The pandemic yanked travel manager and arranger positions from the office periphery to its center. The effort to bring travelers home before borders closed and lockdowns began demonstrated the need to verify traveler locations, check on their well-being, ensure their safety, fulfill duty of care responsibilities, and manage risk. And addressing this situation required developing new teams consisting of travel managers, HR, upper management, risk management, and other stakeholders.
While returning to travel is an office-specific effort, there are general traveler health and safety program modifications to involve your team in now. You’ll emerge on the other side of the Covid tunnel with a program that emphasizes traveler care and addresses their concerns about resuming travel, making it easier for employees to leave the office—even if they work from home.
1. Review your corporate travel insurance.
For many businesses, the coronavirus pandemic revealed just what was—and was not—covered by their travel insurance. As a result of the pandemic, some insurers quit selling travel insurance altogether and others excluded particular coronavirus claims, according to Forbes.
With business trips averaging $1,293, trip delay and cancellation insurance may be worth investigating, but travel insurance definitely helps fulfill employee duty-of-care responsibilities, as well as protecting your investment in the equipment your travelers take on the road.
Take advantage of travel downtime to review your coverage and ensure it aligns with your corporate needs, HR requirements, and emergent world situations, then stipulate a timeframe to regularly review your insurance coverage and a method of communicating your insurance coverage to your employees, such as in your benefits manual or as part of your traveler training program.
2. Revaluate how your program addresses traveler well-being.
Business travel can be stressful. According to On Call International, more than a third of business travelers said work-related travel increases their stress level—and that was before the pandemic.
“Businesses must consider and prioritize employees’ health, safety, and personal comfort levels as travel resumes,” Mike Koetting, SAP Concur chief product strategy officer told Fortune. “It’s the right thing to do, on top of having duty of care responsibilities to meet.”
As you anticipate sending employees back on the road, consider how being on the road impacts them. Query your employees about their travel concerns and wellness needs and make adjustments in your travel program to safeguard their mental, physical, and social welfare.
“Employees with high wellbeing are more resilient during widespread or personal tough times, are less likely to have unplanned days out of the office and have better performance than those with low wellbeing,” said Ryan Wolf, physical wellbeing lead at Gallup.
More information on how investing in employee well-being benefits your business and ways to create a traveler-friendly policy can be found here.
3. Implement a travel-approval tool.
The coronavirus revealed the need to review many travel program aspects, but none so much as duty of care and risk management. A recent SAP Concur survey showed that “ensuring personal health and safety while traveling is most important to business travelers, with 65% placing it in their top three considerations.”
According to HMHF Travel’s Terri Dembs, “Upper management wants to be involved in the decision as to whether or not trips are essential, and they want to be aware of where their travelers are going. Companies want their travelers to be safe, and they have a legal and moral responsibility to do so.”
Implementing a pre-trip tool, such as Christopherson Business Travel’s Travel Approval, which tracks the approval process digitally, gives managers and travelers the ability to keep tabs on not only approvals but also modifications and cancelations, and even helps enforce travel policy compliance. The Travel Approval dashboard also can be viewed by others in your organization who have access to AirPortal 360.
Has your team determined that some destinations are too high risk for your travelers? Block-listing destinations provides an additional way to approve travel. Our technology team can configure your SAP Concur online booking tool to block countries, cities, regions, and even continents, according to your travel policy.
4. Evaluate your preferred vendors’ health and safety measures and develop a contingency plan.
You’ve established preferred airlines, hotel chains, and rental car companies and even negotiated rates for your travel program, but have you checked on these vendors since the pandemic began to review their health and safety measures?
Some airlines are capping occupancy or blocking middle seats. Hotel chains may let rooms “rest” between occupants or seal doors after cleaning. Many suppliers have apps for contactless check-in and -out and car rental and drop-off. Most vendors require that their employees and customers wear masks in public areas, and cleaning frequency has been increased universally. But protocols differ between vendors, so now is a good time to review your suppliers’ efforts and determine your health and safety comfort level, using travelers as a sounding board if needed.
Christopherson’s Covid-19 Travel Vendor Health & Safety Guide provides an overview of vendor-specific measures so you can determine what is acceptable for your travelers and policy. Review health and safety measures now and revise your vendor preferences accordingly, with an eye on rate negotiations in 2021 or earlier.
Business Travel News’ Michael Baker says that this is also a good time to build supplier relationships, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. “Hotels, for example, are not only hurting for business, but also have sales teams that likely are not occupied with large corporate clients, as they would be in a seller’s market. Not only will there be a long-term benefit in building the relationship, but it also will benefit short-term should issues arise as hotels face lower staffing levels and reduced services.”
On the road, your travelers may find discrepancies between a vendor’s intended safety measures and their actual application. It’s wise to do some advanced planning in case travelers don’t feel safe on a particular flight or at a particular property. What if the parking lot is uncomfortably packed when you arrive at the hotel, the employees aren’t adhering to mask mandates, or your room is dirty? Can your traveler opt to stay at an off-channel property or with another preferred vendor but at a higher rate? Deciding how to handle the situation—and communicating this to your travelers beforehand—eliminates some of the wariness of post-pandemic travel.
5. Develop a post-travel return-to-work plan.
With health and safety at the forefront of every travel decision, take this opportunity to consider what your travelers should do when they return from a business trip.
Legal firm Farella Braun & Martel suggests considering whether traveling employees will be allowed to return to the office and interact with coworkers. “The most cautious approach would be for the employee to work from home for two weeks to minimize their risk of infecting anyone else. Employers can also require employees to undergo COVID-19 testing before returning to the workplace so long as the testing is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and any out of pocket costs are reimbursed.”
Implementing a post-travel plan safeguards all employees from the potential spread of Covid-19, as well as other illnesses. Protocols to consider may include:
- following state-mandated post-travel protocols
- taking a mandatory Covid-19 test upon return
- taking a second Covid-19 test 5–7 days after return
- working remotely for XX days
- screening health daily for XX days
- filling out a return-to-work questionnaire
- allowing PTO days following a trip
- providing trip feedback including vendor safety
6. Communicate your duty of care policy and technology.
With border closures and quarantine mandates making return trips difficult for business travelers, the pandemic made travel managers, HR departments, and upper management acutely aware of employee duty of care.
But employees are also emphasizing their safety needs. In the SAP Concur survey, 96% of travelers said they “expect their employers to proactively take steps to improve traveler safety and lower the stress associated with travel.”
Before your employees begin traveling, communicate your duty of care approach by:
- educating your travelers on your duty of care policy
- training your travelers on your duty of care technology
- demonstrate access to real-time Covid-19 information via Airtineraries
- use SecurityLogic to demonstrate how off-channel booking increases traveler risk
- update travelers’ alert preferences in AirPortal
- send a test “Safety Check” to your travelers
We also offer a free risk-management kit to help you assess your program’s safety measures.
7. Develop a pre-travel checklist.
Developing and completing an employee pre-travel checklist helps ensure that your employees are trip-ready while contributing to your duty of care obligation. While your checklist should follow your specific corporate policy, standard items to consider include:
- traveler’s name and vital information as it appears on official identification
- photocopies of traveler’s current travel IDs (visa, passport, REAL ID)
- travelers current emergency contact and backup contact information (name, phone number, email address)
- trip-specific insurance information
- verification of vaccinations required per destination
- confirmation of employee’s safety/duty of care training, including emergency communication protocols
- confirmation of hygiene kit distribution (hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, masks, etc.)
- verification that employee’s AirPortal Traveler Profile is current/complete
- confirmation that traveler downloaded necessary apps and received training on their use
- verification of traveler’s completed health evaluation/testing as required per destination
- shared pertinent information regarding any extended personal travel at the destination
Preparing now for the return of business travel ensures we stay safe out there!
Disclaimer: Business travel needs vary from corporation to corporation. This blog does not provide specific travel-restriction advice, and the information provided is not exhaustive. Changes in vendors are company-specific managerial decisions, not a result of Christopherson Business Travel publications.