Navigating Mobility in a Remote World 06.12.2023 | Susan Pineau

Remote and hybrid work arrangements are now a global norm, but that doesn’t mean we’ve worked out the kinks. This reality was made glaringly apparent in a recent virtual roundtable hosted by our Advisory Leader, Jen Connell on “Navigating Mobility in a Remote World.”

Even before the session had begun, one participant shared her frustration over managing a “hybrid” team:

As a hybrid employee herself, she typically goes into the office on Wednesdays. This week she switched to Thursday and was delighted to find many more people in the office, a plus because it allowed for more interactions with her peers. While the commute is less than ideal, she does enjoy her in-office time and genuinely values face-to-face interaction. New employees make the case that they don’t need to be in the office to do their jobs, but as a manager, she admits that training and onboarding remotely is a challenge. When in the office, it’s so much easier to “track down and collaborate with teammates,” but she wishes that the company mandated all group members to be in the office on the same day.  

Sound familiar? This story so aptly touches on some of the major issues around remote and hybrid work: conflicting employee needs with business demands and a lack of structure and consistency. These issues trickle down to the mobility level, making it increasingly difficult to find candidates willing to relocate for an in-office position when they are enjoying the flexibility and work-life balance of a remote position. As one participant shared, “it’s hard for employees to untangle from the schedules and setups they have formed over the past few years. Commuting eats into the time that has now been allocated for health and wellbeing, or daycare and school pickup/drop off, or even work/collaboration time.”

But here’s another issue – companies are grappling to attract and hold on to their top talent. So, employees have leverage when it comes to asking for an arrangement that suits their needs, including when it comes to mobility. Here are some of the requests seen by our participants:

  • A candidate was identified as the best for a job and provided an offer to move but declined because it was an office-located job.
  • An employee applied for a job they knew was in-office but, when offered the position, tried to negotiate a remote arrangement.
  • An employee requested to take the in-office position but requested to defer the move for a year or two and work remotely in the meantime.

Some participants shared that their companies have firm, compliance-based responses which help them decline these requests, but this firm stance may come at the expense of losing talent to the competition.

Other participants have a less rigid approach, handling requests on a case-by-case basis that involves multiple stakeholders. Work arrangements are typically determined based on the role and goals of that position.

The bottom line: everyone is approaching this new world of work a little differently. Discussions like this are critical to share what’s working, what’s not, and the impacts of each decision on your talent management strategy.

Among the many questions posed in this session, these two stood out, offering great insight into how remote work impacts the future of work — and mobility.


Some participants vocalized that remote work has helped leaders recognize the strategic value of global mobility. It’s shifted the scope of many mobility programs to address remote work, immigration and dependents as they relate to compliance:

“I’d argue that global mobility is now an even bigger player. The pandemic has highlighted the expertise and value of global mobility and our expertise in all things compliance and security. It brought us to the table, and now, talent management routinely consults with us to help the business evaluate the viability of the arrangement for a particular employee and role. Global mobility now has significant input on the creation of policy and the implementation of various arrangements, working closely with tax, legal, compliance, privacy etc.”


This question was met with a resounding “absolutely” from many participants. With many top potential hires asking about the employer’s remote policy, for many companies, their flexibility has allowed them to check the right boxes. Several participants indicated that they are looking at whether certain jobs actually need to be done in an office to allow for more flexibility and leverage in the hiring process.

In general, companies are still all over the board in terms of bringing people back into the office. Some are voluntary, some are one or two days, some have gone back full time, and some have gone full time except for certain groups. We don’t expect this inconsistency to change in the near future; it will take time for organizations to strike a balance between business and employee needs, and this will likely look different for each company and its unique workforce.

Below are the highlighted challenges, lessons, and recommendations gleaned from this session:

  • Onboarding new colleagues. It is much easier to arrange spontaneous meetings or get a new employee to observe a current colleague desk-side when everyone is in the office.
  • Nearly all participants cited that it was difficult to get people to come back to the office full-time. Many have asked for accommodations, citing that they rearranged their lives for the company for the pandemic and would experience extreme stress in undoing those.
  • Difficult to balance employee work-life concerns with compliance.
  • Some cited difficulty getting people to take or complete moves. They had people who took jobs that were supposed to include relocation. The pandemic delayed the move, and they started doing the job, but at the end of the two years, they declined to move and subsequently left the company.
  • When in doubt, there’s usually a compliance-driven reason why a move can’t be deferred, converted, etc.
  • It may be time for some companies to examine their talent strategies and practices around where jobs are located and what a “work day” really has to look like in terms of hours.
  • It’s always a good idea to think “and then what?” when enacting sweeping policy changes, even if, or especially if they are intended to be temporary. There have been many unintended consequences of attempting to revert to pre-pandemic business-as-usual states, some of which have resulted in financial and risk exposure to companies. Jen Connell relayed the story of several of our clients who had employees accept funds for moving but who never moved, started doing their new job remotely, refused to move, then refused to return the relocation funds, arguing that the repayment agreement did not cover that situation.
  • To best leverage days in the office to enhance collaboration and productivity under a hybrid arrangement, it may be necessary for companies to coordinate in-office days and schedules by group or function.
  • If using a repayment agreement, consider amending the language to indicate that if the employee decides not to move to the new location, they will be liable to repay any funds paid to them or on their behalf for their relocation, even if they do not leave the company.

The “remote work” conversation is evolving and ongoing; stay tuned for more discussions around the changing world of work, or reach out to us directly – we love to chat.

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Written by Susan Pineau

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Susan is a Research Analyst in our Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in workforce mobility, encompassing roles in Client Services, Equity, Client Accounting, Expense Management, Implementation and Proposal Writing.

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