Technology Roundtable Recap: Managing Domestic and Global Relocation in the Age of COVID-19

For the fast-growing, fast-moving technology industry, relocation is necessary to talent acquisition, and talent acquisition is key to strategic growth. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic—replete with its shutdowns, lockdowns and social distancing requirements—have greatly impacted tech companies committed to moving forward during unprecedented times.

So, how are tech employers handling relocations and related talent acquisition issues in the wake of COVID-19? What are their greatest challenges? What workarounds are they using? And how can their relocation management providers help?

In a quest for answers, UrbanBound recently hosted a virtual roundtable of tech mobility and talent acquisition professionals. It was facilitated by our Cofounder, Jeff Ellman, and attended by our Global Supply Chain Manager, Eric Vaughn, who has taken the lead on UrbanBound’s COVID-19 response.

Our roundtable guests included thought leaders from Indeed, Zillow, Remitly, Modern Technology, Android, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Microstrategy, Project 44, Northrop Grumman, Hyland Software, and Fidato Partner. We’d like to thank them for generously sharing their time and expertise to grow our collective knowledge—the highlights which we are sharing here.


Takeaway #1: Tech Co’s Are Adapting their 2020 Talent Acquisition Plans

Between the uncertain economy, changing revenue forecasts, and worldwide relocation challenges, many tech employers are reevaluating their talent acquisition plans—often with an eye to limiting costs for the duration of 2020, while adopting more forward-thinking technological tools.

Some tech companies have scaled back their hiring goals temporarily, electing to fill only the most critical positions. Others have rescinded or frozen recent job offers. And still others have found that new hires have withdrawn their acceptance of recent job offers, electing not to relocate at this time.


Takeaway #2: Tech Employers Seek More Flexible Relocation Programs

A number of our roundtable participants noted that--even before the current crisis--they were moving toward more flexible relocation policies. They are more committed to making relocations easier for transferees than micromanaging their benefits and adjudicating exceptions.

One participant, an UrbanBound client, shared that shifting to a flexible cash (miscellaneous allowance), core (travel and corporate housing) and managed budget policy under UrbanBound’s Freeway product has reduced exceptions to less than .5% and saved thousands of dollars per move.

In short, no one sees value in playing the role of “the relocation police!”


Takeaway #3: Global Moves Are on Hold, But Planning Continues

A number of roundtable participants noted that because U.S. consulates and embassies have suspended routine services, they’ve had to extend the timelines on scheduled global relocations. However, they’re continuing their preparations behind the scenes, so they’ll be ready to act as soon as travel resumes.

Those activities include attempting to book consulate appointments in advance, gathering necessary immigration documentation when possible, and encouraging relocating employees to get acquainted with their soon-to-be-city and employer from afar.

Tip: Despite the current travel freeze, UrbanBound recommends scheduling global moves, choosing a reasonable, hypothetical date. Those specific dates can always be changed, but there is benefit to securing vendor commitments in advance. For example, making arrangements with movers now—using tools like virtual household good surveys—will speed things along later.


Takeaway #4: Many Domestic Relocations Are Moving Forward…with Modifications

While some roundtable participants have paused domestic relocations, others indicated that, depending on the geographic areas involved, many domestic moves are still taking place.

It was noted that household goods companies are taking extra safety precautions, such as equipping workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ramping up sanitation practices, and staggering work crews in the interest of social distancing.

In fact, UrbanBound has found that there may be financial advantages to relocating now, when domestic flights are less expensive…mortgage rates are very low…and, depending on the market, business-strapped movers and short-term housing providers may offer discounted pricing.


Takeaway #5: Short-term Housing Is No Longer So Short

Because home-buying and moving a family is more challenging now, many transferees are asking for extensions on their short-term housing arrangements. A number of roundtable participants noted that they are granting these requests and making budget adjustments accordingly—at least for now—because the problem is largely beyond the transferees’ control.

However, several companies noted they might need to reconsider this if the situation continues. One raised the possibility of shifting those extended short-term housing costs under the transferees’ managed lump sum benefit.

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Takeaway #6: Some Yet-to-Relocate Hires Are Already Working from Pre-Move Locations

What happens when you need an international hire on the job now, global shutdown notwithstanding? After much thought, some tech firms are allowing new hires to onboard and work remotely from their pre-move relocation.

One such tech employer creating a task force composed of global immigration attorneys, tax experts and mobility pros to address the issue. They concluded that it’s a legitimate business strategy, provided those employees have work authorization in their origin countries.


Takeaway #7: Summer Internships Are Here, There and Everywhere

Many tech employers are deeply committed to their summer internship programs, both as a recruiting strategy and as a way to nurture young talent. However, this year, our roundtable participants are taking different approaches to their internship programs in light of COVID-19. We learned that:

  • Some tech companies have suspended their 2020 internship programs altogether. (Although if they extended a formal offer, they are honoring their promised stipends.)
  • Others are arranging virtual internship programs, with the hope that their interns will be able to eventually visit their corporate campuses and enjoy a taste of the full internship experience.
  • Still others are continuing to move forward with onsite internships, particularly for their top recruits.

From UrbanBound’s perspective: we are currently managing 2,000 domestic intern relocations. We’re helping employers take additional steps to secure social distancing protocols, such as arranging single bedroom housing. We’ve also found that securing housing—and receiving the needed stipend 30 days prior to their start date —remains the intern population’s #1 concern in 2020.


Takeaway #8: Virtual Team-building is a Priority

Many recruiting and relocation teams are leveraging videoconferencing technology to stay connected and motivated while working remotely. Some are holding morning coffee breaks. Others are hosting weekly wine-downs (aka winddowns). One CEO is giving weekly “fireside chats” from his kitchen.

These sessions are part work and part play. In addition to providing project updates and brainstorming, teams are providing each other with camaraderie and morale support. For example, one department takes a virtual walk together each week. Others are playing a range of digital group games. A few that came highly recommended include Drawful by Jackbox Games, Scattergories by Swellgarfo, and virtual beer pong. Our participants reported that these small steps are making a big difference.


Takeaway #9: It’s Wise to Get Relocating Employees Started Now

Relocating is stressful at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. The more time employers can give relocating employees to prepare for their move, and the more information they can provide, the smoother the transition will be—whenever it takes place.

Case in point: at UrbanBound, we’re encouraging our clients to invite their transferees onto our relocation portal as soon as possible. There, they can learn about housing, neighborhoods, and schools in advance of their home-finding trip. They can find tips from new coworkers regarding commuting, the dress code, even lunch options. And they can get detailed advice on managing the challenges presented by COVID-19—so, despite everything—they can approach their relocation with anticipation instead of trepidation.

UrbanBound has always found tech companies to be among the earliest adopters of our tech-driven approach to relocation management. Our user-friendly portal accommodates both traditional relocation policies and the more flexible programs they increasingly seek. It provides relocating employees with extensive information about their new areas in advance of home-finding trips. It also simplifies the logistics of moving—which has become even more important now, as physical travel has become more challenging.

In short, our tech-driven relocation management company modernizes the way companies relocate their employees, while reducing costs by more than 25%. If you want to learn more about UrbanBound, please request a demo.


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