How Microsoft Built A New Mobility Model For Cross-Border Talent

Professionals from EY and Microsoft challenged old assumptions about workforce mobility, creating a forward-thinking and data-rich platform.
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Professionals from EY and Microsoft challenged old assumptions about workforce mobility, creating a forward-thinking and data-rich platform.

1. How do you make "work anywhere" work everywhere?

Microsoft's workforce mobility function evolves to face new challenges and opportunities.

As ways of working have settled into a "next normal", organizations have had to proactively refine how and where they work across jurisdictions, while fostering an exceptional employee experience. For Microsoft, workforce mobility is about more than solving the logistical challenges of moving highly skilled employees around the world. Instead, after years of health, economic and geopolitical challenges, their mobility function has transitioned to a place of strategic opportunity, requiring rapid adaptation and innovation.

"Employees are no longer seen as mere resources to be moved around, but as individuals with unique needs and aspirations," says Juan Carlos González, Senior Director for Global Mobility at Microsoft. "Our mobility program is not just about moving people from point A to point B. It's about creating meaningful experiences, placing people at the center, fostering diversity and inclusion, and ultimately, driving business success."

Microsoft's strategic perspective challenges old assumptions and traditional designs of workforce mobility solutions. In the past, the Mobility function faced relatively low-volume scenarios: expatriate assignments and company-supported moves or travel. Now, mobility programs provide guidance and insights for employee-driven scenarios including personal relocations, commuting, and a mix of personal and professional business travel. This shift in focus is influenced by the expanded use of generative AI (GenAI), providing new tools and visibility into employee data, mobility processes, and automation.

To evolve the Mobility function, González and his team embarked on a journey to drive value to the business and better align with the organization's overall goals. An important part of this journey would be working to meet the needs of employees, the needs of their mobility professionals, and looking at leading market trends in workforce mobility.

Microsoft eventually arrived at three focus areas that would contribute to a more effective and strategically-aligned mobility program:

  1. Reduce the number of vendors and systems.
  2. Help drive automation and efficiencies across their mobility function.
  3. Improve the employee experience.

To begin realizing this vision EY professionals worked with Microsoft to create new and improved mobility processes. The initial focus area was the launch of Microsoft's US state-to-state business traveler program which required the ability to integrate with their human resources information (HRIS), travel, payroll and equity systems; provide a leading-class traveler experience; and automate all downstream processes.

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After the business traveler program was up and running, the teams then set out to reduce the number of immigration providers supporting Microsoft. At that time, Microsoft had 19 global immigration providers, with the goal of getting down to one global provider outside of the US to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and add value for employees and the organization.

"Microsoft realized that they could further evolve their global immigration program and improve on the sometimes-disjointed employee experience and process," says George Reis, EY Americas Immigration Leader. "Instead of disparate providers, they wanted a more centralized strategic program, integrated with their mobility and global workforce strategy, informed by a common case management system, and supported in execution by their HR Services organization."

Reis adds that this undertaking would then create space to apply a strategic lens to immigration which was employee-focused, would support business goals, reduce risk, and understand government relations.

With a more comprehensive, strategic approach to global immigration and US state-to-state business travel compliance, Microsoft sought a solution that would further transform the Mobility function and enhance employee experience. To experience cross-border work, even for a short-time, can be a life-changing experience, but without strategic coordination, it can create a strain on process and stress on employees. It's an undertaking requiring streamlined process, adaptable technology, and a people-first mindset to realize the full potential of global teams and talents.

This mutual learning has helped both teams to develop a robust suite of technologies that can effectively address the challenges faced by Mobility functions. - Juan Carlos González, Senior Director for Global Mobility, Microsoft

The better the answer

2. A new and necessary model for workforce mobility

Blending the right people experience with the right technology delivers a whole that is bigger than its parts.

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Microsoft worked with EY teams from across the globe to define the right approach for the digital transformation of its business travel and global immigration programs. The strategy would champion exceptional user experience (UX) and employee experience (EX), driven by leading-class technology.

Between data management, business travel, immigration, legal and tax requirements, such a comprehensive mobility solution would be stress-tested at every turn.

"For EY mobility professionals, we have long worked toward a vision of combining leading technology with talented EY professionals to create a truly integrated mobility experience," says Leslie Fiorentino, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP (United States).

The right technology: EY Mobility Pathway

Achieving the kind of integrated mobility experience Microsoft wanted required a platform suited to digital ecosystem connectivity; a way to combine many data streams into a streamlined user experience. EY teams had a solution: EY Mobility Pathway is a scalable platform that integrates mobility lifecycle activity and services on a single, comprehensive platform.

Built on Microsoft Azure, EY Mobility Pathway's intuitive interface intelligently manages data from multiple sources to reduce time spent on administrative tasks. By building collaboration between Microsoft, external mobility providers, employees, and corporate users, the mobile talent lifecycle can also become more transparent and drive efficiency.

"An employee often, even working with one vendor, needs to go to multiple places, separate portals, and the data doesn't mix — it's not often a good user experience," says Kushan Shah, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP (United States). "We have one product that integrates, in one place, multiple personas: corporate users, employees, and the entire Global EY network, too. There's no smoke and mirrors, here, it's one product serving all stakeholders."

Having Microsoft as both client and project collaborator created an opportunity to iterate the technology in real-time, given its Microsoft Azure provenance: teams were able to create client-specific workflows with Azure Logic Apps; Azure Cosmos DB helped with questionnaire management; Microsoft Power BI enabled creation of relevant dashboards for clients, while keeping data models in check for scale.

"The collaboration between our two companies has been incredibly positive, fostering a rich cycle of mutual learning," González says. "As a complex organization, we strive to scrutinize every process through a multidisciplinary lens. Implementing any change requires time and resilience, but it ensures that our initiatives are well-conceived and, most importantly, compliant."

By building agility into the development process, Microsoft professionals could make recommendations on a technology solution, with the power of developer capabilities reaching the hands of EY service professionals, helping to discover and refine the experience to be provided to users.

"My team has had the opportunity to learn from a multidisciplinary group of EY experts who are leaders in their respective fields, bringing valuable market insights," González adds. "This mutual learning has helped both teams to develop a robust suite of technologies that can effectively address the challenges faced by Mobility functions, particularly those arising from the limitations of major HR or Payroll systems."

"This is a new model for doing this," Shah says. "And it's the right model."

The right people experience

Technology is an important piece to solving a digital transformation puzzle, but solutions need to be attentive to how and why people are using them. Many employees go through cross-border experiences infrequently, giving greater weight to their first impressions of mobility and immigration processes, and workforce mobility more generally. While some repetitive tasks can be automated, and advances in GenAI can expand certain system capabilities, the best way to keep sight of the human experience of workforce mobility is with teams of responsive and empathetic professionals.

EY provided the strongest network of professionals — human beings — to drive people-centered thinking around workforce mobility. - George Reis, EY Americas Immigration Leader

"Mobility programs are being designed not just to facilitate relocation, but also to support the personal and professional growth of employees, enhance their well-being, and ensure their successful integration into the new environment," González says. "This people-centered approach to global mobility is helping organizations attract and retain talent, foster a globally-minded workforce, and ultimately, drive business success. It's no longer solely about Mobility defining the experience in isolation, but rather about fully integrating it with the 'Hire to Retire' vision of our leadership team."

The depth and breadth of experience of EY professionals, with a global capability at the scale needed to serve Microsoft, created the right people-focused service model to pair with the technology.

"EY provided the strongest network of professionals — human beings — to drive people-centered thinking around workforce mobility," Reis says. "EY teams are able to connect dots between immigration law, geopolitics, the race for talent, and do so with empathy. To do this at a global scale is challenging, but EY teams are up to the task."

The better the world works

3. Evolving for enhanced employee experience and efficiency

Collaboration between teams from EY and Microsoft creates a glimpse into workforce mobility's future.

With implementation now complete, González says Microsoft has seen progress in key areas:

  • Efficiency: EY Mobility Pathway has streamlined processes, reducing the time and resources required for mobility tasks. This has allowed teams to focus more on strategic initiatives.
  • Collaboration: The close working relationship between Microsoft and EY teams has fostered a culture of collaboration, leading to more innovative solutions and better problem-solving.
  • Compliance: With EY Mobility Pathway, Microsoft has been able to better manage and track compliance issues, reducing risks and adhering to regulations.
  • Employee experience: The new approach has improved the experience for mobile employees, making it easier for them to navigate the complexities of mobility.
  • Data-driven decisions: The use of EY Mobility Pathway has provided Microsoft with valuable data and insights, helping enable more informed decision-making around mobility.

"These improvements are testament to the benefits of adopting an agile, collaborative approach to global mobility," González says. "It's a great example of how digital transformation can drive operational efficiency and enhance employee experience based on the hard work and high level of expertise of my team to properly open the path of success for EY and ultimately the partnership at the center of the power of the possible."

The experience of Microsoft and EY teams building a new mobility model by pairing advanced technology and services gives a glimpse into the future of capability-based innovation on a global scale. For complex processes like those related to global immigration and workforce mobility, a technology solution alone cannot be all things to all organizations. The mobility function needs to evolve itself to serve new purposes. By remaining flexible, and fitting the needs of individual users and the professionals serving them, teams from EY and Microsoft collaborated on a technology and service model that can shift mindsets beyond traditional thinking, while keeping people at the center.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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