How Flexible Global Mobility Policies Can Make Room for Creative Work Life

Global mobility is entering the era of the increasingly important employee experience. Today more than ever, there’s been a greater need to offer a more human-centered approach to workplaces. Startups have matured along with their employees whose idea of a 9-to-5er has drastically changed. In many cases, some work only a few days a week at the office, as they can be reached anytime and anywhere. Some even work remotely on a full-time basis. For these reasons, having a nice office can certainly give employees an incentive to come to work.

Old concepts are getting waylaid as a younger workforce consisting of millennials has entered the job market, bringing in their own quirks and preferences for company office setups. Open office spaces are not getting as much love as it used to receive years ago, as employees value their privacy even more and companies are realizing how unproductive they can be. It helps that some companies can afford to give employees their space — and recognize their own working style.

Companies like Google have been successful at blurring the lines of work and home. Having free food as well as laundry services and other perks at its offices make offices seem less office-like and more homey. It seems to work as employees can simply concentrate on their tasks.

Other companies have followed suit. At-home conveniences are now becoming commonplace in offices. Where it was common to have free regular coffee at work, companies are offering variety in their coffee. And it’s not too unusual to have beer served at the office, especially on co-working spaces.

That’s just the work environment. Even before a talent sets foot on an office these days, companies are doing their homework.

They are tapping the conveniences of technology, which has made workplaces and hiring policies more flexible, reducing the friction and freeing up companies to think of creative ways to engage and retain talent. Flexible and innovative solutions have allowed them to get the right people at the right cost and help these people feel welcome in their new work and living environments.

Good mobility practices these days make sense not just when it comes to policies but to work environments as well. Updated often to suit its market and the times, well-thought-out policies address business objectives and assignee expectations typical of companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. They connect objectives with actions and actions with outcomes.

Why does it matter that policies are constantly evolving? Both employees and human resources want choices to meet their needs. Mercer offers some guidelines for companies to assess their need for change:


A general perception still exists that expatriates are too costly and that local management face challenges in understanding expatriate salaries. Also, because costs and business objectives aren’t always transparent, companies should think in terms of value received as opposed to focusing solely on cost.


Some assignees view their packages as not competitive or aligned with market opportunities. Given the growing demand for qualified global workers, it’s a given that expatriates will compare their compensation packages with those of their peers. Gaps in compensation and benefits can be due to an out-of-date policy or assignees’ lack of understanding of their packages’ true value.


Without a cohesive, consistent mobility policy, employees may think they can negotiate whatever terms they want. This perception could reflect unclear policies or a misunderstanding by the potential assignee of the expatriate offer, or it could signal a lack of central control or governance.


A prime reason for establishing a global mobility program is to allow companies to access the best talent, so mobility packages must be competitive in order to retain workers in the duration of the assignees. Many companies experience a high turnover among assignees in the long term, making it difficult to find suitable candidates who will remain in a program and achieve business objectives.

Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what assignees perceive the program to be versus the reality. For example, assignees may be reluctant to accept assignments because they think that working in the United States may put their careers at risk – when management may in fact perceive foreign assignments as career-building. Or they may perceive that expatriate management is disconnected from talent management and career development.

Whenever possible, policies should reflect existing categories within the company (defined by talent management) as opposed to artificially creating new categories.

In building a policy, Mercer determines how many policies are needed, establishing criteria for each. In today’s complex global environment, it’s difficult to create one policy that accommodates all situations. Not only are developing and emerging countries hosting assignees from developed economies, but they are also deploying their own assignees to other countries.

This movement has led to a proliferation of short-term, project-based assignments and to the hiring of more locals.

One way companies are optimizing budgets is through segmentation. This involves establishing the duration, assignee profile and assignment type in order to distribute budgets according to jobs and individuals that deliver the greatest value. When using segmentation, Mercer reportedly helps navigate the following options and categories:


  • Permanent transfers
  • Long term
  • Short term
  • Commuter
  • Extended business trips
  • Frequent flyers

Assignee Profile

  • Foreigners hired locally
  • Returnees
  • Employee-initiated moves

Assignment Type

  • Strategic
  • Traditional expatriates
  • Developmental
  • Regional
  • Global nomads


Creating a global mobility policy is a process involving a structured set of activities designed to transform inputs into outputs – and many companies underestimate how long it can take to implement a policy fully.

Like any business process, developing a global mobility policy begins with a mission objective and includes defined responsibilities, controls and work standards to produce compliance, consistency and performance, and measurable success.

Mercer guides companies through a structured process and provides assistance in the following tasks:

Expatriate Populations and Current Provisions

  • Hold workshops with stakeholders to establish requirements
  • Analyze current practices and processes
  • Evaluate current tools
  • List current providers
  • Assess current costs

Define Approach by Type of Mobility

  • Conduct brainstorming workshops and a review of approaches
  • Simulate costs using different assumptions
  • Draft initial policy framework and guiding principles
  • Access market benchmarking
  • Assess new tools

Draft Assignment Policy

  • Have stakeholders approve the policy framework
  • Design detailed policy for each assignment type
  • Draft assignment management structure
  • Define provider co-sourcing model

Implement Policy

  • Have stakeholders approve formal policy
  • Finalize policy documents
  • Finalize assignment coordination structure and team training.
  • Issue RFP to providers
  • Develop a communication plan