Global workforce agility: unlocking success in 2024

Smart businesses have much to gain in an increasingly fluid and borderless talent market

Are the acute skills crises of the last few years over? Not quite. But forward-thinking organisations are increasingly finding that a different approach to global talent mobility may hold the answer. 

Indeed, the opportunities to source or redeploy skilled professionals across borders have never been greater. 

Rapid technological advancements and interconnectedness continue to transform the nature of work. Traditional methods of acquiring and deploying talent are dissolving, giving rise to a more fluid and borderless global talent market. The benefits for those able to seize them are huge.

With global workforce agility, organisations can access broader talent pools, cut recruitment costs, redeploy existing skills faster and boost productivity with fewer resources. All of which can ladder up to a distinct competitive advantage over their peers. 

Yet this evolution necessitates a deep understanding and proactive approach to global talent mobility. Organisations must prioritise the issue at the highest levels, ensuring it aligns with wider business strategy and diversity and inclusivity goals. 

They must also do this in a way that mitigates compliance risk, while navigating increased geopolitical instability and the higher cost of doing business.

Why talent mobility matters 

The pivot toward distributed work since the pandemic has radically reshaped the global labour force, says Rumi Das, head of global workforce consulting with Global Employer Services (GES) at Deloitte UK. 

It has also come at a time when the capabilities required by leading companies are changing in line with rapid shifts in society, technology and industry. 

According to a recent Deloitte survey, around 80% of businesses now have remote / hybrid working arrangements in place as they seek to meet a more complex range of business objectives and address changing employee needs. 

Meanwhile, 51% of employers expect to see an increase in their overall global mobility activity, while one-in-four workers are willing to move for the right opportunity.

“Global workforce mobility has always been with us, but forward-looking organisations are taking it to the next level,” says Das. 

“Not only does it enable them to tap into a broader talent pool by matching candidates to opportunities based on skills and not geography, but also helps develop a global mindset across the organisation, and ultimately leads to greater business impact and innovation”.

Taking advantage of a more fluid skills marketplace

As demand for talent agility has increased, companies have updated their policies to support a wider variety of move types, allowing employees to obtain new skills and a degree of personal flexibility aligned to the organisation’s overall culture. 

Regulators have also modified their approach by offering more flexible immigration arrangements. 

“There are so many new ways to access talent globally and routes to deploy skills,” says Andy Cowen, telecoms, media and entertainment sector lead within GES at Deloitte UK. “They offer significant opportunities and are crying out to be used.”

To be successful, talent mobility must be viewed as a strategic priority at board level and then cascade across the wider organisation to create a culture of agility. 

Business leaders also need a thorough understanding of the existing talent make-up and skills gaps of their organisation, as well as the challenges they face in moving talent across borders.

“It is about knowing what work actually looks like today, what it will look like tomorrow and the diversity of skills that will be required by your organisation,” says Cowen. 

“It’s also about understanding the changing nature of the workplace and the wider world. Where are the skills you need and where will you access them?” 

An increasingly dispersed workforce means new employer obligations – many of which are complex, unclear and inconsistently enforced. 

Moreover, while financial, operational and compliance risks are familiar territory for global organisations, societal, environmental and personal safety risks are creating new demands and pressures and should be considered by talent mobility leaders as a top priority.

Technology as an enabler

To help manage the complexity organisations are turning to technology. By prioritising integrated solutions, business leaders can address a wide range of risks and optimise processes, costs and employee experience. 

New technologies such as AI have evolved significantly over the past few years, and digitised data has grown exponentially, says Alister Taylor, head of global workforce analytics in GES at Deloitte UK. 

“Global talent mobility has the opportunity to tap into these insights and technologies to improve employee experience, compliance, and cost efficiency with a well-defined data strategy.” 

Rather than seeking a single “off the shelf” solution, he says, many organisations are supplementing, connecting and optimising existing tools to craft curated and flexible environments. 

However, organisations should evaluate each technology with care to build an ecosystem that operates as an enabler rather than a blocker. 

The bottom line 

Global talent agility is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have for successful companies. Forward-thinking organisations are quickly discovering that to succeed they need to take a joined-up approach that pairs mobility with wider strategic goals. 

Employers need to see workforce agility holistically, thinking about the structural changes, technology, data and skills needed to manage a distributed workforce successfully

“Employers need to see workforce agility holistically, thinking about the structural changes, technology, data and skills needed to manage a distributed workforce successfully,” says Jurga McCluskey, immigration leader at GES, Deloitte UK. 

“Too often companies tackle issues such as workforce planning, tax and immigration in isolation rather than taking an interconnected approach,” she adds.

Clearly being able to move talent around the world remains a business imperative in an intensely competitive global landscape. And companies must take action to leverage their global networks or face being left behind. 

“It is about unlocking the power of global mobility in your organisation using technology, insights and through a culture of agility,” concludes McCluskey. “Those able to go further with their distributed workforces will gain huge advantages over those who have failed to make it the strategic priority it needs to be.”

How should CEOs approach workforce mobility?

Chief executives and their teams must ensure access to global talent is at the heart of wider company strategy. With this in mind, what are the key areas they should focus on?

Organisational agility

Globally agile businesses are better placed to react quickly when circumstances change, which allows them to continue focusing on growth-driving activities such as cross-border expansion and acquisitions. Chief executives must therefore ensure their company’s mobility strategy aligns with wider talent planning and communicate the benefits to the board.

“They need to challenge teams to align stakeholders across the organisation, deliver strong programme leadership and have a clearly defined mission for employees. In doing so they will embed agility within their organisation”, says Rumi Das, head of global workforce consulting with Global Employer Services (GES) at Deloitte UK.

“They also need to have a deep understanding of their talent challenges and goals and work outwards – developing a comprehensive distributed workforce strategy, driven from the top down.”

Executive career paths

Organisations not only need to attract the best talent from around the world, but also nurture it from within, particularly across the top tiers of their businesses.

Yet many fail to prioritise the capabilities of global executives or properly support C-suite succession planning. That leaves many in “reactive mode” and becomes an Achilles heel, says Andy Cowen, telecoms, media and entertainment sector lead within GES at Deloitte UK.

“CEOs need to pay particular attention to senior talent planning, given the complex challenges that arise when working cross-border,” he says. “They also need to communicate the benefits that a broad, geographically and culturally diverse executive bench can deliver to the rest of the business.”

Sustainability and climate

An effective global talent strategy must align both with a company’s growth ambitions and its sustainability targets, but striking the right balance isn’t always easy.

Companies must tread a fine line between controlling business travel and enabling the free flow of workers around the globe.

The green jobs of the future will also require skills that are in short supply, from technology and engineering to investment and planning. Cross-border talent will be key to solving this and driving the green agenda forwards.

“Almost every big firm has a carbon reduction plan but only a few mention global employee mobility,” says Jurga McCluskey, immigration leader at GES, Deloitte UK.

“That’s an issue because business travel, digitisation and the flow of top talent could have a huge influence on a company’s environmental footprint. Similarly new entrants to the workforce will expect their chosen employer to act responsibly, equitably and in a sustainable manner. Adhering to your values in this space will be increasingly important in the war for future talent.”

Technology and digital

Technology plays an outsized role in facilitating global workforce agility, with automation and artificial intelligence transforming business operations, compliance and the employee experience.

CEOs need the right technology strategy to make sure they build an integrated and nimble technology ecosystem based on sensible procurement decisions. Perhaps the biggest challenge for organisations going forward will be managing the vast quantities of data needed to power the next wave of advanced generative AI tools, says Alister Taylor, head of global workforce analytics at Deloitte UK.

“Ensuring your distributed workforce strategy and data strategy are aligned will be key. If you want to get GenAI right you have to have the right data. So, it’s about making sure you know where it is, and gathering and processing it efficiently to achieve the desired results.

“Being able to deploy the best chief technology officers, data scientists and governance experts where you need them will be key to making this a reality.”

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