Santa Fe reflects on top ten mobility trends of past ten years

Global relocation management company Santa Fe draws on its award-winning research to look to the future of global mobility. It concludes that to succeed, global mobility functions must evolve at pace.

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For the past ten years, Santa Fe Relocation has surveyed over 10,000 global mobility professionals and close to 300 senior leaders for its multi-award-winning – including a Relocate Global Award for Best Research Contribution this year – Global Mobility Surveys.In a special tenth anniversary edition, a new Santa Fe Relocation Global Mobility Survey highlights the key findings for global people on the move and their employers.This fascinating study by John Rason, Group Head of Consulting at Santa Fe Relocation, and Selina Jones-May, Global HR Leader Global Mobility People and Projects, shows how far the sector has come and the road ahead across the three broad themes of talent, compliance and transformation.
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Top ten global mobility trends of the past decade

Santa Fe Global’s latest report highlights the top ten global mobility trends of the past ten years and predicts what’s ahead for global mobility.


  1. A regional approach to global mobility delivery
Santa Fe’s research shows the local-hub model has become prevalent over the past decade. Three-quarters of respondents used this in 2020, up from 14% in 2011. This upward trend mirrors the need for more culturally aware and locally relevant mobility for in-region operations. Yet for 2021, Santa Fe identifies heightened global control of strategy, decision-making and operational delivery.
  1. Change in skillset of global mobility expertise towards the strategic/advisory
Global mobility’s strategic importance to corporate growth and increasing diversity of both assignment types and assignees means global mobility functions are increasingly involved in strategic workforce planning. Roles have also expanded into managing the entire mobile population. This transition and added value will be critical to the success of the function’s future, says Santa Fe. 
  1. Data analytics and technology as enables of global mobility functions
Since 2011, the use of specialist global mobility software among respondents increased from 13% in 2011 to 75% in 2020. However, engaging stakeholders and the necessary investment to embrace the digital era remains a challenge.


  1. Increased diversity of global mobility policies and assignment types
The traditional long-term assignment (LTA) was most common until 2016. Since then, short-term assignments (STAs) and short-term business travel (STBT) have become the most prevalent.
  1. Growth of remote and hybrid working options
In 2017, 29% foresaw a rise in virtual assignments over the next five years. However, cross-border remote working is now one of the global mobility function's biggest challenges to achieving its objectives. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, 46% of respondents said managing this assignment type was their greatest issue, up from 26% in 2018.
  1. Shift from employer- to employee-driven programmes
The multigenerational workforce, economic and social change are driving changes around employer needs and employee expectations. Organisations are offering more flexible assignment options to attract and retain their global people. This includes the increasing use of lump-sum policies, local and local-plus frameworks, and policy segmentation based on talent drivers.
  1. Integration of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I)
With responses to Covid-19 front of mind in 2020, it is little surprise that a focus on people, policies and practice to attract internal and external talent from the widest possible source slipped from 30% in 2018 to 24%. This is an area of opportunity for organisations once cross-border movement is eased post-pandemic.


  1. Compliance complexity of new destinations
Between 2017-2020, 40% of Santa Fe’s survey respondents relocated employees to new destinations as companies pursued growth in new territories. This means global mobility functions are working with an ever more complex legal and regulatory context.
  1. Impact of geopolitical and protectionist climates on immigration and security issues
External events like Brexit and significant public health threats like SARS, MERS, Ebola and Covid-19 have elevated immigration, health and security issues for global mobility teams and assignees.
  1. The importance of duty of care
Perhaps because of the impact of external events, the greater focus on corporate social responsibility, talent attraction and recruitment, duty of care has risen up business leaders’ priority list. In 2018, it was a top priority for 26%. In 2020, the figure was 38%.

Predictions for the future of global mobility from Santa Fe

In the context of 80% of respondents consistently reporting that the career paths of people who undertake global assignments outperform those who stay in their home territory, the report makes a number of projections for where the function will be in another ten years.For transformation, this includes global mobility being integrated into other people-focused parts of the business where it is not standalone and an increasing accent on AI skills.For talent, these include a move from segmented to personalised approaches to assignment packages, blind selection integrated into recruitment and selection to support ED&I and an increase in flexible and part-time assignments For compliance, ESG will be at the core of the global mobility programme, with sustainable assignments a mandatory expectation or requirement of stakeholders. Santa Fe also foresees a continuation of talent mobilisation from developing markets to more developed markets. 

Global mobility – a new era

“There has been considerable evolution in the talent agenda and how it has translated into Global Mobility policy strategy within the past decade,” the report concludes.“It is evident that internal company talent priorities, combined with external factors (future workforce/digital innovation), will force mobility functions to rapidly adjust to the new era of mobility.”

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