WERC London Summit 2017: exploring mobility

Worldwide ERC president Peggy Smith kicked off this year’s EMEA summit in London on an exploratory note.

Peggy Smith at WERC London Summit 2017
Reaffirming the training and representative body’s commitment to the UK and Europe, Ms Smith said the WERC was examining opportunities for new operations in the region. She also noted the WERC’s future direction of exploration in response to ongoing from the feedback from the WERC community.With the stage set, the WERC again welcomed Sir Malcolm Rifkind to deliver the opening keynote and address delegates on “The future isn’t what it used to be”.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind – one year on

Revisiting his pre-referendum, pre-President Trump address delivered at least year’s EMEA summit, Sir Malcolm surveyed a geopolitical landscape that is very different from that of 12 months ago.On Brexit, the respected statesman remains optimistic in the forthcoming negotiations. He was also relatively sanguine on what he regards as a mellowing of President Trump’s foreign policy stance as he cedes decision-making to his cabinet appointees.However, Sir Malcolm expressed some pessimism at the intersection of foreign and domestic policy – a juncture likely to affect mobility. He warned of the potential for more “watertight” immigration bans, which President Trump regards as a key plank of his presidential mandate, and the repercussions of this from other countries. Similarly, too, on the negative impact of a Trump adminstration on trade and bi-lateral agreements.

Examining the frontiers of global mobility

The theme of exploration continued to be woven into the rest of the morning’s sessions. Robert J. Horsley, Fragomen’s executive director, chaired a horizon-expanding panel discussion on the potential of workforce analytics to change the shape of the mobility function.Siobhan Cummins (head of global mobility at Naspars Group), Mike Piker (vice president of global total rewards and people technology at Naspars Ltd), Alain De Dauw (HR vice president – Airtec Division of Atlas Copco Airpower) and Gareth Paine (EY people analytics leader) showed how data mining offers strategic insights that positively impact cost, equity, diversity, performance and compliance.Here, mobility professionals are taking an increasingly business partnership role, reflecting and supporting the wider shift in HR practice to strategic partner.In relation to the mobility space and the war for key skills and talent scarcity, the role of workforce analytics in determining who is available to work, where and when, was one of its exciting applications.

Fact-based decision-making

A shift to more data-driven decision-making is also positive from the perspective of diversity, equity and in the present context of prejudice and misinformation in all its forms.The panel suggested that being able to test gut-instinct against hard facts offers mobility new insights into longstanding issues, such as return on investment, as well as the ability to speak the business’s language.Rounding off the morning’s programme, alongside concurrent technical sessions on tax and legislation impacting business traveller compliance, was another trailblazing topic likely to be on the minds of mobility managers: self-initiating expats in the gig economy.Session panel members Ged Gibson (relocation consultant at Cisco Systems), Selina Jones-May (group director, global mobility, at Worley Parsons) and Ann-Katrin Locher (international assignment manager at Boston Consulting Group) continued the theme of exploring the outer reaches of mobility, sharing their policy approaches to this demographic.Highlighting the prescience of this issue, this session saw high levels of delegate engagement and information sharing. Among them, Dale Collins, WERC board member and chief innovation officer at Graebel, queried what mobility will look like in the next decade when a projected 40 per cent of the workforce is likely to be self-employed. For some of the panel companies represented, this trend is already starting to hit, with their experiences offering a glimpse of the future mobility landscape.

Further reading:

Challenging questions

Service providers and in-house mobility experts were offered insights into decision-making processes in corporate mobility delivery models from Pam Pfeiffer (manager, compensation and head of client experts, E.ON) and John Pfeiffer (head of reward, Uniper).Weighing up the pros, cons and considerations of how best to support mobile populations in a newly demerged company, the partnering gave a frank account of a complex series of decisions and the opportunities for learning from all perspectives.One of the key messages, picked up in subsequent sessions and the closing senior strategists dialogue, was the ability of stakeholders, including service providers, to ask challenging questions in the context of changing times.The mobility function’s role as business partner was also examined in this context in the session on the risks and opportunities of heavy local/local-plus programmes, as well as in the concurrent session on what Brexit and a Trump administration have taught us, led by US attorney at Fragomen Charlotte Slocombe and Ian Robinson, the immigration specialist’s UK head.Mike Craske (global mobility transformation leader, PwC), Emily King (Berry Appleman & Leiden) and Mark Ethelston (global head of mobility, Brambles) defined where the boundaries were in local-plus and heavy local policies and their appropriateness from a talent, reward and immigration perspective.Evident from both sessions is how conceptions of mobility have changed significantly over the past decade and continue to evolve.

The future?

Peggy Smith brought the day to a close in the final session. Global thought leaders Cécile Melchior (senior manager in Johnson & Johnson’s mobility advisory services team), Mark Hellicar (global mobility strategic consultant) and Leonid Davydov (regional manager, global mobility, Europe, India, Middle East & Africa, Proctor & Gamble) spoke at length on issues including what the focus for mobility and HR are likely to be in the next 12 months and five-year timeframe.Among the strong themes emerging were the possibilities for mobility to rebrand itself as HR more widely has done and for more collaboration between stakeholders. Tying all the themes together and relating them to current events, Peggy Smith had the last word. She reminded us that in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, it is often mobility teams who get the first call in responding – and adapting – to change.

Read more from the sessions in the upcoming spring issue of Re:locate magazine. To register for your copy, please follow the links.