Business continuity and domestic relocation—lessons learned

July 20, 2020

The pandemic has essentially brought organizations’ mobility programs to a grinding halt.

This doesn’t mean they can put their mobility and relocation programs on the back burner, though; Mercer has found the crisis has highlighted weaknesses in organizations’ preexisting relocation programs and processes. Now is the time to confront those shortcomings head-on.

It’s understandable; a pandemic like this is unprecedented, and there are no best practices to look to for guidance on how to respond. We are all doing the best we can.

Want to find out how other companies are adjusting their mobility programs?

Participate in Mercer’s Domestic Relocation Policies and Practices survey today.

From lacking a reliable way to track and engage with transferees, to struggling to find ways to bring employees home, the pandemic exposed a lack of efficiency in the management of relocation programs that failed to safeguard employees’ comfort and safety. Hopefully, you’ve started to move away from responding and reacting to the pandemic to determining what the new normal is for your organization. For some of us, that means returning to an office. For others, it may mean reinventing the shape of work.

As for domestic relocation programs, travel restrictions are starting to ease, allowing organizations to again begin authorizing employee moves.

But what happens if the pandemic takes another unexpected turn?

Learning from disruption

What’s the one thing you can’t live without when it comes to quickly making critical decisions? The answer, of course, is reliable data.

For many companies attempting to engage with their transferees during the pandemic, a lack of dependable data created huge challenges. Systems of record, which provide critical information for locating, contacting, and supporting mobile employees, were either underdeveloped or ill-maintained.

In one particularly frustrating situation observed by Mercer, a client reported spending many hours attempting to contact an employee to arrange for repatriation, only to ultimately find out the employee was already back at home — the assignment record just hadn’t been updated. Beyond accurate record keeping, engaging with employees is often challenging. Even in the best of times, relocating is stressful on workers and their families. It’s critical that we provide these valuable employees with “always on” support to address their needs. Many organizations are realizing that this support can best be provided through digital platforms.

On a brighter note, we do all owe credit to our transferees, partners, and stakeholders who have demonstrated an impressive ability to be flexible and adapt to rapid changes on a moment’s notice.

We’ve all been forced to step outside of our old, familiar ways of working and adjust to new surroundings, new workflows, quicker decision-making, and reinvention. Plans and processes that once would have taken weeks or even months to put into action now come to fruition in a matter of days.

In some cases where leaders might have relied on multi-step approval processes, particularly for moving employees, they instead delegated authority to HR and mobility professionals to act in their transferees’ best interest.

To great effect, everyone has put aside the excuse of, “This is how we’ve always done it,” and instead embraced new ways of working — and living.

On top of that, we’ve come to realize all that can be done without sharing a physical location with our colleagues. Maybe it’s not always necessary to relocate an employee to another state. Perhaps local talent, with a little bit of retraining and development, can excel under the virtual guidance of a mentor.

The pandemic has caused a lot of change. In this case, forcing us to challenge norms and think outside of the box has been a change for the better.

Leading with empathy

Wellness has become top of mind for all of us when it comes to thinking about our employees, our families, and ourselves. As noted in Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2020, the key to leading with empathy for employers is to make employees’ health and wellbeing a top priority. Often times, this means providing a greater level of flexibility.

It’s now increasingly important to apply this way of thinking to your mobility and relocation programs, being careful to make sure your programs and practices support your transferees’ wellbeing.

As things continue to evolve, the definition of exactly what this means will change, too. Embracing an agile decision-making process, along with regular review and adjustment of policies, will allow you to continue to adapt to and adjust in the new normal.

Actions to take now

Based on Mercer’s experience, the following are the top five actions to take right now to ensure your domestic relocation program is a valuable component of your go-forward employee value proposition:

  1. Strike while the iron is hot. As parts of North America start to reopen and travel becomes more realistic again, use the renewed focus on mobility programs to revise, reinvent, and push stagnant initiatives forward.
  2. Expand your view of candidates. It’s not just your top tier of management that should be considered for relocation. Consider all levels and personas.
  3. Streamline the approval process. We’ve experienced how quickly and effectively decisions can be made when they need to be. Why not make that the common practice, rather than the exception?
  4. Assess vendors. Examine your current vendor relationships — what value are they adding? Is the service they provide worth the expense, or are you in need of other services?
  5. Change it up. Diversify the type of programs and move types you support, as well as the reimbursements and allowances that go along with them. Different people need and value different things — meet them where they are.

Looking for more information on how to enhance your relocation program? Call Mercer any time at 866-750-0623.

About the author

Business continuity

Maddie Fowler is an associate based in Mercer’s Chicago office, with experience in both domestic and international relocations. Before joining Mercer, she worked as an assignment consultant with a relocation management company. Maddie continues to grow as a consultant by delivering for clients on a wide range of solutions, including policy development, program design, and benchmarking.