June 11, 2021

Managing New Risks in Global Workforce Mobility

Now is the time to assess risk readiness for operating in the “New Normal” and beyond

Quick Highlights:

    • The worldwide pandemic and subsequent workforce changes cemented the importance of measuring current and future risk-readiness for businesses’ global talent strategies. But it’s also critical to set a priority list to tackle the most urgent needs first.
    • As a technical partner to The RES Forum, Sterling Lexicon contributes to and connects clients with collaborative events, thought leadership initiatives, emerging trends, and digital tools to strengthen their mobility programs and remain competitive. One of those resources is a RISK analysis module – an interactive platform to help you determine where your organization stands.
    • Here, we share a conversation with RES Founder David Enser about the RISK analysis module, in a Q&A and video.

The events of the last fifteen months have fundamentally changed how and where work gets done. They have prompted many employees to re-examine what they value most in their professional roles and work/life integration, and an enhanced flexibility to work from anywhere presents new opportunities and challenges for organizations and employees. Vaccine access and the pace of re-entering offices and resuming business travel are all continuing to evolve and accelerate, too, and in unique ways across different regions. Business leaders are faced with a variety of new labor market, talent management and compliance complexities.

But there are new opportunities, too. For a closer look at some of the tools available to help global mobility (GM) teams guide their businesses in moving forward, Sterling Lexicon sat down for a conversation with David Enser, Founder, The RES Forum, an independent community of senior in-house global HR professionals to which Sterling Lexicon is a technical partner.

Watch highlights of our conversation with David:

SL: As organizations adapt to new workforce complexities, how is the role of the global mobility manager changing?

DE: We engage in regular conversations with HR directors, heads of global mobility, regional teams, and members of academia to take a holistic view of talent and change management. Those conversations have shown us that the GM role typically sits across four areas:

    • Smart global talent managers
    • Agile strategic advisors
    • Flawless program designers, and
    • Efficient global people effectiveness experts

There are, of course, much more complex skills and aptitudes that go into each of those core competencies, but the “SAFE” acronym created from a short description of each one reinforces the important role that GM plays in workforce risk protection, and aligns with an important priority for organizations right now.

When all four of the above areas are successfully integrated into cross-functional conversations and senior leadership decisions, companies can design proactive GM strategies to master the “New Normal” in shaping the changing world of global work.

SL: As the roles, skills, and responsibilities of GM practitioners change, how are their strategic contributions to the business adapting along with them?

DE: Once the immediate crisis response, employee tracking and decisions about where to work and live safely were met, we saw three core focus areas that mobility professionals began and continue to strategically influence and shape: 1) the emerging forms of employment, 2) better use of and fuller integration of virtual tools and data insights and 3) understanding and overcoming new fears and barriers around global travel, assignments, and cross-border work.

The greater flexibility around work locations and schedules gives employers and employees alike more choice, increasing access to opportunities. When certain assignments or transfers had to be put on hold temporarily, mobility teams became very much involved in the remote work, virtual assignment, or work from anywhere discussions and decisions, particularly as they relate to compliance, employee wellbeing and company culture.

One of the biggest changes we have seen since COVID-19 is a much faster and more frequent tapping into the voice of the employee. Not only did we reconfirm just how important it is to know exactly where employees are, when, and what their work authorizations enable them to do in those locations, but we’re now much more fully embracing the value of real-time insights and sentiment tracking tools around other things, too, particularly physical and mental wellbeing. The annual surveys and traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs) of yesterday have given way to better, faster, and much more user-friendly digital tools to connect employers to the needs of their talent, and their talent to a more robust suite of resources.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. To be able to take those insights and engage in policy-level changes or design new systems fit for new purposes, businesses need to understand the risks – and how ready their organizations and employees are to meet them. The types and levels of risk have profoundly changed for businesses and their talent since the beginning of 2020 and are now far more complex.

Because mobility practitioners are positioned at the intersection of business strategy, talent development and compliance, they are in a unique position to work very closely with and bring value to their broader HR, acquisition, reward, and legal teams. Together, they can identify and address their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then, they can prioritize investments of resources to turn them into optimized, competitive global workforce strategies that meet the unique needs of their culture and their employee population. The successful businesses of the future will be those that closely link mobility, local development opportunities and the “work from anywhere” decisions and policies to overall talent strategy and total reward. But again, it all must start with an assessment of risk-readiness.

SL: How can organizations reliably assess their risks in the current state of global health, travel, and economic uncertainty?

DE: When it comes to cross-border mobility, risk management has traditionally been thought of in terms of tax, immigration, and social security compliance, for both the business and its employees. In some regions and industry sectors or roles, there may have also been an element of onsite physical safety risk as well.

Now, we have a significantly broader understanding of the term. Those traditional elements are still very much a part of the current compliance conversation, but businesses must also consider their own, and all external partners’ strategies around cyber and data security and privacy and readiness to withstand future global health and economic crises.

They need to think about whether they are providing the right levels of duty of care to ensure the total wellbeing of their global workforce and have fully addressed attrition, business continuity and succession planning. Even some of the other more traditional concerns, such as candidate selection, flexible benefits, cross-cultural training, and capturing the ROI of an assignment have taken on new levels of risk, and subsequently, priority.

“Employees and assignees, for their part, are assessing risk not only as it relates to their financial and legal compliance, but through the lenses of their personal health, career development goals and unique family circumstances and lifestyle needs.”


Depending on where they are in their lives and careers, employees will also place different levels of value on things like job titles, compensation, benefits, flexible schedules or locations, and opportunities for growth. To be successful, organizations need comparative data to understand where they are, both in isolation and alongside other businesses, in their journeys of risk management and understanding just what their employees value the most and why.

The RES Forum has designed a tool that lets organizations score their risk readiness across 11 key categories, including attrition, benefits, candidate selection, career development, policy design, compliance, and emergency responses, to name a few. The rating spectrum ranges from completely reactive, to more clearly defined, to sufficiently managed and ultimately, to fully optimized.

SL: What will participants learn by completing the risk assessment?

DE: They will clearly see where their organization is well positioned and where further work needs to be done. But beyond that, they will have an opportunity to compare their scores anonymously to other participating organizations, including where they have chosen to prioritize their own risk mitigation efforts. They can create a customized dashboard that lets them see what a variety of solutions might look like – and cost – by plugging in different priorities and scenarios.

Our goal in designing this tool was to provide participants with the information and insights they need to make the changes that they wish to see to their GM programs. We recognize that all GM practitioners struggle with the occasional “fires” that need to be put out, and the balance between being pro-active and reactive, and we’re striving to deliver ways to help them tip the scales to the former.

SL: Once an organization understands where the greatest cross-border work vulnerabilities are and how they want to prioritize fixing them, what’s next?

DE: As business leaders explore what the return to cross-border work and global business travel can and should look like, the next steps are to take the insights gained from the risk assessment, layer them across the business priorities, culture, and unique employee populations, and decide how they apply across the spectrum of global talent movement. For example, an organization may wish to start with a focus on their global business travelers, if they identify that population as posing the greatest level of risk. For others, it may mean putting more emphasis on their short-term assignment strategy.

Sitting alongside the risk analysis tool, the RES Forum has several mature global policy assessment tools as well, customized to various assignment types. We’ve also just recently launched U.S.-specific policy analysis tools, based on such things as homeowner or renter status, the use of a lump sum, and job level, from interns to executives. Participants can sort and filter the data by business sector and create customized views by plugging different scenarios in to see how they affect the outcomes, while also retaining the comfort level of having comparable data alongside those options.

You may notice I have not used the word “benchmarking” to describe the process, because I personally feel that term implies an organization will just use the information to mirror or replicate what other companies are doing. Having insights into what other organizations in your own and other sectors is important, of course, but good program designers will look at the full talent and reward picture and think about how their own mobility practices must evolve – not only to manage costs to the organization, but to increase the benefit and value impact to their specific global working communities. They can then risk-check any proposed changes in informed conversations with their own HR, legal, tax and finance departments, and be confident decision-makers in crafting positive employee experiences.

Be confident that you are up to date with the latest research and peer data - book a call with us for a more in-depth look at the resources available through our subject matter experts and Sterling Lexicon’s partnership with the RES Forum.

About RES Forum

The RES Forum is an independent, highly engaged, and international community of senior in-house international HR professionals, with more than 1,600 members in over 45 countries. The agenda, set entirely by members, is delivered through a spectrum of services, including data analytics, global mobility and international HR thought leadership and advanced learning and accreditation programs in global mobility management.


Kristin White

Kristin White

Kristin is Sterling Lexicon's Senior Manager, Content and Campaign Strategy, where she brings more than 25 years of experience in global workforce mobility, marketing, editorial planning and communications to her role. Before joining Sterling Lexicon, she worked for many years at Worldwide ERC® in collaboration with cross-departmental teams and industry stakeholders to develop in-person and virtual event program, website article and print publication content, including Mobility magazine. Contact Kristin at kristin.white@sterlinglexicon.com.

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