A s moving costs have soared and relocation volume has shrunk in recent years, more companies are seeking alternatives to moves such as allowing employees to work from home or participate in short-term assignments.
The number of relocations has dropped 10 percent since last year, from an average of 308 moves in 2001 to 276 moves in 2002, according to the Employee Relocation Council. Fear of terrorism and an aging workforce are factors that contribute to employees’ reluctance to move. The weak economy also is making organizations less inclined to relocate employees.
But there is a new element, says Margery Marshall, president of Prudential Relocation. Today, relocation is more about getting a person to do a job that requires specific skills than about moving an employee to give her exposure in a new market and help develop her career path. Rather than relocate a manager to train a new group of salespeople, help develop a new product or help facilitate a merger, for example, companies are sending that manager on 6- to 12-month assignments to get the job done. It’s less expensive for the company, and employees don’t have to permanently uproot their lives, Marshall says.
"We’ve seen a major uptick in the use of short-term assignments," she says. "Before, it was either ‘we relocate or we don’t.’ Companies now are saying, ‘Instead of moving employees for three to five years, maybe we just shorten it.’ " In a Prudential survey, 42 percent of over 170 companies questioned said that they use short-term assignments instead of relocating, 35 percent allow employees to work from home and 32 percent offer telecommuting, a combination of working from home and in the office. Some companies also have focused more on hiring locally instead of relocating someone to fill a job.
These alternatives, though, do create a more scattered workforce, Marshall says. Employees who work from home can feel disengaged and unsure about their career path. It’s also tough to monitor performance and communicate with employees who are located in a dozen different locations. "You really have to know how to hire and manage people that telecommute," Marshall says. "HR folks struggle with identifying people who can and want to do it." On the other hand, offering these options gives employees more flexibility. For organizations, it’s a way to recruit and retain talent that they might not be able to otherwise, and it places employees in more markets. It also can help organizations save money on office space and other facilities.
Workforce Management, November 2003, p. 50 -- Subscribe Now!