How companies should think about mobility post-pandemic

Can the internal mobility challenge be met by creating a happy and engaged, but flexible, workforce open to moving between roles and skillsets?


When the return to workplaces begins, solving the internal mobility puzzle will become evermore important. As companies look to downsize their workforce, or adapt operations post-coronavirus, shifting priorities fast within a fully flexible workforce will become key.

According to Aon’s Future of Work survey in December 2020, a third (34 per cent) of those questioned said “maximising workforce agility and resilience to address future disruptions or risks” was extremely important.

But with employees forgoing pay rises and promotions during the past 12 months or working from home amid uncertainty over whether their job will even exist in the “new normal”, how can companies retain, repurpose or reskill staff, especially when many are reconsidering their career goals?

Danny Harmer, Aviva’s chief people officer, believes a culture of internal mobility takes time and investment. The company advertises jobs to its own people, with around 30 per cent of vacancies filled by existing staff. It also offers a chance to experiment with new roles via a Tap Into Talent programme that allows people to spend up to 12 weeks in a different role so they can learn about the broader business, develop new skills and working with different people, while meeting a temporary business need.

We’ve always championed our internal talent,” she says. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to invest in our people’s learning and development. We recently offered a day-long introduction to coding workshop. Nearly 200 colleagues attended, the majority with no prior coding experience.” 

Some two thirds of Aviva’s 540 UK apprentices are existing colleagues who have taken up the opportunity to continue or deepen professional skills associated with a current role or develop their learning due to a more senior move, with 20 per cent of contracted hours spent learning with no reduction in salary. A second scenario would be to keep working at the company, but in a different role in a different business area. 

Role of technology in internal mobility paths

Kealey Chapman, human resources business director at Oracle, believes upskilling and reskilling will need to be “completely reimagined”. She explains: “Time at home and away from the office meant time to rethink your path and your priorities. While prioritising personalisation, flexibility, on-demand access and growth opportunities is a strong start to a positive employee experience, it is not one size fits all. Every country, industry, organisation and team will have new employee expectations and demands, and it will be up to HR leaders to help reimagine them.” 

In the years ahead, changes to employee roles will increasingly be identified through artificial intelligence, says Chapman, adding: “Employers can find skillsets to support this within their existing workforce, but it’s often difficult for employees to accurately pinpoint and describe specific skills. 

“Technologies like adaptive artificial intelligence and digital assistants can help employees identify, grow and describe their skills, and align them to what the organisation needs. With this clarity and opportunity, employees can use HR platforms to quickly match to new opportunities, ultimately fostering career advancement at a time when that might seem more difficult than ever.” 

Time at home and away from the office meant time to rethink your path and your priorities.

Siemens is one company already embracing such a future. It has worked with Aon to design assessments looking at vocational interests and abilities, attitudes, learning styles, cognitive abilities, as well as an indicator of “willingness to change”. 

A complex matching algorithm then produces a report highlighting the top three best matches between employees’ own interests and those identified as a future skill for Siemens. From there, employees may apply to join one of 30 reskilling routes for courses, training and qualifications.

John McLaughlin, chief commercial officer of Aon’s human capital business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, says: “Siemens’ activity is an example of how employees are given access to tools to make informed choices about their career paths; it’s not employer-imposed learning, development and training. Their people are given the opportunity to learn how they can contribute to the future success of the organisation.”

Shift in employee perks

The pandemic has also brought about different ways to keep employees happy. Lisa Pantelli, of Simply Communicate, a community for HR and internal communication professionals, suggests “tokenistic perks will not only be irrelevant, but also physically impossible”. 

Instead, learning and recognition will lead the way, with Pantelli giving the example of Microsoft’s new Viva digital employee experience platform, which can feed in learning courses, direct to the employee, from the likes of LinkedIn Learning and Coursera. 

She explains: “Rather than a well-stocked office kitchen, people would much rather be able to have their voice heard through options such as a Zoom call with their CEO. As a result, businesses will need to work harder on the value proposition they bring to individuals rather than the fun office-based perks. We’ve seen a shift in reward and recognition programmes over the past 12 months, not just because new ways of working are demanding it, but also because behaviours have changed.”

Naleena Gururani, chief people officer at UK full-fibre broadband provider Hyperoptic, has adapted to this change, introducing practical perks, such as an hour a day where employees can take time for themselves, plus the offer of virtual home exercise sessions to encourage wellbeing.

“It is important to build a work environment that balances efficiency and performance while answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question and creating moments that matter for us all. We have to become ‘colleagues’ from mere employees this year. In 2020, we saw peer-to-peer recognition really increase,” says Gururani.

However, Pantelli strikes a note of caution: “The technologies on offer to support internal mobility are fantastic, but the right support needs to be in place for those who might not have access to these platforms, or the skills and knowledge to use them, to ensure they are not left behind. Be mindful of their limitations and explore the employee journey with everyone in mind.”