Enhance international assignments with global mobility technology 

Smiling woman crossing the street in a big city, with a smartphone in her hand and ear plugs.

As global assignments expand, HR transforms, organizations embrace digitalization, and in-demand talent expects an exceptional employee experience, it’s time for mobility technology to shine.

The need for top-tier mobility management technology is on the rise, thanks to a convergence of trends: More employees are expecting to work remotely, assignments are becoming more diverse and complex, and organizations are undergoing significant digital and HR transformations — all of which have been accelerated by the global health crisis.

Yet many organizations still lack a strategic vision for automation/digitalization of global mobility management.

Leading organizations are working to move that needle. Mobility management technology is no longer a nice-to-have for international HR teams trying to collaborate, exchange data, create a positive employee experience, deliver on ROI and assess compliance issues on a global scale. Instead, integrated mobility tools and platforms are becoming a lifeline, especially as HR teams are learning the importance of working effectively amid a crisis.

A new generation of technology solutions, designed to meet the needs of decentralized and international HR teams, has boosted the adoption of automation. These include calculators for building pay packages, comprehensive program management solutions, and educational tools that help international assignees succeed while working and living abroad.

Not only does mobility technology benefit organizations and HR; assignees also prefer — and are coming to expect — customized experiences at their fingertips. As consumers, we adopt new tools more quickly than ever, using technology to get things done with speed, ease and visibility. And international assignees are no exception. 

Future of work calls for a new future of talent mobility

Today, we’re seeing long- and short-term assignments, permanent relocations (domestic and international), virtual assignments, business travel, locally hired foreign workers, employee-initiated moves, remote and flexible workers, and “nomads” who travel the world without returning to their home of origin. In the competitive quest for talent, and with a premium placed on the employee experience, organizations should cater to the new independence and flexibility that workers are demanding.

At the same time, a larger mobility population and more complex talent mobility patterns increase compliance and business risks. Even at its simplest, running a global mobility program is a complex undertaking. Mobility teams must manage many stakeholders, coordinating among assignees and their families, internal HR teams and line managers, corporate functions such as finance and IT, and external vendors like tax and immigration specialists.

Three guiding principles of global mobility technology

Follow these principles to conceptualize a digitalized global mobility strategy.  
  • Simplification
    Evaluate and streamline processes. Assess how stakeholders engage with your mobility program: Is it easy enough for them to do?
  • Standardization
    Determine where you can adopt a more standardized approach to gain speed and efficiency during digitalization.
  • Structure
    Reduce non-essential processes. Be reflective and honest about processes that might be redundant by digitalization.

Out with the old, in with new

Organizations manage their expatriate workforce in a variety of ways. Many still follow the traditional manual process, in which HR enters and calculates data via Excel spreadsheets and word-processed templates, emailing files back and forth between managers and assignees to gather information and approvals. But of course, this approach is time-consuming and prone to error.

Others are beginning to adopt piecemeal mobility technology without fully leveraging the power of a robust and integrated system. For example, they may retain some manual processes, or they may fail to connect their databases, calculators, employee websites and monitoring tools into a comprehensive suite that produces cohesive, aggregated data.

When do organizations move from labor-intensive manual processes to swift and efficient technology? Outside of overarching digitalization and transformation initiatives, change is often the catalyst for adopting mobility technology. For example, the global assignment workload may begin to outweigh staff available to handle it. An acquisition can significantly expand the pool of international employees. Or a new leader may come on board, bringing with them a greater willingness to adopt technology to manage this important part of the workforce.

Initiators can receive notifications from the mobility platform when they need to take action — for example, to approve costs or agreements. Users have visibility over the relocation process and know who owns each step in the process. From an administration standpoint, the platform offers greater visibility over workload and excellent reporting capabilities.

Mobility technology trends

While many employers still rely on manual processes, an upward trend in the use of mobility technology shows in our studies. It began before the pandemic and has been accelerated by the global health crisis that forced organizations to have a reliable pulse on where their people are and to review programs that used to work disparately, exposing where digitalization is necessary. 
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What tools do companies use to track and manage assignments and their related costs?

Graphic: A pie chart illustrating how the survey participants responded to the question:

  • Other: 5.9%
  • In-house application: 12.9%
  • Outside vendor software: 28%
  • Mainly Excel and Word: 53.4%

Source: 2019 Mercer Mobility Organization and Transformation Survey

Employees are leaning toward greater flexibility. They say the future of work is about …. 


Technology — fusing human creativity with the predictive power of AI and the efficiencies of automation


 Thriving in my career — regardless of where I work


Independence — I work where I want, when I want, for whomever I want.

Exceptional experiences for stakeholders

Overall, mobility technology is designed to offer a timesaving, user-friendly, stress-free experience to all users. Here’s how a technology upgrade can specifically benefit your managers, HR and assignees.


Managers access a dedicated portal with dynamic reporting dashboards and live visibility, offering transparency and control — allowing them to seamlessly oversee the mobility population and program, track ROI and initiate new moves with a few clicks.

HR analysts

Analysts can quickly and easily prepare accurate, flawless compensation packages using centralized calculators and data, collect digital approvals and employee documents (no more attaching files to emails), monitor costs and generate payroll instructions — all without assuming the risk of manual entries.


A mobile-friendly, consumer-grade portal guides assignees through every step of the move — learning about the assignment location, compensation package and benefits; getting reminders about deadlines to take action; accessing support; and moving back home.

Building the business case: How digitalization supports your global mobility program

Before you implement new mobility technology, it’s important to build a solid business case to enlist leadership support. Here’s how digitalization benefits your organization and helps you better serve your international workforce.
  • Keep pace with the rapid evolution of international teams.
    The right mobility technology is flexible and reflects the changing global workforce and the wide range of assignments it encompasses. 
  • Connect the dots.
    Integrating your internal operating structure, technology, policies and processes with each other — and with external vendor ecosystems — creates a streamlined and seamless process with two-way information flow, simplifying life for HR leadership. 
  • Enhance the employee experience.
    Personalize the mobility assignment and put employees first by providing information tailored to assignees’ needs, balancing administrative efficiency with the bespoke experience assignees prefer. 
  • Empower HR with data and metrics.
    Develop meaningful analytics that improve people management and enable HR to deliver real value and make decisions within the broader context of business value, talent mobility and processes.
  • Master risk and compliance.
    A centralized mobility technology platform offers high-level oversight, allowing the mobility team to advise the business, monitor compliance, and avoid breaches to tax, social security and immigration rules. Integrated compensation calculators eliminate the need for manual data entry and limits risk of human error.
  • Manage costs wisely.
    Stay on budget with an integrated mobility management system that creates reliable cost projections, offers a line of sight on expenditures, and reframes cost management. 
  • Capture ROI.
    Validate the business case and determine talent mobility’s value to the organization, beyond the employee experience. 

Six questions to ask before adopting global mobility technology 

Challenge yourself:
  • 1. What is our international workforce headcount, and is it growing?

    If you have thousands of mobile employees to manage, you’re more likely to benefit from the latest high-end mobility technology than an organization with just a handful of assignees. 
  • 2. What is the cost of an error compared to the cost of technology?

    Manual processes increase the likelihood of an expensive error, such as overpaying assignees or paying the wrong taxes — not to mention the embarrassment of backtracking and audits. And, assignees tend to compare notes, both within your organization and their international enclaves, so total remuneration packages should be fair and competitive. An investment in technology can pay for itself by avoiding costly errors and creating equitable packages that stand up to scrutiny.
  • 3. What is the ROI of our international assignment program?

    International assignments can be several times more expensive than equivalent positions back home. Technology can provide objective, consistent data to support the costs and benefits of assignments. If you compute assignees’ compensation using an Excel spreadsheet that does not tie in to your HRIS system, you will be hard pressed to identify and justify total costs.
  • 4. How many types of assignees do you have?

    Technology can help you craft, articulate and maintain expatriate remuneration profiles tailored precisely to the goals of each assignment, making useful distinctions — for example, among skilled positions needed urgently to get a project underway in a new market versus developmental positions to train future leaders for senior roles. 
  • 5. Are you tracking your assignees accurately?

    Assignees can be difficult to track. You may need better technology if you struggle to produce quick reports that share up-to-date, detailed information about each assignee, such as country of origin, where they and their dependents live, how long their visas are valid and which medical insurance covers them. 
  • 6. Are your assignees happy?

    A simple survey can gauge assignees’ satisfaction with their assignments — and help you determine whether an investment in mobility technology would improve employee engagement.

About the authors

Frederic Franchi is the Global Mobility Technology Solutions Leader for Europe and member of the Global Mobility Centre of Excellence. Frederic joined Mercer Information Solutions & Technology Solutions in June 2012. Frederic provides clients with in-depth knowledge on Mercer’s global mobility technology offering and how these can suit their current requirements so they can derive maximum benefits and enhance their international assignment management processes. Frederic is based in London, and you can reach him at frederic.franchi@mercer.com.

Michael Nash is the Global Mobility Technology Solutions Leader for Europe, who rejoined Mercer in June 2019, following 12 years of absence in which he owned and was running his own manufacturing business. During that time, Mike became passionate about the positive effects of digitization and process automation, successfully implementing a variety of both on-premise and SAAS accounting, manufacturing and sales tools. He re-joined to form part of the Mobility Technology Leadership team, with his focus on Mercer Mobility Management Platform. Mike is based in London, and you can reach him at michael.nash@mercer.com.

Frederic Franchi
Michael Nash
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