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Four Questions Mobility Managers Need to Ask When Navigating a Crisis

When a crisis hits, even the most strategic and detailed relocation plans can go off track. You may have thought a key employee would be on site for a three-year assignment, opening up the company’s LATAM office, but if unexpected political unrest or violent protests make it dangerous for a mobile employee to be in the country, it’s your duty to ensure the employee’s safety and get them out. Understanding the crisis at hand is crucial for mobility professionals to better evaluate its ramifications, tailor support for the needs of impacted mobile employees and to adapt relocation plans in response. The goal is clear: safeguarding mobile employee well-being and minimizing disruptions during a crisis is the top priority.  

By asking the following questions and consistently auditing and refining crisis management plans, mobility professionals can position themselves and the talent mobility function strategically as beacons of leadership and guidance during times of crisis.  

Question 1: What is the nature of and employee impact of the crisis? 

The first step in effective crisis management is understanding the specific crisis or scenario and its related nuances. A few types of crises mobility managers might face include: 

  • Natural disasters (e.g., catastrophic weather events, earthquakes) 
  • Geopolitical conflicts (e.g., Brexit, Ukraine conflict) 
  • Pandemics (e.g., COVID-19 and other outbreaks) 
  • Financial unrest (e.g., soaring inflation or currency devaluation in a host country) 

By pinpointing the unique characteristics of each crisis, mobility professionals can better anticipate the challenges and implications that may arise, allowing for more informed decision-making. It also will play a role in determining the timing and feasibility of a mobile employee's return to their assigned host city to continue business operations. 

Relocation managers and their teams should begin to manage a crisis by gathering relevant information about what’s happening on the ground from reliable sources and actively working with internal stakeholders and external partners. Information sources can include: 

  • Government agencies 
  • Reputable news outlets and industry-specific publications 
  • Destination, visa and immigration, and tax providers  

Plus, relocation management companies (RMCs)/relocation services providers are a great knowledge source to streamline information and communications from all these other sources. Staying informed allows for agile decision-making so that crisis management plans remain relevant and effective in the face of evolving circumstances.  

Once mobility professionals have a better understanding of the crisis at hand, they need to conduct a needs assessment to identify and analyze who the affected employees are, where they’re located and the risks to their safety and well-being, both physical and mental. One thing to keep in mind is that not all impacted employees are mobile employees; some may be traditional employees who are permanently based in the impacted city.  

Lastly, at the onset of a crisis, it’s important to connect with the company’s crisis task force — working collaboratively, rather than in silos, will create more efficient responses. In situations where time is limited, decision makers need to feel confident in swiftly identifying which employees in what locations are affected by the crisis to provide real-time support.  

Question 2: How can support and resources be tailored to meet the unique needs of impacted mobile employees? 

To minimize the negative impacts of the crisis, mobility professionals must provide customized support and resources that address the unique needs of mobile employees and their families. So, after establishing the nature of the crisis and the employee impacts, mobility professionals should then identify the specific support and services required based on each mobile employee’s circumstances. A few examples of this support might include: 

  • Making emergency housing arrangements 
  • Covering travel expenses 
  • Supplying additional cultural training 
  • Offering emotional support to both mobile employees and their families  
  • Utilizing an emergency hotline or chat channel 

For example, if an LGBTQ+ couple resides in a country or state that passes discriminatory laws while on assignment, it’s important to evaluate how this will affect their safety. Depending on the level of severity, this couple might need to be relocated to their point of origin or to a more accepting location. By partnering with experienced service providers, mobility professionals can provide the necessary resources and support and give mobile employees better peace of mind. 

Mobility professionals should keep in mind out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel costs, temporary housing fees, immigration services or shipping expenses, as well as who is responsible for those costs.  

Question 3: What should be considered when adapting relocation plans and timelines in response to unexpected challenges? 

Once mobility professionals have a grasp on what the crisis is, who it’s impacting and what those mobile employees need, it’s time to act. While executing whatever crisis relocation is necessary, consider potential infrastructure damage, transportation disruptions or government-imposed travel restrictions that could significantly impact relocation options and timelines. Regardless of the plan and timing, it’s important to:  

  • Maintain open and transparent communication with mobile employees 
  • Provide regular updates on changes being implemented 
  • Be available to address any questions or concerns  

It’s also necessary to understand financial implications on the business side when adapting relocation plans. This can mean evaluating costs associated with insurance, staffing, labor and the overall return on investment for the business. By assessing the fiscal impact and aligning it with the objectives of the mobility program, relocation managers will be better equipped to strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and meeting the needs of mobile employees.  

Question 4: Remobilization planning — what needs to be done after the initial crisis is supported? 

After mobile employees are out of immediate danger, mobility professionals can shift their focus to remobilization planning, including determining next steps for mobile employees who were already on assignment. Mobility professionals will need to decide if mobile employees should remain in an alternative location, return to the original assignment location or repatriate to their origin location. Be sure to stay connected with HR, internal leadership and other important stakeholders on an action plan.  

For paused relocations, meaning mobile employees who hadn’t yet left for their assignment, if the decision is made to proceed with the relocation as planned, mobility professionals will need to navigate and communicate the crisis impacts on the process and costs. This includes:  

  • Managing expectations  
  • Providing transparent communication to both mobile employees and company leaders 
  • Acknowledging that delays may occur as mobility teams and supplier partners work through any backlog or infrastructure challenges  

When all is said and done, conducting a comprehensive post-crisis assessment is important to shaping the strategies used in future crises. By aligning with best practices, regulatory requirements and incorporating lessons learned, mobility professionals can strengthen their responses to crises. 

Through continuous improvement and proactive crisis management, Graebel stands ready to support organizations in navigating the complexities of relocation during challenging times. Contact us today to learn more about the value of talent mobility, and how we can assist you in shaping and executing crisis plans, to ensure your mobility program and business rebound quickly amidst turbulence.  

Additional Resources on Crisis Management  

About the Author

Michelle Mara is Vice President of Mobility Strategy. A native of Minnesota, Michelle has been in the real estate and relocation industry for over 25 years. Prior to working in the relocation industry, she had a successful career in mortgage banking working in the loan origination and servicing areas of the industry. Michelle spent several years at Prudential Relocation as an onsite consultant and manager with Fortune 500 clients such as 3M and St. Paul Travelers before joining SIRVA Relocation as director of client services, managing one of their largest global accounts. She joined Graebel in 2006 and implemented and managed Graebel’s two largest accounts. She has also managed a number of departments and offices within Graebel. Michelle currently leads Graebel's mobility strategy team, which helps clients develop competitive policies and analyze their programs for efficiencies and other improvements. Michelle has received numerous awards such as the Chairman Circle Award and 100 percent client and team transferee satisfaction scores. She holds the Worldwide ERC® Certified Relocation Professional (CRP®) and Global Mobility Specialist (GMS-T®) designations. In addition, Michelle holds a Minnesota real estate license and GRI certificate.

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