The challenges and opportunities of helping Indian clients to relocate

Marianne Curphey speaks to Simon Johnston, CEO of Icon Relocation, one of the fastest growing relocation companies in the UK, about the challenges of relocating employees from India to destinations around the globe.

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India has huge potential – both inbound and outbound – and it is a country that has seen rapid cultural and economic changes over the past few years.Until recently, Indian assignees were not supported by their companies when relocating in the same way that employees from the UK might expect to be supported. Instead of receiving advice and financial compensation for the move, many Indian companies sent their staff abroad with a plane ticket and some temporary arrangements for accommodation.

Global mobility in relation to India

This is now changing, says Simon Johnston, CEO of Icon Relocation, which helps companies prepare, support and move employees across the globe. He will be talking at the Festival of Global People about the challenges and opportunities of global mobility, particularly with reference to India, and the rapid growth in digital solutions as a way of supporting clients and managing costs.Simon, who is Chair of the Association of Relocations Professionals (ARP), will be speaking on Day 1 of Relocate’s Festival of Global People in London on May 14. He joins more than 30 keynotes speakers and internationally renowned experts to address the burning issues around relocation and global mobility today.

Corporate housing solutions

“We have looked after short-term business travellers for two decades and provided corporate housing solutions for many clients,” he explains. “While that is still a large part of our work, we are also providing digital solutions for clients who want to support their staff before, as well as during, the assignment.”He says that, unlike business travellers coming from the UK or US, the majority of people who relocate from India do not get a package from their employer.“They tend to get a plane ticket and temporary accommodation or Airbnb until they find their own housing,” he says.This is now changing, driven by a need to improve the relocation experience for staff, and to ensure that the client is protected from problems that the relocating employee might unwittingly cause.

Improving staff retention rates

“Much of the change in the market has been driven by the need to improve staff retention rates,” he explains. “For many assignees coming from India, it is often the first time they have left the country and they can find it very stressful to have to find their own property. If things don’t go well, they might not stay on the assignment.“In terms of productivity, they are taking time of work to sort out housing and other personal issues and that affects the billable time that the company can charge them out at. It means they are being less productive. If they are stressed and unhappy, they may end up cutting short their assignment, or coming home for good – neither of which is a good outcome for the employer.“We can talk to the assignee, help them to understand what it will mean to move abroad, help them draw up a list of potential properties they might like to live in. All this means they are a lot less stressed and their productivity can go up – it makes them a happier employee.”

Pre-trip preparation

Icon Relocation helps assignees with pre-trip preparation, such as house hunting, and supports employers in their duty of care.“We can speak to assignees digitally or physically and help them to prepare for relocation and prevent them from making mistakes, for example signing restrictive or unfair housing contracts,” he says. “They can talk to us, or we can provide a complete self-managed solution where they do the searches themselves, on a full digital platform.”Technology is moving so quickly that innovation solutions are now being used that weren’t even invented two years ago, he says.“Using our platform also helps to prevent employers from being hit by hidden costs,” he says. “Assignees may rent a property on an incorrect contract – one that has no break clause, or is for 18 months instead of 12, or requires a three- month notice period. If a mistake is made, then when an assignee needs to come back, the client often has to buy them out of the contract.“Our intervention means that we can advise the assignee on the proper way to handle contracts, and we and the client know exactly what they have signed into. We guide them to make sure that they are not signing something that would be detrimental to their employer, and we can step in if necessary to protect them and the company.”

Employer’s duty of care

There is also the employer’s duty of care - to make sure that when the assignee moves to the UK they are making the right choices about accommodation and not exposing the company to legal recriminations or brand damage.“We make sure that staff are properly housed, with a proper contract in legal accommodation,” he says. “Sometimes assignees might be tempted to skimp on the quality of the housing they live in in order to maximise their money, but this can reflect badly on their employer if they are housed in poor quality or illegal accommodation.“We make sure they are not living somewhere that is detrimental for them or for their company – and that includes making sure they are not breaking the law, or that they have signed a contract that is difficult for them to get out of should their circumstances change.”He says changes in the market are progressing rapidly, and there are always new innovations.Simon has been involved in relocation for over 29 years, starting with Black Horse Relocation in 1988. He has worked with Nestlé as their 'in-house' Mobility Manager with overall accountability for bringing ten different divisions, and a multitude of locations, within the group together under a common relocation approach. In early 2000, Simon was invited to start the Move Management Department for Interdean, to provide a range of relocation management solutions to their clients in the UK and worldwide.

About Icon Relocation

Simon launched Icon Relocation in September 2001 and quickly built a solid client base across a wide range of industries for both UK and International destination services. He has led Icon to recognition as one of the fastest growing relocation companies in the UK, with a multi-million pound turnover, exceptional client retention and a reputation for service excellence. Simon is on the ARP, TIRA and NEI Global Advisory Boards.Icon Relocation provides Home Search with world class digital support via award-winning, experienced teams; support for business travellers, plus new hires and graduates; arranges accommodation at a fraction of the cost of hotels and serviced accommodation and a multi-quote removals service.Icon Relocation is one of the sponsors of the Festival of Global People, the premier event for Global managers, HR and Global Mobility Specialists, CEOs, Directors and department heads looking to drive growth, manage and develop global talent and innovate in complex international markets.“At a time of rapid change in our industry, the Festival is a great opportunity to meet other mobility professionals, share insights, gain ideas and inspiration, and discuss what does and doesn’t work for staff and clients,” Simon says.“It’s a great place to swap ideas, try out new approaches, and network in a relaxed and friendly environment. I’m chairman of ARP and I’ve been on the advisory board for NEI, the large American relocation company, so I’m always keen to put something back and support the industry. I am delighted to sponsor the Festival because of its atmosphere of ideas and making global connections work. I also love to meet other people and learn from them – you never stop learning and it is always stimulating to get out and meet others in the field!”
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