June 20, 2023
The Global Mobility Overton Window
The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is a model initially developed by American policy analyst Joseph Overton which describes the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. As opinions and ideas change over time, the window can shift or even expand between different extremes, shaping the agenda of public policy makers.
In this article we explore how an adaptation of this model can be useful to global mobility in thinking about both policy design and redesign. We then look at a few examples of how organisations can look at governing factors in the external environment as well as existing programme data to better understand shifts or expansions in the window for their company.
Policy design in global mobility, like policy design carried out by national governments, to a large degree takes place within the Overton Window (see below), that goldilocks zone where policies are widely accepted by stakeholders. Whilst policy structures exist outside this window, they can be difficult to implement and operationalise without the endorsement of both business units and the mobile workforce. That said, as figure 1 illustrates, there is a notable exception when it comes to compliance policies and requirements.
Let’s look at some of the key trends which are already shaping policies in development:
Diversity, Equality & Inclusions
Organisations have in recent times developed much more clearly defined DE&I policies and processes. As a result, global mobility has had to adapt to ensure that mobility is open to everyone in the company. Many organisations have already taken a first step along this path in reviewing and revising policy language to ensure that it is inclusive and reflective of a modern-day work environment.
Short-term business visitors / overseas remote working
The pre-pandemic trend of placing ownership for short-term business visitors with global mobility (embraced by some but by no means all), has been superseded by the pandemic-induced challenges of managing a dispersed workforce and overseas remote working. Most organisations managed to put policies and processes in place to manage this at the height of demand when employees were stranded, however many have now had an opportunity to take stock and are re-visiting overseas remote work. It’s worth noting too that short-term business visitors haven’t just gone away. Managing and maintaining the guardrails around this cadre of the mobile workforce has widely been subsumed into global mobility.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the corporate consciousness with some organisations looking to ensure that global mobility policies incorporate sustainable practices. A Sustainability & Global Mobility Benchmark Survey jointly conducted by AIRINC and EY, shows that 42% of companies have made some modifications to mobility programmes to align with the company’s overall sustainability initiatives – up from 27% in 2021. There is some evidence of organisations adopting policy structures which provide incentives to relocating employees when selecting environmentally friendly options.
War for talent
When asked “Is your company purposefully using Global Mobility to attract and retain talent?”, 48% of respondents to the AIRINC 2023 Mobility Outlook Survey responded that their organisation would in the future. It is unsurprising then that, 43% of respondents indicated that aligning the mobility programme with talent strategy would be one of their top 3 initiatives over the next couple of years. Many organisations are ideally placed to execute this alignment with 54% of respondents to EY’s 2023 Mobility Reimagined Survey indicating that mobility reports into talent / HR in their company.
There are of course many ways in which mobility can respond to the need to attract talent through policy design, with employee experience and flexibility being at the forefront in the thinking of many organisations. We’ve included a couple of trends below which reflect this.
Whilst the core flex policy structure has been around for some time it still remains topical. One recent study claimed that close to 50% of organisations polled had implemented a core flex structure in some format. For many organisations, core flex strikes a delicate balance of retaining basic compliance services, limiting cost and providing flexibility to the relocating employee. Furthermore, those organisations that have been running this programme structure for a few years have access to a wealth of data which reveals benefit uptake and programme satisfaction. This insight into demand trends provides global mobility with some clear pointers when undertaking any kind of policy review.
Household goods shipping, a staple policy provision for decades, came sharply into focus during the pandemic years as a result of the eye-watering price escalation in international shipping costs compounded with delays in transit times. A number of companies are now choosing to pivot away from providing a shipment at all in favour of offering a furniture allowance in its place. This brings some positive policy benefits from the perspective of employee choice and to a lesser extent cost, as freight prices are falling from their pandemic-induced peak.
30% of respondents to the AIRINC 2023 Mobility Outlook Survey indicated that their organisation provides flexibility to relocating employees by policy exception. Global mobility, as a result is in possession of a wealth of data which can be leveraged in future policy design.
Market driven information
Whilst most mobility professionals would recoil from designing policy around the idiosyncrasies of individual markets, there is merit in looking at wider market trends to identify whether or not policy design should incorporate some flexibility. For example, there is presently a shortage of availability of rental properties in a number of markets across the globe. This has the impact of requiring extended stays in temporary accommodation and potentially additional time for home search. These issues can be remedied through directly adjusting policy benefits, providing flexibility in the benefit provision or through the introduction of regional appendices.
Good policy design is not a product of isolated workshopping but rather is shaped over time by factors external to the organisation, organisational culture and business need. Many of the environmental factors which shape policy design are already known and may be influenced by broader corporate policy such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). Equally, the business need and market influences leave an imprint on existing policy management through exception management, benefits selection and individual case management. Whether the aim is policy design or redesign, the goal of global mobility should be a to keep the suite of policies within the Mobility Overton Window. This requires, the identification of and consultation with all key stakeholders who touch the mobility process.
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As Account Director at Sterling Lexicon, Stuart focuses on working with clients to optimize their global mobility solutions. Stuart has worked in global mobility for 19 years. His broad experience of working with different program sizes across a variety of industry sectors helps to bring success to clients' programs and wider business strategies. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or learn more about Sterling Lexicon, please do not hesitate to contact Stuart Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.