A critical priority for any leader during a crisis — including the COVID-19 pandemic — is supporting people. A crisis response needs to include everything from addressing basic needs of health and wellbeing to providing as much clarity as possible in our changing environment, all while being honest, transparent and real about not knowing the future.
As we work toward recovery to help our organizations not just survive but thrive, the way we handle this recovery for our people will reflect on our industry brand. It will also establish our employer brand reputation for years to come, as well as impact our future competitiveness. In the “next normal,” returning to the way we worked before is unlikely.
As an HR professional, you might find that one particular aspect of your work life will look different in the next normal: business travel. Although business travel is experiencing a staggered regional comeback, now is the time to address its new requirements and realities. Balancing risk management, specific local restrictions, employee wellbeing and the growth and management needs of your business is a new challenge.
To get ahead of what will be a new world for all of us, consider reaching out to your corporate travel manager and to your travel management company (TMC) sooner rather than later. Doing so will help you solve these business travel challenges and find clarity in an uncertain time.
Questions to ask and answer:
- How will you stay current on local restrictions, potential risks, trends and requirements? How will you communicate that information to your employees?
- What type of business travel will you now deem essential? Do you need to set restrictions on who travels and how often?
- What will your travel approval process need to look like to maintain a balance of traveler wellbeing and cost control?
- Will you set restrictions for employees while they’re traveling to optimize their wellbeing?
- How will you gather the most accurate information to build real-time travel and mobility restrictions?
- How will you reliably communicate changes and alerts to your people before and during their trip?
- How are your employees feeling about returning to travel? How can you do your best to sustain their overall wellbeing?
It’s a lot to think about, but your corporate travel team is probably already knee deep in these considerations. In partnership with them, you can follow five steps to develop a solid return-to-travel program that threads the needle on risk, control, wellbeing and business ROI — and has the added benefit of improving your employees’ trust and confidence.
- Develop an overall permissible travel framework
Be sure to define different levels of essential travel, giving your workforce clarity on which types of employees can travel and for what business reasons.
An obvious way to define essential trips is to identify tasks that can only be done in person, on-site — for example, equipment maintenance or construction. These kinds of trips need to be factored into your cost of doing business.
You’ll need a clear sense of the true ROI of business travel to know where to draw new lines on what is indeed essential. Work with your finance and travel management teams to determine who should have this type of travel defined. You’ll need be careful not to draw the circle so small that you risk hurting your bottom line and overall business growth.
Learn more about redesigning your business travel program in the wake of COVID-19 here.
- Communicate your risk management plan
Proactively ease any traveler concerns by communicating key points of your risk management plan, such as specific travel stipulations and government requirements for travel. Be sure to explain how your travel program allows travelers to reach you and your TMC when they’re on the road.
Set up training and program relaunch activities for your travelers to learn any newly appointed travel requirements and safety guidelines. Create employee handbooks for onboarding new hires so they are well-informed of how you proactively limit travel risk exposure.
There are several steps you should take to better prepare your travelers and assess their readiness to travel. Talk to your travelers to understand their level of comfort with business travel and determine whether they have any questions about the current travel climate. Run virtual focus groups with small regional clusters of travelers to hear feedback from the ground up about how they’re adjusting to new conditions specific to them. Engaging your employees and listening is important not just for building trust and confidence to return to travel but also to help inform your way forward.
It’s a best practice to set up internal channels for co-workers to communicate about travel. On these channels, they can share tips and tricks, concerns and experiences. This also provides HR leaders the opportunity to follow up on frequently asked questions.
We’ve created a pre-travel safety checklist to help travelers prepare for their next business trip. And you can work on creating a traveler wellness program that could include access to medical help and relaxation resources, or temporarily allowing for a higher class of travel.
- Utilize your travel management company to its full potential
During unfamiliar times, it’s even more important to book travel through a modern, experienced TMC that has made a suitable shift in focus toward risk management.
Travel managers must now include more robust risk management policy controls and a detailed review of supplier capabilities. The role of the TMC in facilitating these kinds of things is far more significant today. Challenge your travel manager on how your company’s incumbent provider is set to deliver here. Here are some of the questions your travel manager should be asking your TMC:
1. Do they offer you the agile policy controls you need to adjust your program quickly in response to changing travel conditions around you? A TMC that can innovate at speed will be best poised to support you in this area. Flexible approval functionality, for example, will be key as you seek to delegate trip approval to senior ranks within the organization.
2. Can they offer your travelers consumer-grade, self-serve booking capabilities? Maintaining high program adoption is now critical as you manage safety compliance. User-friendly functionality across devices will be essential to achieving this. Self-serve travel policy configuration, for example, will enable administrators to instantly set policy rules (e.g., rate caps, advance purchase requirements) centrally, to specify preferred suppliers and rates, and to create exceptions for specific traveler groups.
3. Supplier relationships will be important as the race for safety accelerates amongst businesses. Does your TMC have the power to negotiate and acquire inventory with only the highest hygiene standards? Look for partners that work closely with global information tools like the IATA Travel Centre as a trusted source for the latest international travel regulations, or risk management service providers like WorldAware.
- Review every travel option to promote wellbeing
When your travelers are ready to get back on the road, things may look and feel different. It’s still possible to travel confidently while meeting business objectives. Explore alternative ways to travel.
As restrictions ebb and flow, business travel suppliers are having to remain agile too. From social distancing to hygiene priorities, the industry must adapt to meet the “next normal” of life.
With regional business travel picking up, your travelers may be more comfortable renting a car or taking a train than booking a short flight. With new travel methods and hygiene standards crystalizing, be sure to support your travel managers by setting minimum hygiene, and health and safety standards. Then they can recognize the most suitable route choices.
Add approvals that enable travel managers and arrangers to select the safest route and hotel choices.
Equally, many hotel groups are implementing enhanced hygiene procedures to protect travelers. Marriott’s Cleanliness Council, Radisson Hotels’ new health and safety procedures, and IHG’s expanded Way of Clean program are just a few examples. Again, work with your TMC to define the minimum standards that you feel your staff will expect.
Many TMCs will let you highlight your preferred hotels and carriers. If you decide to choose a specific supplier based on their hygiene initiatives, for example, you can then apply your hotel preferences in the tool and bring them to the top of the search list for your travelers.
Read more about how hoteliers are innovating around new hygiene standards.
- Update your travel policy with agility
It’s a great time to review your travel policy to make sure that it meets your travelers’ current needs. Our role as HR leaders is to support our people, including travel managers as they operationalize any changes to your travel policy. Help them recognize employees’ expectations and flexibilities to travel nuances like extended route lengths and social distancing with colleagues and members of the public. As change occurs, support your wider program stakeholders by absorbing feedback about health and wellbeing conditions. Your expertise in guiding senior decision-makers on the importance of traveler wellbeing will also be crucial as policy becomes impacted by cost-saving pressures. Help them balance employee wellbeing with policy restrictions to pave the way toward smooth adaptation.
You care about your business travelers. Following these steps will help your travelers understand that you have their back when they’re on the road. By applying industry best practices and relying on a modern TMC like Egencia — which has the right tech to meet your HR needs and keep travelers safe and comfortable — building trust will be a natural next step in getting back to business.