COVID-19 and its impact on the relocation industry

Mar 31 | 2020

Industry experts weigh in on the tough questions.

On Wednesday, 25 March 2020, a panel of leading relocation experts discussed how global companies are handling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic across a range of industries. Panelists shared insights on how the crisis has impacted every part of the relocation process, including real estate, transferee welfare, household goods moving, immigration and visa process and expatriated workers. The virtual roundtable, which featured global experts from Marriott International, Snowflake and UnitedHealthcare, was hosted by Sterling Lexicon, a leading provider of global relocation services.

“The key is taking a flexible approach and reviewing each case individually – there is no one-size-fits-all solution in situations like this,” said May Caffi, Senior Director of Relocation Services for Marriott International. “There is a mixture of a lot of different things going on, and people caught in the middle of all this are either trying to get home or get back to work.”

Caffi was one of four panellists at the webinar, which was moderated by Teela Gleason, Senior Vice President of Global Client Relations for The Suddath Companies (parent company of Sterling Lexicon). The other panellists (bios below) were Dr Amit Arwindekar, Chief Medical Officer of North American UnitedHealthcare; Benjamin Holley, National Vice President of UnitedHealthcare; and Amanda Brown, Global Mobility Senior Program Manager for Snowflake. 

“I know the information shared today was well received, very relevant, and we had a lot of attendees listening in,” said Gleason, describing the importance of such a discussion amid the historic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. “We want to make sure that we share essential information so that other companies have the most relevant and specific information with regards to the relocation market as we navigate through this unprecedented time.” 

As the panellists discussed their expectations about the foreseeable future, one overarching theme emerged: the importance of flexibility. For example, they noted, expats across every industry most likely will not be able to travel home anytime soon due to government travel restrictions and flight cancellations. It is vital during these times for employers to have a plan of action to keep in contact with their employees until they are able to return home. 

“Getting up-to-date information out to employees has been a challenge for certain organisations, due to how the current information is changing so rapidly, because different governments have different restrictions in place and employees are now no longer able to leave,” said UnitedHealthcare’s Holley. “So, finding a way that you can get information or push alerts to them in real time has been something that we've seen a lot of interest in.”

The reality laid out by Dr Arwindekar is that implications from the pandemic may last months rather than weeks, and companies should take that into consideration when making plans for relocations. 

“Although the challenges are there, the day-to-day has been a struggle trying to determine what we're doing with the mobility of individuals – not necessarily having a plan in place but building the plan as we go along,” said Brown. “We're doing the best we can with what we can, and definitely utilising the technology around us.”

One positive outcome brought to light during the discussion is how this strenuous time has forged powerful bonds of camaraderie across the industry and the country.

“It was a pleasure moderating an extraordinary webinar that brought together several of the industry's most respected global relocation and medical professionals,” said Gleason. “The discussion provided tremendous insights into how these national brands are handling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

To listen to the roundtable discussion in full, please click here

Is this the new normal?

Panellist Biographies: 

May Caffi, SCRP, SGMS-T – An industry veteran, Caffi began her career in relocation in 1984 with Marriott. As senior director of relocation & immigration services, she has oversight and responsibility for a team of mobility professionals that manage global relocations and immigration. Caffi earned her SCRP and SGMS-T accreditations from Worldwide ERC and served on the RDC Advisory Council Board in 2019. 

Amanda Brown – Brown is the senior manager for global mobility at Snowflake, a cloud-based data-warehousing startup that was founded in 2012 and is located in San Mateo, California. She joined the company in July 2019 to build a global mobility programme from the ground up. Previously, Brown worked as the senior manager of global mobility for ServiceNow in Santa Clara, California.

Benjamin Holley – Holley is national vice president for UnitedHealthcare, based in New York. He is responsible for global growth initiatives that support expatriate insurance, assistance and risk, global medical and other cross-border solutions. Prior to joining UnitedHealthcare, he spent several years with William Gallagher & Associates working as an international consultant, where he advised clients on expatriate benefits, multinational pooling, local benefit placement and a range of other international employee benefit topics. 

Dr Amit Arwindekar – Dr Arwindekar is a physician executive, clinical leader and educator specialising in acute care for globally mobile populations. As the North American medical director for UnitedHealthcare Global, he specialised in cross-border medical care, evacuation, medical transportation, complex case management, and innovations in medical services to meet the needs of globally mobile citizens. Dr Arwindekar received his medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine and his MBA from the McDonough School of Business, before competing specialist training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago.