy, mobility teams can demonstrate a return on the investment in their department.

    One way to demonstrate this is through speed of deployment, which is an objective often linked to mobility teams. As in our previous Stockholm office example, the better a mobility team can source potential candidates, the quicker the organization can meet its strategic aim of opening a new office.

  • Processes and Policies

    Finally comes processes and policies. Mobility departments need to redesign their toolkits to correspond to the strategic aims of the business. The toolkit needs to be easy to communicate, purpose-driven and leave little room for user error. Above all, it should make you more efficient in reaching your strategic goals.

Implementing a change

So how can you begin to reimagine and evolve your mobility function?

The clear starting point is all about alignment. Mobility departments must be on the same page with all relevant stakeholders on what the organization is trying to achieve. Carry out stakeholder interviews and assessment to find out what business outcomes you should be aiming for. Don’t just rely on conversations with the c-suite — speak to business lines and employees to check that outcomes are clear across the entire company, before feeding responses into your mobility strategy.

Next, do a diagnostic around which operating model works for your strategy. Take into account peer-to-peer benchmarking, leading practice in your particular industry and the operating models that fit your business. Go into detail on the aspects of global mobility you want to retain control of and those that can be outsourced or moved to other departments. How centralized do you want your department to be? How much control do you need to retain? These questions will be answered by your business objectives.

Finally, consider how you will measure success. What key performance indicators will you introduce? How will you implement modifications, so that you can refine and reiterate as you go? Speak to colleagues and peers in other organizations for feedback, before tailoring to your own needs.

Strategic mobility success can be viewed in different ways. There are tangible, hard metrics such as reducing costs through smarter moves and outsourcing of administrative and repetitive tasks. However, you can also demonstrate success through revenue growth — and this is where better strategy comes in. Can mobility teams find talent in a particular market or location that allows the business to set up new operations or achieve a new goal? Can they do it quickly and efficiently? If so, business leaders will be able to assign some revenue growth to the mobility team.

There are other issues, such as sustainability. EY pledged to be carbon neutral by the end of 2020, but how do we run a global business with international travel while achieving that? The mobility team has a large part to play in that.

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Ultimately, every organization will have business imperatives as strategic objectives. The mobility teams of the future need to contribute to these overarching aims in a way they have failed to do previously. With the COVID-19 crisis changing the world of work forever, there has never been a better time for mobility teams to transform into strategic, business-focused departments that are indispensable to the c-suite.

About this article

By Gerard Osei-Bonsu

EY EMEIA Integrated Mobility Leader; EY Switzerland Managing Partner, People Advisory Services

Passionate about helping companies realize the full potential of their workforce. Enjoys traveling and skiing. Father to two energetic, football loving boys.