In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, business travel has come to a near standstill. While virtual meetings can serve as a good substitute in the short run, it’s widely recognized that face-to-face meetings, whether to collaborate, strike a deal, or to educate, are crucial to the success of a company in the long run. An Oxford Economics study found that each dollar invested in business travel can result in as much as $12.50 in revenue. This is one of the reasons business leaders believe that business travel will resume once conditions allow (although most also believe reaching pre-pandemic levels will take a long time) — meeting in person is simply too important to the growth and success of a company.
As important as business travel is, it will undoubtedly be different going forward. The criteria for who goes and what warrants a trip will change, and perhaps more importantly, the protocols and safeguards that have previously been in place to inform and protect travelers, will have to be refined. Having a comprehensive duty of care-program has always been an integral part of keeping globally mobile employees safe — it will become even more so in the future.
Factors for deciding the extent and frequency of business travel typically include such things as cost, capacity, and perceived value. These now have to be evaluated with traveler safety and well-being in mind.
Now Is the Time to Look Over Travel Policies
Traditionally, corporate travel policies have mostly included provisos for spending and reimbursement, and what preferred providers to use for travel and accommodation. To meet the needs of business travelers in the future, these policies will have to address a host of additional issues pertaining to traveler communication and safety.
Because business travel is not likely to resume in any meaningful way for many months — a recent survey by the Global Business Traveler Association (GBTA) shows that about 40% of their members believe that international business travel won’t resume for another six to eight months — this is an ideal time to evaluate and build policies.
For many companies, the first thing to do when updating travel policies will be to develop a protocol for determining what travel is considered essential, and what expenses are reasonable to absorb. For example, are the costs of having an employee quarantining at a hotel for two weeks feasible? This is also a good opportunity to get the input of employees, to find out what needs they most want to be met when considering business travel. Once a baseline is set, it’s easier to build strong policies to match travel needs.
Travel Policies will Look Different
As companies put the safety of the traveler in focus, they will have to augment existing traveler policies, or create new ones (according to the Egencia Business Travel and Technology Study, only some 60% of companies have an official policy in place to guide business travelers), to include such things as real-time travel updates and risk assessment, implement strategies for tracking employees, as well as develop communication plans that are efficient and customizable. These categories break down as follows:
- Travel updates — A big piece of the puzzle to ensure travel safety and business continuity will be how to stay on top of travel information as it develops. Ideally, travel managers will identify reliable sources for the latest news. Depending on the company, the type of travel, and the destination, these sources will vary. There are of course companies that do travel tracking and news, whose services can be purchased. There are individual countries’ travel advisory websites, as well as direct contacts on the ground. Resources, as well as the nature and scope of the travel program, will likely determine an organization’s most suitable source(s).
- Employee tracking — Companies will need to be able to track employees to determine what the implications of changes to travel restrictions are for individual employees. This will be crucial to maintaining a safe work environment.
- Communication — Communication protocols will have to include several pieces. First, a solid communication system starts with making sure employees are aware that the information exists, and then educating them on how to access it, and relaying what to expect in terms of direct communication. Second, developing “communication action plans” for what to do in case an employee needs assistance, health care, be in quarantine, etc. will become ever more important as business travel ramps up.
Ensuring the Wellbeing of Traveling Employees
In addition to augmenting and modifying their own travel policies, travel managers will also have to look closely at their suppliers’ policies and practices for cleanliness and distancing, for example. Compiling a list of vetted and approved providers they feel confident about will be important in keeping employees safe. Likewise, health care policies and procedures will have to be examined and updated.
It’s clear that business travel going forward will require a multi-pronged approach where economic factors are considered alongside the physical and mental health of traveling employees, as well as practical matters such as safe transportation and accommodation — paying attention to all of these aspects is how companies can keep their employees protected and productive while on the road.
By: Felicia Shermis
How COVID-19 will change business travel (Conde Nast)
The Future of Work (Business Insider)
Business Travel Statistics (Financesonline)
How to enable business continuity (TripActions)
Getting ready to restart travel (TripActions)