Agile Mobility

New research shows how relocation quickly responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Zee Johnson

Relocation has been and remains an important strategy organizations leverage to fill skills gaps and grow and sustain their businesses globally. Unsurprisingly, the ongoing pandemic continues to have an immense impact on how, when, and where firms deploy their employees.

The 54th Annual Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey sought to identify the current challenges and changes industry decision-makers face. According to the survey, one in three companies say their relocation volume decreased last year. For midsize companies, 50% report domestic relocation needs increased, though international relocation decreased by approximately 50%. Small and large companies felt this impact, too. Overall, survey respondents said their international relocation needs drastically dropped by 40%.

Because of the reduction in both international and domestic travel, midsize and large firms were most likely to see budget increases (48% and 54% respectively). This is in comparison to only one out of three small firms and one out of four companies across size who say their budgets decreased.

Another area of relocation that witnessed a pandemic-provoked decline was employee confidence. The biggest and most expected reason behind the decrease was health and safety concerns (overall 52% and 44% internationally). This topped 2019’s most frequented reason: family issues, which still remains a concern.

Six out of 10 firms stated spousal employment “almost always” or “frequently” influences relocation. So far this year, this has risen to two out of three firms (68%), the highest level ever recorded. To help combat this, companies are increasing the amount of spousal assistance and supporting salaried workers (aged 30-45) who are most responsible for caring for small children and older adults. Seventy-eight percent of firms now offer childcare assistance for relocating employees and 72% offer elder care assistance. Firms are getting creative and offering more benefits to transferees to ensure a smooth relocation.

Some previously successful relocation practices are being reconsidered due to changes in employee needs. Full reimbursement was once the most frequently sought method to cover relocation costs for employees. Now, only 36% of companies are fully reimbursing new hires, a number that reaches the lowest historical level for the seventh year straight. Partial reimbursement has been most employed by about half of the firms surveyed. The industry has been undergoing tremendous change in the last few years, and COVID-19 has been instrumental in the acceleration. These global transformations caused decision-makers, with assistance from contracted service providers, to update processes to safeguard employees’ needs. Some policy changes include:

  • providing financial assistance for COVID-19-related expenses (31%);
  • offering flexibility in how relocation benefits can be used to meet employee needs (94%);
  • including additional incentives to entice top employees to relocate (91%, up 30% since 2008); and
  • relying on other arrangements to supplement traditional relocations (78%).

While the world underwent extraordinary adjustments, companies worked to find common ground between employees’ safety and business progression. When relocation needs dwindled, organizations and relocation management partners adapted strategies and policies to follow suit. For the future, organizations should remain agile to get moving again.


Tags: October 2021

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