Cartus survey offers insight into 2017’s mobility landscape

After 2016, brave is the person who dares to predict what’s in store for 2017. Yet, Cartus’ detailed new survey suggests marginal trends we have been talking about have now gone mainstream. Is the future of mobility here today?

Illustration of globe and a blank sheet of paper
It’s certainly been an interesting 12 months. What in early February became the Chinese year of the red monkey – characterised in the ancient zodiac by ambition and adventure – began with turmoil on Asia’s currency market. At 2016’s midpoint, voters in the UK vote opted to leave the EU. And now, close to year-end, we are on the cusp of a political outsider preparing to take the keys to the Whitehouse.

Mobility trends in a VUCA age

We’ve long perceived how we live in more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. We shouldn’t therefore be surprised at these movements.Indeed, it often seems from a mobility perspective – and the unique vantage point this offers from working across boundaries and its global outlook – the impact of the current changing political vanguard has almost been pre-empted.Sector surveys consistently suggest mobility practitioners, consultants and companies are reshaping policies and practices to offer the flexibility and agility needed to meet business needs in these fast-changing economic and political landscapes.

Need for flexibility uppermost in mobility survey

The latest addition to the evidence of how mobility is evolving and adapting is Cartus’ Global Mobility Policy & Practices, which was published in early December. The seventh study in Cartus’ series offers us a useful look backwards at how mobility is moving forward.It finds that flexibility is the key preoccupation and priority for the 176 mobility managers Cartus survey. Over three-quarters said they are seeing an increased need for adaptability in their mobility programmes, which represent 10 million employees globally.Further consolidating a longer-term trend, cost is the top reason for the need for flexibility. Budget constraints and the economic climate are drivers for 80 per cent of respondents this year, up from 67 per cent in 2014 and 68 per cent in 2012.Also interesting in the context of the now much-discussed wider demographic changes, the evolving needs of employees (up from 36 per cent in 2012 to 42 per cent) and generational impacts (up to 42 per cent from 22 per cent in 2012) are the next key reasons for the need for more flexibility.Significantly, these top three trends – cost, employee need and demographic changes – that are driving flexibility have each grown in importance over Cartus’ three surveys since 2012.By contrast, previous drivers for flexibility in mobility – attracting qualified candidates, regional need and emerging markets (housing stock, schools) – have declined by around 16 per cent between the 2012 and 2016 survey.

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Outsourcing a response to cost control and flexibility focus?

Cartus suggests that cost control has become the new normal within this context of the focus on flexibility. It also remarks that companies’ emphasis on cost control, while remaining key, is “not as significant” as in the past.The number of respondents for whom the focus on cost control has increased declined 26 percentage points between the 2010 and 2016 surveys. Those reporting their cost focus remained the same also grew in the same period. This is suggestive, says the relocation firm, of cost control becoming the norm.A more notable change in trends, reports Cartus, is the growing preference for outsourcing to control costs. This replaces the focus on restructuring policy found in the previous survey.In 2016, 71 per cent of respondents had made changes to outsourcing to achieve cost savings, the top answer, with 29 per cent reporting they are considering it. This latter figure has increased from 13 per cent in 2014’s survey. The former top answer – restructuring policy – now stands at 52 per cent and seventh highest priority.A further key trend is the proportion of mobility managers reporting that to control costs they are cutting the number of assignments/transfers – particularly respondents in the EMEA region (83 per cent, compared to 25 per cent in APAC).This move is counterbalanced by over half of the overall sample saying they believe their assignment numbers would increase (52 per cent) or stay the same (35 per cent).

The future of assignments?

Unsurprisingly, long-term assignments look to bear the brunt of cost savings. Cartus’ data suggests they are being replaced with permanent moves and scaled-back relocation packages in line with previous predictions. Nevertheless, the number of respondents who say relocations on this type of package – 43 per cent in 2016 – remains stable over the past two surveys.Meanwhile, new assignment types and packages – notably tiered approaches (63 per cent, 69 per cent and 20 per cent for the Americas, EMEA and APAC respectively) – seem to be establishing themselves in corporate mobility portfolios. They are now the third most commonly cited approach to generating cost savings.This trend for tiering seems to fit with the findings from the previous survey’s focus on policy restructuring. The focus now seems to have shifted to outsourcings and leveraging the cost advantages and administrative efficiencies that working with the right partner can offer.

The future for mobility expertise?

A benefit of outsourcing is that for some it can mean assignment administration, relocation costs and talent management can be more easily captured and managed through technology.At the CIPD 2016 conference, author and academic Daniel Susskind turned to 30 years’ research to extrapolate what jobs post-2020 could look like in this age of machine learning and artificial intelligence.In his analysis, the roles of data curators and system architects will be among those that will become more common. It will be interesting to see the survey findings in two years’ time to see if this is where mobility roles are headed.

For related news and features, see our Human Resources section.

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