Fitting all the pieces together for an employee move is a conundrum that’s increasingly falling in the travel manager’s lap
by: Bryan Yurcan
As companies around the globe continue to react to changing economic forces, one outcome is the increasing need for employees to relocate for work. However, moving people – whether for long-term assignments or permanent job changes – can pose significant logistical challenges for businesses. There are issues with work visas and local requirements, models for reimbursement are changing, and businesses need understand the differences in tax codes from one jurisdiction to the next.
With the post-pandemic shift in global work patterns, the job of handling corporate relocation and partnering with third-party relocation specialists is increasingly falling to the travel manager. Furthermore, the open-ended nature of relocation as well as the requirement to handle multiple non-employee travelers (such as the employee’s immediate family) adds complexity, according to Matthew Beck, senior director of sales operations at Serko. “And it's not just a one-off either. There may be pre-trips required to find housing and get things set up in the relocation destination, along with the relocation itself, and periodic returns during the tenure of the employee in the case of expat assignments,” he says.
Indeed, there are so many details and if even one gets overlooked, it can throw a huge wrench into the relocation experience. Carol McDonagh, US director of client success at Reed & Mackay has firsthand experience with this situation. McDonagh recalls having moved from the UK to Philadelphia with Reed & Mackay to oversee the company’s Client Success strategy in the US.
“Every move will be different, but I found details such as shipping, temporary accommodation and the specific details of visas (I initially had a three-year visa, with the option to renew for two years, which gave me a working timeline from the beginning) created the challenges,” McDonagh explains.
That’s why arranging or assisting with corporate relocation requires a different approach and timeline versus managing typical transient corporate travel. Each country has a mandated list of government requirements for relocation, and those administrative details often have to be completed and approved months before the physical relocation. Travel managers need to understand the individual nuances, complexities and requirements of the relocation package and destination, says McDonagh.
“The challenges relate to the nature of the relocation parameters (for example, if the employee is relocating alone, or if they have a family, maybe with children requiring school placements) this will create additional considerations,” she adds. “Challenges can relate to unmarried partners moving without a recognized legal status, the availability of suitable accommodation and logistical elements, such as cars and schools. Additionally, ensuring the timelines of the required start dates align with all of the travel and relocation requirements would require a specialist travel manager to oversee every detail and owning the entire journey for best success.”
Compounding these challenges is the fact that the relocation business is also rife with manual processes and fee stacking that can increase the costs of needed services, says Greeley Koch, director of the Americas for The Apartment Network. To be successful, Koch says, travel managers need three things: Education, collaboration and resource utilization.
Education involves “investing in training and workshops that delve into the complexities of relocations, taxation and compliance,” he says. “This equips travel managers with the knowledge needed to navigate the changing landscape.” He also advises travel managers that building relationships with their HR teams, legal advisors, and experts in international taxation provides valuable insights and guidance.
Finally, Koch says it is crucial to leverage online resources, industry forums and networking opportunities, which can offer practical insights from those who have successfully managed relocations.
“Relocating can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for employees and their families,” cautions Ann Marie Stone, VP customer success, global operations, for CWT. “It can even have a negative impact on employee morale and productivity if not handled properly. There are multiple factors to consider including consultation on international entry requirements, long term and temporary accommodation, car rental, and animal travel and advice, so providing employees and their families with high touch, personalized planning and on-trip support is key.” The Right Relo Partner Working with a third-party firm that specializes in both domestic and international relocation can greatly improve the chances of success and avoiding snags that can impede the process, Stone adds. Travel managers who are deciding which relocation specialists to work with should ensure the potential partner’s staff are highly skilled, trained and experienced in business travel relocation, offering out-of-hours and on-trip support.
Furthermore, Stone notes, relocation is an issue that will only continue to become more prevalent. A survey by moving specialist Atlas Van Lines found that around 60 percent of companies anticipate an increase in employee relocations in 2023. “Some companies want employees back closer to the office, while restrictive visa policies are also prompting companies to relocate employees abroad to hold onto key talent,” according to Stone.
Koch advises travel managers to look for certain qualities in a relocation partner, such as specialists with a proven track record in managing diverse relocations – either domestically or internationally – and those who offer comprehensive services covering visa and immigration support, tax advisory, housing assistance, and cultural integration.
“Selecting the right relocation specialists requires a thorough assessment of their capabilities and expertise,” Koch explains. “Also, the travel manager needs to understand how the revenue flows and how fees get added by the various relocation services providers. This is no different than the corporate travel industry. The lessons learned by the travel manager for the corporate travel industry can now be applied to the relocation side of the business.” It’s also important to seek feedback from peers in the industry and existing clients to gauge any potential partner’s reputation and reliability, and ensure they can offer a customized service. “A flexible and tailored approach to meet specific company needs is crucial,” Koch says.
McDonagh agrees and adds that relocation partners should have an understanding of the needs of the company they are working with. “In order to ensure the project goes ahead as planned, it is advisable to partner with a specialist travel manager to oversee the required details for the relocation for the benefit of all parties. Working with a specialist travel manager with experience of corporate relocation and an understanding of the company’s own relocation policies is also advisable,” she notes.
In some cases, companies may not need to bring on board an entirely new partner for help with relocation logistics, says Beck. “If relocation is a small niche within a much broader travel program, then it's worth seeing how your current service and technology providers can support you,” he says. “In our case, we developed Zeno Concierge, a non-employee guest travel solution that can support relocations in partnership with your TMC. Zeno Concierge has been built from the ground up to manage situations like relocation, specifically around non-employee travel or specific use-case travel and reimbursement.”
Navigating International Waters When it comes specifically to international relocation, there are a number of wide-ranging intricacies that are unique to each country, says McDonagh. For the US, she notes, there are requirements covering visas, including those granting the right to work (sometimes referred to as a work permit), tax accreditation, employment paperwork, and in some cases certifications of medical fitness.
“A travel manager can work with companies to oversee the completion and collation of these documents and, if required, assist with sourcing accommodation, and make preparations for arrival and the ‘on the ground’ elements of the relocation,” McDonagh says.
Having a clear agenda set out at the start of the journey, ensuring all documentation is available and having oversight of the corporate colleague’s availability to attend embassy appointments and any other administrative meetings related to the relocation is highly beneficial. It is also essential the travel manager has a clear understanding of what will and will not be reimbursed by the company ahead of any arrangements being made, says McDonagh, who adds that a travel manager overseeing the relocation will need an outline of what is included in any reimbursement package in order to manage any charges associated with the move.
“At Reed & Mackay we work in partnership with our corporate clients to create custom travel programs which meet the specific requirements of their individual corporate requirements,” she explains. “Within these programs, we can incorporate a broad and specific range of requirements and parameters to cover the many nuances of travel, and in some cases, relocation.”
It is also advisable to provide the relocating employee with an overview of what to expect in terms of local culture, traditions, public holidays, religious observances, taxes, emergency numbers and even guides on preferred areas for accommodations, schools and commuter stations, she adds.
The right technology can also be a big aid in properly executing relocations. “From a travel and expense support perspective, the technology should make submission of expenses as pain-free as possible, including photo-based receipt scanning, relevant categories specific to relocation, and quick reimbursement as expenses can exceed the credit limit of an employee very quickly if not managed in a timely manner,” Beck says.
Koch also cautions that companies should familiarize themselves with tax treaties between the home and host countries to address potential double taxation issues, research healthcare systems and check to see that employees have access to proper medical facilities, and verify that they are compliant with employment laws and regulations in the host country. “International relocations require meticulous planning and consideration of multiple factors,” he concludes.