October 29, 2020

Talent Mobility Professionals in 2020: Busier Than Ever

What a year 2020 has been. From the massive emergency tracking and evacuation or resettling of global personnel in the first quarter, to juggling the many ongoing impacts and risks to frontline, remote and critical onsite personnel – every company has had to make major workforce changes. No matter what industry they are in, talent mobility professionals have been busier than they’ve ever been.

At first, that may seem surprising to those outside of the industry. With so many travel restrictions still in place domestically and globally, many moves had to be put on hold. But the reality is that work must go on, and companies need to plan for the future. Changing times have demanded learning new or enhancing existing skills, working more closely with other functions within the business, and finding new and innovative ways to get people to work and work to people.

girl talking using headset

What does that look like today?

For Karrie DeBlauw, CRP, GMS, PHR, Global Mobility Manager, Human Resources with Medline Industries, Inc., it’s all about learning new languages. The languages of the rapidly evolving tax, visa and immigration landscapes, that is.

For Medline, a manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies providing products, education, clinical programs and services across 20 countries, relocation activity slowed slightly in early 2020, but it never stopped. The company was actively doing their part to get personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical supplies to sites where they were needed most and continued to engage in recruiting key personnel from all around the globe.

“Our number-one priority was and continues to be the health and safety of our employees,” shares Karrie. “As we continue to navigate the challenges of getting team members to safe places, determining their work and residency eligibility and making sure their family members are able to join them, we’re working much more closely with our colleagues and partners across the spectrum of talent acquisition, legal, payroll, tax, and the compensation and benefit areas of the business.”

“There are always new things to learn.”


“I’ve been in the mobility industry for a long time, in multiple roles” adds Karrie, “but there are always new things to learn. This year has presented many unique challenges, and we’ve been able to bring our expertise into the conversations about exactly what questions to ask, when, and offer some alternative solutions that help us get the right people into the right roles while staying fully compliant. At the same time, we’re expanding our knowledge, too, around many of the more nuanced areas of the HRIS platform and the complexities of immigration, work permits and visas, and managing distributed teams.”

For Norma Holm, Director, Human Resources with Olin Corporation, a global manufacturer and distributor of chemical products, relocation activity is on hold for the time being. She’s focused on skill-building in new areas, jump-started just as the pandemic took hold. “Before we implemented a pause on our relocation activity, we had an employee who was in the middle of moving into the U.S. from Italy, just as the pandemic hit. She was not prepared for the length of time it would be before she could travel back home, or before family could come over and visit her. When you add those things to the fact that she did not have an office to go into, or other typical social events to attend, the feelings of culture shock and isolation took on entirely new levels.”

For Norma and the team, that meant some innovative thinking, and finding new ways to balance an employee’s personal information and privacy with checking in regularly to ensure they have the right levels of support to succeed.

“A positive employee experience is a must.”


“The people are the cornerstone of success at Olin, demonstrated by the long tenure so many of our associates have had with us. A positive employee experience is a must, so we needed to find some creative, non-traditional ways to make sure this employee could integrate into our culture. We engaged the services of our candidate assessment firm to help her find local resources that would align with her interests and hobbies and help her feel more connected to both her home and host countries.”

Looking Ahead

As we look to 2021, a lot of the drivers prompting business travel or assignments may continue to be replaced by virtual or remote arrangements for the time being. But that doesn’t mean that global mobility teams are not highly involved, bringing their unique expertise to the table. The way work gets done is changing, but many of the same talent-related questions and needs still apply.

As noted in Creating Institutional Memory for Crisis Management: Six Key Steps, now is the time for organizations to capture the key components of their pandemic response and be positioned for future emergencies and continuity plans. Global mobility teams are well equipped to help identify the key areas needed for duty of care, tracking employee and family member locations, work status and critical needs.

With a greater spotlight on emotional health and wellbeing, many organizations are revisiting their employee assistance programs, paid time off, benefits and support. Global mobility professionals can apply a blend of data analysis skills with emotional intelligence and empathy during stressful transitions to help craft new policy responses.

If employees are relocating as part of a company-initiated move, or delocating out from high-cost urban areas as a matter of personal preference and choice, there are still plenty of moving, storage, temporary living, payroll, compensation and tax-related implications that mobility professionals are extremely well versed in and able to advise on.

While it’s true that the volume of employee moves may be lower in 2020 for many organizations, the complexities of how, where and when work gets done have expanded exponentially. The unique and critical blend of skills that talent mobility professionals possess in tackling those challenges is keeping them busier than ever.

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Kristin White

Kristin White

Kristin brings nearly 30 years of experience in global workforce mobility, PR, marketing, editorial planning and communications to her role as a member of the thought leadership and content development teams. Before joining the company in 2020, she worked for many years at Worldwide ERC® in collaboration with cross-departmental teams and industry stakeholders to develop in-person and virtual event programming, digital and print content, and served as editor of Mobility magazine. Contact Kristin at kristin.white@sterlinglexicon.com.

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