Group moves present significant challenges

When it comes to packing up and moving an office to another city, HR’s job is to get employees on board

There are many considerations that have to be taken into account when a group of staff moves from one city to another. There are logistical and financial concerns, such as budgets to keep, deadlines to meet and infrastructure and technology to put in place.

But the most difficult part of the move — the human factor — doesn’t appear on a budget line. How employees are dealt with can have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line and its future performance.

This means the success of the group move ultimately rests with the senior HR leader, who is responsible for ensuring the human factor is managed well.

There are three key objectives in a group move: retain key employees, maintain business continuity and complete the move within the appropriate schedule and budget.

About half of all group moves in Canada involve between 10 and 25 employees. In some cases a department is being relocated, in others an entire head office leaves one city for another.

The defining factor in a group move is not the number of employees being moved, but the significance of the employees being relocated and how the relocation of the group will affect the operation of a business unit.

Surveys conducted by Royal LePage Relocation Services have shown that about half of all group moves are made as a result of a restructuring or reorganizing. About one-quarter are made because of acquisitions and mergers while another 15 per cent are made to cut costs by relocating to lower-cost areas.

But relocating employees is expensive. Royal LePage Relocation Services has found it costs an average of $100,000 to relocate an employee and her family. Relocating 25 employees, therefore, can cost an organization about $2.5 million.

In almost every case, the strategic decision to make a group move is driven by a need to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

However, a group move carries with it considerable risk because the potential for failure can undermine the primary objective. The move will only be as successful as the number of key employees who are willing to relocate and how well that move goes for them.

Employees often resist being relocated because of family, career or personal concerns. A group move amplifies those concerns because so many things are happening at once and careful co-ordination is needed. Also these moves, particularly those driven by restructuring or mergers and acquisitions, usually come at a time when employees are feeling a sense of personal disruption and vulnerability.

What to offer

One way to ensure a better chance of success is to develop an appropriate benefits and assistance package. Typical benefits and assistance to consider include:

•housing and mortgage assistance;

•orientation and training;

•financial planning and tax assistance;

•spousal support;

•educational support for children;

•house-hunting trips;

•moving of household goods;

•visa and immigration for international relocations; and

•elder-care programs to assist families with elderly relatives.

According to Anatomy of a Group Move, a 1997 study by relocation firm Runzheimer International, almost 90 per cent of employees who reject an offer to relocate do so based on family considerations.

The most successful group moves develop programs designed to reassure family members and assist them in the relocation process. Employers can help spouses find jobs in the new community and schedule orientation sessions to help the entire family adapt quickly to the new community.

Monitoring and measuring progress of a group move is not limited to budgets and timelines. Regular employee surveys and feedback sessions can provide early warning signs of problems and be a valuable source of ideas and suggestions as to how the group move can be improved and enhanced.

It is likely that even with all these programs in place, there will be employees still unwilling or unable to relocate.

At that point, the employer might work with the employee to find a similar job in the city of origin or, if there is no alternative, terminate and provide severance.

Solutions to these challenges are not easy nor can they be managed with a “cookie-cutter” approach.

Talking to employees

While open and honest communication should be a basic tenet of all employee moves, the circumstances under which a group move is made requires careful management of what is said to whom and when. The employees are the target audience and will require the most communication before, during and after the move. The more they know, the more comfortable they will be.

Regularly scheduled communications such as personal meetings, phone calls, e-mails, newsletters and websites should all be part of the communication strategy.

A resource centre where employees can get the information they need to plan their move gives them and their families easy access to important information they need and is a tangible demonstration the company cares about their welfare.

Ultimately, a successful group move will retain a company’s key employees, maintain business continuity and be completed within the appropriate schedule and budget.

Taking steps such as developing an effective communication plan, establishing appropriate policies and procedures and initiating relocation benefits and assistance to manage the challenges to the employees and their families will ensure a greater chance of success.

Tim Verbic is the national director, business development and marketing with Royal LePage Relocation Services in Toronto. He can be contacted at [email protected] or visit www.rlrs.com.

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