Demand for global mobility – a variety of programmes which include formal overseas assignments, flexible working arrangements, and ad hoc business travels – is increasing steadily. Firms require mobility to close skills gaps, enhance talent pools, and support their business needs around the world. Employees, on the other hand, see it as an opportunity for career development, while students consider it critical to access an increasingly competitive labour market.

According to a 2013 EY survey, 58% of companies report having a global talent management agenda, with a 7% increase from the previous year. This heightened attention to mobility can be explained with the in the way organisations define their talent management strategies. Having recognised that human capital is critical to the success of an organisation, and being aware of the need for leaders equipped with practical skills and international experience, most businesses have come to the conclusion that the talent management cycle need to be strategically aligned with the needs of the organisation.

With firms moving from an ‘operational’ to an ‘integrated’ view of global assignments, mobility cannot be seen a mere synonym of relocation but, rather, as a win-win opportunity for both businesses and their workforce. Nonetheless, mobility programmes require significant investments and, after the recent economic recession, more attention is now paid to the cost effectiveness of the assignments. In order for the investment to be maximised, a number of challenges must be overcome.

Among these, the most significant threat is represented by family issues. The majority of assignments tend to fail because employee needs, such as adequate schooling and housing, are not taken into proper consideration. Assignment planning is equally important. Possessing the right skills, if not balanced by sufficient preparation, can still jeopardise the assignment and damage an employee’s career.

The management of mobility programmes is a further challenge. The business press has underlined the increasing need for HR departments to facilitate the practical aspects of mobility and have policies in place that comply with overseas legislation, tax, and visa issues. Another challenge that needs to be faced is employee retention. Managing expatriates is a task that does not stop at the end of the assignment. EY statistics have shown that one out of six employees tend to leave their company within the first two years after repatriation; a set of skills that business cannot afford to lose after such an onerous investment.

The popularity of global mobility is on the rise, but there is still room for improvement. More can be done, for instance, in terms of ensuring adequate diversity of expatriates, with women and minority groups still under-represented in international assignments. It is therefore recommended that businesses plan assignments well ahead and reflect carefully on how to balance the expectations of assignees with the objectives of the business.

The Symposium Expatriate Management and Global Mobility conference in London in July will host a vibrant exchange of experiences and ideas on all of these themes, and HRreview readers are eligible for an exclusive 25% discount on delegate prices. To find out more on how to attend click here and when you book quote hrreview25.

Sergio Russo is Human Resources masters graduate from the University of Westminster, regular blogger on HR issues and a staff writer for Symposium and HRreview.