Stealth employee mobility: managing international moves in growing businesses

HR professionals within growing businesses need mobility technology that performs better than spreadsheets but without the cost and complexity of traditional solutions

Briana Tozour Ruxh5uskfuq Unsplash

Small and medium enterprises rarely start out with a strong employee mobility programme. But as they expand overseas, perhaps due to an acquisition or opening a new office, many find they need to transfer someone to a new location. 

Initially, growing businesses tend to manage this process informally. “It’s usually a senior person who’s moving, so they trust them, they know what they’re doing,” says Oliver Trundley, co-CEO of Workia, a SaaS mobility management tool that helps HR and mobility teams plan, track and organise employee moves.

However, as this senior person brings over more people from their team, or hires local people who need to visit company headquarters for training, the mobility workload increases – and informal processes begin to show limitations. 

“You’ve got to collect people’s compensation and payroll information,” says Trundley. “Maybe someone breaks tax residence, or they’ve got social security requirements in Spain, say, that you haven’t done the paperwork for. So it all starts to snowball very quickly.”

To address this increasing workload and complexity, growing businesses often hire a mobility specialist or assign an HR professional to create more formal policies, organise work permits and visas, and ensure tax compliance. Typically, this person also needs to keep track of who’s been sent where, what package was approved, work permit and social security certificate expiry dates, the cost of the move, and a range of other details. 

Often, this mobility manager – and any other people working with them – will use a spreadsheet for this purpose. But spreadsheets can quickly become an unwieldy and potentially risky means of managing mobility. “Someone could missort everything or accidentally email everything on there to someone else,” says Trundley. “It’s not a long-term way of solving things.” 

Addressing approvals

Additionally, many companies in this position track deadlines in calendars and handle approvals with back-and-forth emails. This creates the potential for further mistakes and delays that can frustrate employees tasked with moving from A to B, as well as those who are already based overseas.

Trundley gives the example of an employee requesting an extra month of temporary housing costs. “A mobility or HR person might send an email saying ‘Can we get approval for this?’ And the head of HR or finance might say ‘Makes sense.’ Is that a yes? Are they clear about what cost they actually agreed to?”

If more people jump in to query the request, or someone forgets to address it promptly, it can add further delays or confusion to the approvals process. “That can have a massive knock-on impact, because if no one said whether the company was going to pay the employee’s children’s immigration costs, for example, the immigration work might not happen, which means the children don’t have any visas, which means no one is going to Canada next month, etc.”

“That impacts the business. All because no one ever picked up on the fact that something wasn’t finalised.”

Missteps in tax compliance can also create problems, from minor cash flow issues to more severe consequences such as double taxation. If employees experience problems with their taxes or immigration status because of lacklustre mobility policies and processes, they may look for employment elsewhere. This could result in an expanding business losing top talent at a crucial time in its growth. 

“You send your highest performers overseas because they’re likely to be most successful,” says Trundley. “They’re your best people, so you want to retain them.”

The right technology

Technology can streamline global mobility management for growing businesses. But until recently, most software was aimed at large international firms that constantly move thousands of employees from A to B, rather than businesses with smaller mobility needs. Existing solutions are expensive – especially for smaller mobility programmes operating on limited budgets. Often, they’re also overly complex.

You just want your five people to be able to log in and do their work

“Existing tech solutions are very big and very capable, comprehensive and sophisticated,” says Trundley. But for smaller mobility programmes, they’re generally overkill. “Sixty per cent of the features just get in the way. You’ve got 73 different ways of doing security roles, but no one really needs that if you’ve got a team of five. You just want your five people to be able to log in and do their work.”

New SaaS mobility tools address this issue. They offer intuitive, out-of-the-box features that enable organisations to use them immediately, with little or no implementation. In short, they’re designed to bridge the gap between complex systems and clunky spreadsheets.

Trundley says that, with a solution like Workia, “you can log in, drag in documents like agreements and letters, and track deadlines and tasks, all within a secure environment – the same level of security you get with existing enterprise solution.” This means sensitive information – e.g. passport details, addresses and social security numbers – is more secure than when it was saved in a shared spreadsheet. 

By keeping important documents, emails and approvals in one place, Workia also provides continuity when people responsible for mobility leave the organisation. “If someone is saying ‘I should get tax support for another year’, you can say ‘yes, I can see we granted that exception 3 years ago’, rather than wondering what was previously agreed,” says Trundley

Better tracking and analytics

Workia can also make it easier to estimate the cost of a move, as well as flexibly create, send and track approvals. “Tech can help you get an unambiguous answer that’s saved for the long term and available to everyone,” says Trundley. 

Users can also keep a list of tasks for each move and when they’re due, and view recent activity – the kind of consistent processes that everyone can follow and comment on. Keeping all mobility data within a single platform also opens up a wealth of analytics possibilities, which can help to identify bottlenecks, gaps, peaks and more. “If you want to know how much you spent on this type of move versus that type of move, you can’t do that if you don’t have a system in place.” 

A slick, easy-to-use mobility management tool is fast becoming a necessity for growing businesses that want to stay competitive. Spreadsheets are clunky and create unnecessary risks, while large complex mobility solutions are overkill. But a low-cost SaaS solution can give businesses the confidence to scale their employee mobility programme, while also relieving the burden on HR professionals.

Find out more about how Workia can support employee mobility