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Great Big Solutions owner and chief executive officer Kathryn Fraser (John Ulan/John Ulan for the Globe and Mail)
Great Big Solutions owner and chief executive officer Kathryn Fraser (John Ulan/John Ulan for the Globe and Mail)

The Challenge

How to convince employees to relocate for work Add to ...

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Since 2003, Kathryn Fraser has called Edmonton home. It’s where she went to university and where she started her mobile software company, Great Big Solutions Ltd.

Despite her ties to the city, Ms. Fraser believes that, to keep growing, Great Big Solutions has to make a move to Vancouver.

And when she relocates her company, she wants her four employees to move with her.

Vancouver’s well-established tech community will offer Great Big Solutions more resources to assist its growth, says the owner and chief executive officer of the company that last year brought in revenue of $600,000.

“I’ve done a lot of work out there and there’s a really strong tech community. We could really take advantage of the area,” she says.

As well, she believes the focus in Edmonton is more on startups, so “it’s difficult to grow from here.”

She would like to bring all of her employees with her, rather than build a new work force from scratch. Her team, she says, knows Great Big Solutions’ products and customers, and has demonstrated hard work.

Ms. Fraser aims to move by the end of next year. She only recently told her team about her plans and, while supportive, none committed to a relocation.

Her staff still have plenty of time to make a decision and she knows she'll have some trouble persuading all of them to come – some have families, including working partners, and one has a young baby, as well as other ties to Edmonton.

The Challenge: When the company relocates, how can employees be enticed to move, too?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Dave MacKay, Ottawa-based president of Ceridian Canada

If she wants to move people to Vancouver, she needs to take care of the financial and emotional impact of the move.

The financial part could include covering costs for moving, real estate transaction fees on selling a house, commission fees for an agent and opportunities to travel back home to visit family.

But she also has to tell them that she’ll take care of the emotional aspects. She’ll need to help them find things like a new gym and hockey teams for their kids. The emotional challenges should not be on the employee – that’s key.

And be transparent. Ask the employees what it would take for them to move. Make sure they understand that this won’t be a painful process for them.

Stephen Cryne, president and CEO of Toronto-based Canadian Employee Relocation Council

We did some research about employee attitudes towards moving. The top reasons why Canadian employees would consider relocating is better pay (55 per cent), a new adventure (26 per cent) and a better standard of living (24 per cent).

So offering a pay raise and pointing out the career advantages could get them to come.

But the No. 1 one reason people didn't want to move, even with a pay raise, is because of friends and family. So she needs to take that into consideration, too. She’ll have to not only move her staff, but their employees’ spouses, too. So consider the whole unit. What will she do about the partner that has a good job in Edmonton?

[Another option]might be if she keeps her team in Edmonton and commutes back and forth while she’s transitioning the business. She might be in a better position after to offer some financial support. Or maybe she looks beyond this and establishes two operations.

At the heart of this decision is whether she can easily replace the intellectual capital in the Vancouver marketplace. … She should really explore that before making any decisions.

Angel Pui, founder and CEO of Vancouver-turned-San-Francisco-based Weddingful .

I moved our four-person team to San Francisco from Vancouver [in mid-October] because everyone told us that we had to be in Silicon Valley. There was a lot of personal drama to work out – someone had to leave a girlfriend behind – but everyone wanted to move. They all have an equity stake in the company so, when it came down to it, they all saw the potential.

She needs to get the potential of the move across, and that could mean giving [employees]equity in the company so the move matters more to them.

Tell them about meetings she has lined up in Vancouver and how they’ll be near all these other tech companies that they can learn from. Tell them about her own hardships she’ll have to go through to move, and explain how the company could become, say, a $100-million business if they’re in Vancouver.

Also, work out the logistics for her staff so it’s just a yes or no decision.

THREE THINGS GREAT BIG SOLUTIONS SHOULD DO NOW

Offer a pay raise

With recent research showing a pay boost to be the No. 1 selling point for a move, commit to raising salaries for those willing to relocate.

Offer equity

Give employees a stake in the company’s fortunes. If the business is a bigger success somewhere else, they’ll benefit financially.

Help with family relocation

Since the main reason people stay put is because of friends and family, commit to helping spouses find a new job, too. As well, do some research to share with staff information about schools, recreation and other issues that could help ease the emotional stress.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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