The Society for Human Resources (SHRM) Conference and Expo usually is so expansive that it resembles a good-sized town more than a typical HR meeting. While COVID and travel restrictions limited the crowd this time, they didn’t diminish the quality of our conversations with HR professionals. We spoke with attendees representing a diverse array of companies, industries, products, services and locations. What was on their minds?

The Battle for Talent Acquisition

This concern predates covid, but it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, economic disruptions, the Great Resignation and a sharp rise in retirements. Some companies that have never relocated employees are now considering talent mobility as a recruiting and developmental tool.

Managing Relocation In-House vs. Outsourcing

Some misconceptions about relocation and relocation management companies persist. We talked to several attendees who are managing relocation in-house and finding it challenging. For most, employee relocation is just one of a growing list of HR responsibilities. Yet, they resist outsourcing relocation services because they believe it’s too expensive. We explained that the cost of a relocation program depends almost entirely on the relocation benefits the client chooses to offer and the number of employees the client relocates. We described how a relocation management company could help a company reduce relocation costs and offer more competitive benefits by benchmarking its policies against modern best practices.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace

DEI was omnipresent in Conference sessions and conversations. We spoke with clients in locations that do not have a particularly diverse population and explained how talent mobility could dramatically broaden their candidate pool. Bringing in a broader range of backgrounds and perspectives strengthens the company, making it more competitive and attractive to future candidates.

Paused International Assignments

While global relocation has essentially been paused, companies are busy planning what comes next. What happens with international assignments that companies put on hold two years ago? Or the assignees they brought home mid-assignment? The consensus is that you can’t simply pick up where you left off. Too much has changed for companies and employees alike. Companies will need to reassess their business needs and their employees’ enthusiasm for global assignments. Some of the companies we spoke with know they will have an impending need for international moves but have neither experience with this nor a relocation management company in place. We encouraged them to take advantage of the pause to ensure a relationship is in place when the need arises, which can be quite unexpected and urgent.

Request Relocations

The pandemic has allowed employees to consider where they want to live and work and be much more assertive in requesting consideration from their employer. The preferred location is sometimes abroad, which brings added complexity. While business needs are paramount, companies are trying to be more accommodating rather than risk losing valued employees. The amount and type of support companies offer are very fluid, depending on culture, industry and the competitive environment. These benefits tend to be more negotiable and ad hoc than most other relocation support.

Relocation Benefits

In such a competitive environment, companies are keenly interested in the relocation benefits other companies in their industry are offering. This is forcing some companies to enhance benefits, approach exceptions more generously, or both. Disruptions in areas like temporary housing and real estate sometimes force the company’s hand. (Paradoxically, attendees also told us they want to reduce relocation costs. Sometimes cost-cutting directives from above collide with recruiting realities on the ground.)

Related to this, we had several discussions about whether pre-pandemic best practices are still operative. Yes, more or less, but we are in a very fluid time of change. Mirroring changing business and employee expectations, best practices for US and global mobility might look quite different in a few years.

Relocation Technology

Finally, relocation technology continues to fascinate relocation program managers and their relocating employees alike. Some attendees were quite candid in telling us their transferees are happy with a DIY approach, as long as the technology is fast, engaging and accurate. They consider technology to be as much a part of the customer experience as interactions with a relocation counselor. They were very interested in hearing about what might be coming next and sharing their tech wish lists.

Up Next for the Industry

Overall, it was gratifying to enjoy the live give and take discussions and get unvarnished comments from corporate HR professionals. We’re looking forward to another round of talks at the World at Work Conference in Phoenix this October 4-6, 2021.

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