Moving During a Pandemic

The level of uncertainty due to COVID-19 has affected both the personal and professional well-being of people across the four corners of the world. The virus has placed the economy in a gut-wrenching standstill. Referred to as the ‘new normal’ or ‘living with Covid-19’ people have been forced to become creative in how they carry out their daily activities. This includes relocating and moving during a pandemic. 

Now that we’re in month eight of COVID, the World Health Organization (WHO) and world leaders aren’t really thinking about comfort. World leaders are thinking about survival. The pandemic has affected family, relationships, work, and education.

Some organizations worldwide have faced huge changes, some of them life-altering. Some businesses are shutting down and others are cutting down on staff left and right. Though we are living in an unprecedented time, there are companies who have pivoted in order to continue doing business.

Contactless Moving in a Pandemic

One such industry that has been greatly affected is the relocation industry, also known as global mobility.

Relocation companies have been using contactless services as much as possible to help people who are moving during the Coronavirus pandemic. These services could include:

  • finding an apartment/home for the newly relocated family or individual
  • vetting or touring a new elementary school or high school for the expats’ children
  • long-distance school enrollment of the assignees children or even starting at a new school online

    So, how are relocation companies handling this? We reached out to several partners to find out.

Relocation with Travel Restrictions

The new normal has now caused a shift in the way relocation companies and assignees fine-tune their agreements. In many cases, there is no choice but to use the technological options available to get tasks done as the restrictions per country limit movement and contact.

Yolanda Blomjous from Situ – Global Corporate Accommodation Specialists in Europe shared with us that the relocation process has been picking up the pace again since September – “We seem to still have people relocating but mainly the ones who are based in Europe without current border restrictions. Employees from the US and APAC are not travelling at the moment.”

Some companies like Google, Southwest Airlines, General Motors and many others are having their staff work from home until the end of the year.

Blomjous also states, “I’m hearing Q1 – Q2 2021 for everyone to return to work, but nobody really knows, as it depends on whether Corona is getting worse or better.”

Jeremy Berthoux, president of Home Conseil gave us some insight on the relocation of clients in France – “Volumes have definitely picked up in Sep/Oct 2020 for those relocating into France thanks to the partial reopening of French borders for select immigration statuses.”

In India, companies are a little more cautious with the number of persons relocating. CEO and founder of Resettle, Shradha Mithal, explained, “Yes, movement has begun, but just the main assignee and not any accompanying family members. Visas are not being issued as yet to dependents.”

Movement is restricted in Sri Lanka, with the borders being closed. Sarah Samoon of Magellan Champlain discussed, “Borders are being closed, or in Sri Lanka we’re having to get special permission, and the decision-making process is very discretion-based, making it quite taxing for HR and the assignees and even the immigration reps like us.”

House Hunting During a Pandemic

Norway has a low number of COVID-19 cases, which means that the home hunting process is actually quite normal. Brenda Levis of NYC Navigator shared, “Home-finding works as per normal, except that some assignees want to start home finding during their quarantine period, so we conduct video viewings for them.”

In September, India had a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, which caused the house-hunting process to change its course. “We shifted to a virtual model, followed by a final physical viewing of the final pre-selected homes. It is working beautifully and it helps us maintain duty of care towards our clients as well as employees, and save costs.” Mithal discussed.

In France, contactless services go even further due to the restriction of movement faced by people who are allowed in the country. Berthoux shared with us the process both assignees and consultants are using. “Our consultant conducts visits alone based on the proposal and subsequent choices of the assignees, making sure to provide valuable insight to make up for that loss of information (what is the actual lighting, mood, noise level of the property, for example).” Though the process is tedious, most companies are trying to limit interactions and are taking advantage of digital platforms.

Learning Culture and Language in a Pandemic

The importance of learning culture is significant to any assignee. Cultural training helps the assignee and the family to more easily interact with locals (employees, neighbors, teachers, make friends and more). COVID-19 has limited our interactions, so how are companies fulfilling this service seamlessly? And how are assignees able to assimilate if they cannot interact with anyone?

Traci Snowden, CEO and founder of Apto Global, shared with us some of the ways they are coping with the new normal – “We have noticed a major migration from offline to online cultural training – particularly through our online social learning community and sharing, as well as through private, restricted content and providing practical interventions and “backyard” learning moments.”

Not everyone has adjusted to online platforms, such as Zoom. Levis, from NYC Navigation, expressed they still do face-to-face meet ups – “We are still conducting cultural training 1-2-1. This is done after the assignee and their family have completed their quarantine period and are free of symptoms. We started doing some Zoom sessions but found that personal meetups work best.”

Due to the pandemic, many companies are sticking to online services, whilst others have totally scrapped their cultural programs – such as Magellan Champlain who have not conducted any in-person or online sessions – “We always did 1 on 1 training online and in person, but since COVID-19 we have not done any cultural programs,” Samoon confirmed.

Virtual School During Coronavirus

Virtual learning is the way forward but with families moving across the country, or to different continents, the decision of schooling is pivotal due to the absence of physical learning. The question parents have to answer at this moment is – Should children continue at their previous school or will they enroll in a new one? Now that school is online, parents have options when deciding what institution is best for their child. Most countries are being cautious and navigating the virtual learning space as their current base.

Due to the low number of Covid-19 cases in countries such as Norway, physical school continues. “We have not seen too much of this since schools are open as normal in Norway and children start school once they arrive in Norway and complete their quarantine period. Most schools do not allow visits at this point but the admissions officers are always willing to speak to parents,” Brenda shares. France also shares a similar reality – “Schools are open but do not permit visits, so virtual schooling assistance becomes the norm with assignees relying on our local experience,” Berthoux explained.

Getting Over Fear

It’s no surprise that assignees are nervous to make a big move. After all, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and moving affects one’s entire life, and many times the lives of an entire family. The fear definitely will be amplified based on where the employee is assigned. But the truth is, relocation companies are very aware of the contactless services needed in each country and are taking off some of the pressure coming from COVID-19.

Norway’s experience is a positive one that we all hope to get back to. Assignees gladly move with little to no gaps in the process. Levis shares, “Assignees and families are quite happy to move here. So far, the trend is for families to move together.”