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 well-being 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 towards recovery and help our organisations 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 a 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 the new requirements and realities. Balancing risk management, specific local restrictions, employee well-being 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 up to date 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 in order balance of traveller well-being and cost control?
- Will you set restrictions for employees while they’re travelling to optimise their well-being?
- 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 do your employees feel about returning to travel? How can you do your best to sustain their overall well-being?
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 programme that threads the needle on risk, control, well-being 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 on site and in person, like 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 programme in the wake of COVID-19 here.
- Communicate your risk management plan
Proactively ease any traveller concerns by communicating key points of your risk management plan, such as specific travel stipulations and government travel requirements. Be sure to explain how your travel programme allows travellers to reach you and your TMC when they’re on the road.
Set up training and programme relaunch activities for your travellers to learn about any newly appointed travel requirements and safety guidelines. Create employee handbooks for onboarding new hires so they are well informed about how you proactively limit travel risk exposure.
There are several steps you should take to better prepare your travellers and assess their readiness to travel. Talk to your travellers 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 travellers to hear feedback from the ground up about how they’re adjusting to new conditions that are specific to them. Engaging your employees and listening is important — not just for building trust and confidence to return to travel — but to also inform your way going 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 travellers prepare for their next business trip. You can also work on creating a traveller wellness programme that could include access to medical help and relaxation resources, or temporarily allowing for a higher class of travel.
- Utilise 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 towards 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 that you need to quickly adjust your programme 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. For example, flexible approval functionality will be key as you seek to delegate trip approval to senior ranks within the organisation.
2. Can they offer your travellers consumer-grade, self-serve booking capabilities? Maintaining high programme adoption is now critical as you manage safety compliance. User-friendly functionality across devices will be essential to achieving this. For example, a self-serve travel policy configuration 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 traveller 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 well-being
When your travellers 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 need 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 travellers may be more comfortable hiring a car or taking a train than booking a short flight. With new travel methods and hygiene standards crystalising, be sure to support your travel managers by setting minimum hygiene, health and safety standards. Then they can recognise 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 travellers. Marriott’s Cleanliness Council, Radisson Hotels’ new health and safety procedures and IHG’s expanded Way of Clean programme 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. For example, if you decide to choose a specific supplier based on their hygiene initiatives, you can then apply your hotel preferences in the tool and bring them to the top of the search list for your travellers.
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 travellers’ current needs. Our role as HR leaders is to support our people, including travel managers as they operationalise any changes to your travel policy. Help them recognise 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 programme stakeholders by absorbing feedback about health and well-being conditions. Your expertise in guiding senior decision-makers on the importance of traveller well-being will also be crucial as policy becomes impacted by cost-saving pressures. Help them balance employee well-being with policy restrictions to pave the way towards smooth adaptation.
You care about your business travellers. Following these steps will help your travellers 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 travellers safe and comfortable — building trust will be a natural next step in getting back to business.