As we enter 2021, businesses are taking stock of everything that’s happened as a result of COVID‐19 and are taking a fresh look at how to approach the new year – including asking the question of how to facilitate essential travel for business in the safest possible way.
It’s clear that the virus will not disappear overnight, but with gradual and promising progress for initiatives such as airport testing and travel corridors, many companies are looking at ways to work practically with the reality that the virus will be with us for some time. Although employee safety and confidence has always been a priority, organizations must assess how to mitigate the risks of business travel in the new normal.
Of course, business travel will continue to look very different as the ability to travel between countries and even between states continues to change. As we’ve seen in recent weeks with the rapid increase in COVID‐19 cases across the United States, borders may open and close with little notice, travel requirements and quarantine periods can change from one day to the next and coronavirus cases can spike in new locations without warning.
With this amount of uncertainty, imagine how your company would handle it if a staff member traveled to a location that suddenly experiences a spike in COVID cases. What support can be provided? What happens if a local lockdown is imposed and the employee cannot return home?
Or, what if the employee tests positive for COVID at the airport, cannot fly and needs to find a safe place to isolate – how will they know which hotels have policies and procedures in place to effectively deal with self-isolating guests?
Now, more than ever, businesses need to put traveler wellbeing first. For essential travel in the era of COVID, employees need robust pre‐travel screenings and preparations such as COVID testing, reliable access to 24/7 medical and travel advice on the road and detailed contingency planning that anticipates the unexpected.
A robust travel risk management program actively involves employees, so they understand the support mechanisms in place and the benefits the program brings.
As noted in The New York Times, getting a handle on which cities in the U.S. have been hardest hit by COVID‐19 depends on the measures one uses. In many cases, even trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reliable research intuitions such as Johns Hopkins University may have slightly different perspectives on the pandemic.
To address the constantly changing climate and associated challenges, businesses must be able to access up‐to‐date global intelligence from a single, reliable source. Working with an independent travel assistance provider is an important way for companies to get a crystal-clear, professional view on the situation in any given location.
By focusing on the findings from a single, reliable travel assistance provider, businesses are better equipped to make data‐led decisions based on current information.
The new value of traveler tracking
Already part of robust travel risk management programs, tracking solutions will be deemed more valuable by traveling employees in the COVID era to ensure critical support is available should an unexpected event or emergency occur.
Through itinerary tracking, an organization has a view of a traveling employee’s scheduled journey and dates of travel. Geolocation, through a traveler-tracking app, is what enables real‐time contact to be made with an employee, and to provide them with information and support as required.
In an emergency, the strength of any response depends on itinerary tracking and geolocation working in tandem, enabling businesses to quickly identify staff who may be impacted by a breaking situation and enact the right response.
Proactively addressing privacy concern
Anything tracking‐related becomes a natural concern for privacy. In reality, many geolocation tracking platforms can be configured to privately activate in background mode, and only in the case of a high-risk event occurring in the same geolocation of an employee will the employer/employee be notified of the potential risk simultaneously.
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In other words, employees are supported at all times, without needing to worry that their boss is checking up on them at all hours and outside of work.
Another concern may arise related to the sharing of personal medical information as part of individual-based risk assessments. External travel risk management providers can help organizations to comprehend and manage the risk presented by any traveling employee, without being party to the specific details and thereby violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or other privacy laws.
Employee buy‐in for a safer way ahead
Traditionally, there have been challenges around employee buy‐in and adherence to corporate travel policy and in‐channel bookings. Today however, employees are well aware that the world of travel isn’t what it used to be, and personal health and wellbeing is in more focus than ever before.
As a result, organizations worldwide have enacted strict measures to safeguard staff wellbeing, and employees are well‐attuned to the seriousness with which their companies are reacting.
The natural progression of this should be that traveling employees see the true value of travel risk management programs and tools such as itinerary tracking and geolocation. At the same time, businesses can do their part by clearly communicating both obligations and advantages of corporate travel policy adherence.
This includes making clear the benefits of itinerary tracking and geolocation to ensure rapid and effective assistance. It also includes reminding workers that in‐channel booking provides access to a safer travel experience in general, as well as extras like the comfort and safety of an airport lounge.
A robust travel risk management program actively involves employees, so they understand the support mechanisms in place and the benefits the program brings. By proactively sharing information about travel assistance protocols and addressing potential concerns such as privacy while helping employees maneuver travel in the COVID‐19 era, employers can establish a new baseline for safe travel not only for today, but also for years to come.
About the author...
Scott Sunderman is managing director for medical and security assistance at Collinson