As we end 2011, we reflect on where the relocation industry has
been and where it’s headed. Rather than pontificate ourselves, we reached out
to one of the foremost experts, Ms. Peggy Smith
, Chief Executive Officer of
for a candid interview. Here’s what she had to say.
Question: According to the latest Worldwide ERC Transfer and Volume Survey
(2011), relocation activity began to increase in 2010 and is expected to
continue to grow. What do you see for 2012 in terms of relocation growth and in
what areas (new hires, experienced, global, types of industries, etc.)?
Ms. Smith: I keep saying that flat is the “new up”… meaning, of course, that
we feel fortunate as an industry if we can maintain and not lose any traction
that we’ve gained in the last year or so. From an industry perspective, we’re
hearing that volume will be up modestly. I was pleased to see that in a recent
survey of hiring intentions that the U.S. hiring outlook for early 2012 appears
to be the most promising since 2008: it noted that 14 percent of employers expect
to add to their workforce in the first three months of 2012.
Question: Coming from the corporate sector, you have a strong history in the
relocation industry. How do you feel the industry has changed, if at all,
permanently due to the last three to five year of economic challenges?
Ms. Smith: There’s more customization of programs and policies – this serves
two purposes. First, it allows a company to individualize assistance when possible
for the range of employees and needs that we have in the workplace today, and
it also helps control costs by “sizing” benefits appropriately to either proven
or untested talent. There’s more incorporation of mobility within the talent
management structure. And there is certainly more change coming in worldwide
mobility patterns based on a country’s commitment to growth and corporate
Question: Employee reluctance continues to rise, primarily due to the real
estate market and the fact that one in four Americans is underwater on their
mortgage. What top three strategies have you seen at Worldwide ERC of how
corporations are working with employees to mitigate these challenges?
Ms. Smith: One significant shift we’ve seen is that pre-decision counseling
programs are now an integral part of the domestic relocation process. Some of
the other ways our member companies changed policy include incorporating
“incent to rent” programs, property management services at origin if a family
decides not to sell; and the development of long-term commuter benefits (e.g.,
so that the employee can continue to live at their current location, but
commutes back and forth to the HQ as needed).
Question: As an organization, what do you feel is most valuable as a resource
in today’s economy to your membership? What tools make the most impact to them?
Ms. Smith: The ability to benchmark within the mobility industry is very
powerful. For our corporate and government employer members, we have two
benchmarking forums – one for global and one for U.S. issues – where, 24/7, our
employer members can pose a question and get responses in seconds from their
peers – that’s a phenomenal benefit in our rapid-fire environment. Because
investing in training in a tight economy is a concern, we have gotten great
response to our webinar series, where a member can access a free or moderately
priced webinar and invite multiple employees to attend. We have opened our live
meeting programs on a complimentary basis to corporations who haven’t attended
within the last 3 years so they can experience our conferences… and it expands
the corporate community and mindshare for other corporate and relocation
members. We’re also expanding our government relations resources, which are
already searchable and accessible online, to address more global issues in
addition to the strong base of U.S. information we have.
Question: With the ongoing advent of technology and the ability for employees
to work from anywhere in many positions, telecommuting has continued to grow
over the past ten years. Do you feel that this will have an impact on
Smith: Good question! The short answer is “yes.” There
is no doubt that the ability to work remotely changes the scenario for an
industry where physically moving someone to the job has traditionally been
necessary to achieve a strategic outcome. Time will show us the full effect of
technology on the mobility industry, and I believe we’ll see a creative mix of
traditional and new work options. We’ve seen some work structures that are a
product of our current business environment: short-term assignments and
extended business travel are a couple of the most prominent. And telecommuting
is gaining ground as more employees have the ability to effectively work at a distance
with the technology we have today. But the other side of this issue, as most
employers will tell you, is that not every job can be executed well at a
distance, no matter how sophisticated the technology. So much of what must
happen on the global front, for example, is relationship-driven, and we need to
recruit and manage talent with a global mindset who can forge fresh business
channels and partnerships for a company in a new frontier.
Thank you to Ms. Smith for taking the time to
participate in our blog this month and share her views and expertise with our
team. We appreciate your insight and your time. In short, the relocation
industry is one, like many in today’s economic climate, which is changing.
Unlike past cycles where there are more ups and downs, this period of change is
more of an evolution where the process is changing and the dynamics of relocation
We wish all of our readers a very Happy New
Year and we look forward to 2012.