Industry Updates from 2021 Global Workforce Symposium

The largest industry gathering in two years gave mobility professionals the opportunity to gather in breakout industry verticals to focus on specific lessons learned and look to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

In this second of two articles, we take a topline look at some of the insights from the Global Workforce Symposium Industry Breakouts. With more than 800 mobility professionals in attendance, the group was able to take detailed reviews of eight vertical markets. In this installation, we focus on Real Estate, Technology, Mortgage, and Employee and Family Support verticals. If you missed the first installation, be sure to look at Industry Updates a Highlight of the 2021 Global Workforce Symposium, where Immigration, Relocation Management, Corporate Housing, and Moving and Shipping were covered. For a deeper dive into these and every other session presented at GWS 2021, audio files will be available in the Worldwide ERC Learning Portal in December 2021.

 

Employee and Family Support

The pandemic altered family life in profound ways on short notice, forcing many to adapt residential space into long-term shared office and school space and grapple with new communication technologies and virtual workarounds without losing too much time and productivity. Expatriates faced the same challenges along with a host of uncertainties that could be as unique as their assignment and family.

Mobility professionals became the front line in supporting this workforce, fashioning bespoke solutions to problems, finding and disseminating urgent information in new channels, and providing that connection to headquarters and home countries that could seem suddenly tenuous. Relaying protocols through partner networks, hosting virtual coffees, and acting as a critical listening post mobility professionals provided structure that ex-pats relied on as roles shifted and priorities changed.

The need for increased spousal support also came in new and expanded forms. In some situations, that meant connecting ex-pats with clinicians and mental health resources when emotional support was required. As the nature of support shifted to emerging demands, it was often up to the mobility professional to discern what was needed and find ways to deliver. One takeaway from the pandemic will likely include more benefits, such as a more permanent shift to enhanced mental health support with many companies. Like many elements of the larger human resources portfolio, mental health support requires a level of confidentiality and the processes and policies that ensure it.

Other lessons learned included how organizations can help deliver education and assist with disruptions in childcare. Above all, flexibility is required to provide visible, tangible solutions and meet the objectives of the day. Ultimately it comes down to understanding what families need and thinking creatively about how to meet them in novel situations.

Many are now turning their attention to the fiscal impact of meeting expatriate needs. While the expatriate family will remain a vital part of workforce management, many are currently discussing a potential demographic shift. It will also be essential to clarify how family support has been enhanced by lessons learned in the pandemic for people to continue to view foreign postings as an opportunity for the whole family.

Despite the challenges, mobility has emerged as a more vital partner with transferees and their organizations. Its role has taken on more talent acquisition, retention, and management elements as it evolves into a more visible bond with the global workforce.

 

Technology

"In God we trust. All others must bring data." W. Alfred Deming spoke of the importance of business analytics in his famous quote about data, but mobility professionals in Chicago for GWS were talking about data that is larger than any single organization. The technologies mobility is using to ingest, add value, and share data amongst an industry of collaborators is less about mastering data than being good stewards of it.

As more information is digitized, the opportunities to make companies more efficient are becoming opportunities to improve the end-to-end process across a relocation.

Prominent players in the relocation space adopted technologies that were somewhere on a product roadmap with clear urgency during the pandemic. Agile new companies formed around the potential for technologies to improve customer service and meet customer expectations.

Fluid and dynamic became the "new normal" as automation platforms were leveraged to replace manual processes that often became simply and suddenly unaffordable. Communications technologies were also rushed into implementation as workforces were often physically disbanded even as workloads increased. Automation also became a crucial tool in dealing with compliance issues that became increasingly complex as policies and processes were adapted to new realities.

Looking ahead, mobility professionals anticipate more systems-thinking to enhance connections in which service providers' systems interact at their level, and analytics and work-flows allow each stakeholder to recognize and solve problems more quickly. Collaborations will be driven by those who are best able to share data in ways that create value both within their organization and with their partners.

 

Mortgage

Ultimately the mortgage industry is about opportunities and possibilities and the free flow of the funding that makes them possible. The mortgage industry has witnessed tremendous growth in the past two years as pandemics and supply chain issues tend to make interest rates drop. This access to capital at a bargain rate provided a good time for organizations and individuals to self-check and consider the somewhat contrarian view of crisis as opportunity. For many, that meant re-financing existing obligations; for others, it meant making new investments.

The biggest challenge the mortgage industry encountered was the slow-down of real estate appraisals. But as lock-downs closed title offices, and property tours became unfeasible, the industry responded with overdue innovation in the form of hybrid appraisals, video tours, and a facility with working remotely.

The new prospect of working remotely created a generational boom in housing demand amongst mortgage customers driving down inventory and driving up prices. Priorities changed with the pandemic as buyers began looking for more space in locations they had previously never considered feasible. Many buyers rushed to put bids over the asking price on properties they had never seen, as properties were snatched up as soon as they hit the market. Keeping up with the frenetic pace presented a more significant challenge even than the sheer number of contacts.

With the lessons of the 2008 recession still fresh, the mortgage industry was collectively able to assist many clients with forbearance, allowing people struggling with pandemic hardships to keep their homes until they could regain their footing. In the early days of the pandemic, many firms had difficulty keeping up with the sheer number of customer contacts, and increasing capacity was a challenge. There was also a need to be proactive about sharing information with customers dealing with unfamiliar processes at a particularly stressful time.

Millennials are the newest generation to have come to the market as first-time home buyers bringing priorities and values characteristic of their generation. These clients expect experiences that blend seamlessly with their user habits, platforms, and pace. They expect their data to have preceded them and their vendors to know things about them they don't often know about themselves offhand. Affordability is an essential factor with millennials in this market, and adjustable-rate and 40-year mortgages are a point of conversation.

The mortgage industry is now paying particular attention to its third-party suppliers and vendors with the expectation of constant innovation. API strategies are top of mind as the industry runs on data that seeks the easiest path. With all that comes new attention to security and privacy as risk vectors multiply with every convenience.

Looking ahead, the consensus is that rates will be increasing sooner than later, and re-financing will slow in equal measure. Housing inventory is expected to improve as the construction supply chain improves, though when that precisely will happen is a matter of some debate.

 

Real Estate

For the real estate industry, the rush was on, and the rush was virtual. From the initial meetings to the virtual showings, the real estate sector moved out on the rim of technological change. The greatest real estate boom in generations was at once everywhere and driven from couches in distant cities. While the volume of relocation buyers actually fell during the pandemic, the pace of change forced real estate professionals to change how they did business. It was not a re-invention as many of the changes were strategic plans and technology implementation schedules. But real estate professionals make livelihoods out of out-competing rivals, and technology separated those who would make deals from the many who would miss. Agents became video producers as the era of shaky videos, and poor lighting became so 2019. Drone-led and 3D tours became required fashion, and buyer convenience and expectation led the way.

And yet, in a time of so much technology, the agent's role has never been more apparent as an indispensable and trusted third party. Sellers still don't understand disclosure laws, and buyers are not the savvy negotiators they often think they are. Technology allows people to take themselves further into the process of real estate shopping without an agent and often will enable them to get in over their heads. In some areas, lawsuits have increased as virtual buyers, and "blind" buyers moved into homes that were far different than their expectations and optimism had led them to believe. It falls on the real estate agent to make that case, though, and to clearly communicate the value proposition they represent.

Looking into 2022, real estate professionals believe relocation and mobility will be as big as ever. Most see substantial pent-up demand for international moves and short-term and temporary assignments that may increase as remote work creates a new need for a cadence of human connection.

Policies for temporary housing and rentals require revision and must allow for additional time and lump sums that many resisted are here to stay. Lead generation companies are now an industry fixture and bring discounted commissions to the table. Real estate professionals must be thorough in the review of their contracts.

Climate change is a wild card that is having an increasing impact. Every ecosystem is undergoing unique transformations as fires and tornados increase in scope and range, and land-locked areas can require flood insurance for the first time. For many, new insurance expenses are putting properties that were once affordable beyond reach.

This article and the one that preceded it were gleaned from conversations and presentations that were the fruit of just 800 mobility professionals. These brief summaries only touch on the depth of information exchanged over three days in Chicago last month. They are a glimpse of what a community of professionals with a shared sense of purpose and diverse range of expertise and experience has to offer. We urge you—the 5,000+ members of the Worldwide ERC® community—to stay in conversation with one another and with us, in the online Communities, in your personal exchanges, and in upcoming Worldwide ERC® events.

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