Revisiting Relocation as COVID-19 Continues: Our Global Mobility Roundtable Weighs in

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, employers are problem-solving case-by-case relocations in real-time, while reevaluating their mobility programs in total. COVID-19 generated shutdowns, border closings and financial issues have not only created immediate challenges, but given global mobility experts fresh perspective into their programs.

UrbanBound recently hosted a virtual roundtable of global mobility thought leaders across the country. We invited them to pose questions to each other and us, volunteer answers, and share insights and concerns.

The event was facilitated by our Co-Founder, Jeff Ellman, and attended by our Global Supply Chain Manager, Eric Vaughn, who has taken the lead on UrbanBound’s COVID-19 response.

We’re grateful to everyone who participated, including leaders from Nike, AxoGen, EPAM Systems, Jabil, Kohls, Kronos, Liberty Mutual, Limited Brands, Peloton, PTC, Qiagen, Rock Central Detroit, Rockwell Automation, Spotify, St Jude, Stryker, Viasat and Juul.

For all who attended, thank you for contributing to a lively, fascinating discussion! As promised, we’ve recapped our key takeaways below.


Takeaway #1:
Flexibility is the Key to Relocation à la COVID-19

A number of employers noted that these exceptional times demand more flexibility from their relocation programs. While few have formally revised their relocation policies—so far—they are making far more case-by-case exceptions.

Such as…delaying start dates. Giving employees the option of driving instead of flying. Asking new hires to work remotely in their origin countries for the time being (after a careful review of compliance, tax and even salary adjustment issues).

Looking ahead, some employers believe they will modify their relocation policies to allow employees more flexibility in how they use their benefits—a shift we’ve been seeing at UrbanBound for some time.

Even prior to COVID-19, clients have been moving almost in masse toward managed budget policies, which combine the flexibility of lump sum policies (a hot topic, see below) with the resources and support offered by full coverage policies.


Takeaway #2:
Lump Sum Policies: Love ‘em or Hate ‘em

Our roundtable participants had an intensely mixed response to lump sum policies—which is consistent with every roundtable we’ve held to date.

Lump sum policies give employees the freedom to spend their relocation funds any way they choose, but often leave employees unsupported in planning their move. If any funds are left over, the employee keeps them. Here’s a sampling of opinions aired during our roundtable:

  • Lump sum policies aren’t cost-effective for employers, since employees benefit keep all leftover funds. (New TV, anyone?).

  • Lump sum policies motivate employees to move more affordably and find permanent housing more quickly, because they want those remaining funds.

  • Because employees can use their lump sum how they choose, these policies cut down on the need for exceptions.

  • Lump sum policies seem to work better for entry level employees, but provide a poor experience for executives.

  • Lump sum policies are “never quite enough” and “always unpredictable.” Managed budget policies are preferable, because they are also flexible, but employers keep the unused funds.

That last bullet is consistent with UrbanBound’s findings. After years of research, we’ve concluded that lump sum policies results in overspending—while raising the likelihood of a poor employee experience. While lump sum policies don’t generate savings for employers, 94% of moves come in under budget under differently-structured policies—another reason managed budget plans are gaining market share.


Takeaway #3:
Relocation Program Cost Cuts Ahead

While roundtable participants acknowledged a potential need to cut their relocation programs’ costs, their first priority is ensuring a positive employee experience. Some solutions employers are considering include modifying relocation benefits to be more flexible and reducing the number of relocations an employer will sponsor during a given period.

Some participants discussed working more closely with talent acquisition partners to identify the potential relocation costs associated with two equally-qualified candidates, before a job offer is made, reserving relocation funds for truly exceptional candidates.

Several participants noted they wouldn’t be making dramatic changes until it’s clear what the world’s “new normal” will look after the immediate crisis period.


Takeaway #4:
Employees Are Eager to Resume Moving

As the country starts to reopen, there appears to be a shift in the mindset of some employees whose domestic relocations had been put on hold.

Several roundtable participants noted that, in the last two weeks, employees who were relieved to postpone their relocations back in March are now eager to get going. Employers are evaluating these requests on a case-by-case basis, rather than flip the switch. And they are taking elaborate steps to ensure employees move safely.

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Takeaway #5:
Safety Remains Priority #1

All roundtable participants indicated the importance of keeping relocating employees safe and healthy throughout their move. While some employers have put all domestic relocations on hold as a result, those who have not are taking precautions that include:

  • Depending on their global security teams to monitor the progression of the outbreak and advise when and how to proceed.

  • Providing relocating employees with detailed travel safety guidelines.

  • Providing employees with care kits, which include masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning products.

  • Allowing relocations to move forward, but requiring employees who fly to their new location to quarantine for two weeks before coming into the office.


Takeaway #6:
Employers Are Curious about Our Safety Guidelines

Roundtable participants were not only eager to learn how fellow employers are protecting their transferees, but what safety initiatives UrbanBound has taken.

One of the first steps we took back in March was to create a multi-disciplinary task force to monitor all updates and guidelines provided by the CDC, WHO, and other COVID-19 authorities.

Using that information—and collaborating closely with our suppliers—we created a detailed COVID-19 relocation guide, which we provide to all relocating employees. The guide (which is continually updated) tells employees what to expect and helps them plan a safe, smooth relocation. We created an employer version of this guide as well, Managing Mobility During COVID-19, available on our website.

In addition, we just introduced two new services, which are available through specific providers in a number of U.S. locations. These include:

  • Contactless Moves – provided by one of our household goods providers (additional fees may apply)

  • Sanitizing Services – delivered in accordance with CDC guidelines, along with those of local jurisdictions. Quotations are available through our provider.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us!


Takeaway #7:
Remote Work Won’t Replace Relocation

While roundtable participants were quick to acknowledge that remote work has offered many advantages during the shutdown, they don’t believe it will permanently replace the need for relocations. There is too much value in onsite team collaborations.

Interestingly, one employer found that, while company turnover is very low, those who are resigning are typically new hires. Their theory: new employees don’t have the job expertise or emotional connection to work effectively from home.

It was also observed that, should remote work continue, managers will need to be trained on the art of managing effectively from afar—and that many employees would prefer to be onsite, where they can collaborate in person and also be seen.


Takeaway #8:
COVID-19 Will Spark Changes to Relocation Programs

We asked our roundtable participants how they would change their relocation programs as a result of lessons learned from their COVID-19 experience. Our top three answers:

  • Create more flexibility – It was noted that more flexible policies would result in a reduced need for the exceptions that have become so prevalent now. Furthermore, with everything from home-buying tours to household goods surveys being conducted digitally, some processes are changing.

  • Lower costs (but provide a better experience) – Employers are looking for ways to save money without compromising service. It was suggested that reviewing customer feedback would be a good way to see where improvements should be made while protecting the employee experience.

  • Provide better emergency policies/benefits – COVID-19 has taught employers to prepare for the unthinkable. This means addressing emergency travel protocols and health insurance needs for employees held up in foreign countries. Employers want to do right by their employees, regardless of circumstance.

In closing, we relish the opportunity to bring clients and employers together to discuss their most pressing relocation issues, especially as we grapple with the challenges created by COVID-19. If your recent experiences have led you to question your current relocation management program, we’d welcome the chance to chat with you about it.

At UrbanBound, our tech-driven relocation management company is modernizing the way companies relocate employees. It offers ease and flexibility…reduces costs by more than 24%... and delivers an outstanding experience to employers and employees alike. For more insights, see what our clients say about us.

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