As businesses start to reopen—bringing employees back to the physical workplace— decision-makers are having to wrestle with the questions of how and when to reopen. Even as more and more companies decide to do so, however, it is with the realization that it will be a long time before things are truly back to “normal.” In fact, some things may never go back to the way they were before the pandemic.
One of those things is business travel. Business travel was one of the first things that halted when the pandemic hit, and it will almost certainly be one of the last things to restart. There are inherent risks that come with travel of any kind—since disease transmission is both more likely and more dangerous while traveling.
All the same, travel never fully ceased, and some companies are starting to consider how and when to restart their business travel. For some companies, business travel is the lifeblood of their operations. The process will obviously be gradual, but travel managers need to start thinking about when it makes sense to wade back into the world of business travel.
This article will unpack the key questions your organization needs to be asking when planning necessary or future business travel. Specifically, your company will need to decide:
- IF to travel
- WHERE to travel
- WHO should travel
- HOW to travel
IF to Travel
The first and most important consideration is if it makes sense to restart business travel at all. This is the difficult decision that travel managers will be weighing over the coming months. To decide whether to restart business travel, it is important to determine:
Is it legal?
Obviously, the legality of business travel is the unavoidable starting point of this decision. While no state and very few countries currently ban travel outright, there are many travel bans and restrictions still in place—especially when it comes to international travel.
Realistically, you will need to determine the legality of your travel plans on a case-by-case basis, depending on where you are traveling to and from. You can find details on state restrictions here and country restrictions here. The most common restriction is for visitors to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival—this is currently the case in a handful of states and most countries.
Make sure to look into the relevant guidelines well before your scheduled departure date and to monitor them for changes. Some guidelines require the traveler to provide proof of a recent negative test before entering, so you may need to arrange for a contingency like this as part of your business travel plan.
Is it safe?
Next, you need to determine whether it is safe to travel. Obviously, no travel is risk-free. But at the same time, not all business trips are created equal.
Consider the nature of the work your employee will be conducting on the potential business trip. Will it require contact with a lot of different people? Can your employee wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others? Will the workplace(s) he/she is visiting be a safe environment? You will want to ensure that the company/client that your business traveler is visiting is taking the pandemic as seriously as you are. Set clear expectations before confirming the trip.
Is it necessary?
The final question when determining whether to restart business travel is whether it is necessary. Travel is not equally important to every business. For some, business travel is simply a nice tool—useful for facilitating key meetings and working closely with clients. For others, it is nearly impossible to bring in revenue without it.
Be honest with yourself about where on that spectrum your company lies. How much does business travel add to your operations—and how effective are the substitutes? Because there is inherent risk in sending your employees off to travel during a pandemic, this decision should not be taken lightly. But if business travel truly is necessary to keep your people employed and your business afloat, then it is time to consider how to do so cautiously.
WHERE to Travel
Even once you decide that you want to restart business travel, you will still need to consider where it is safe to travel. This determination will change over time—as you monitor the spread of the disease—until hopefully, no country is off limits! Until that point, ask these questions as you decide where to travel:
What are area-specific guidelines like?
The most important guidelines to pay attention to, of course, are guidelines concerning travel specifically. (As mentioned above, you can find updated state guidelines and country guidelines at these links.) But you should also consider other area-specific guidelines, concerning businesses and general reopening.
Some states that allow travel into the state still have stay-at-home orders in effect in certain areas that are especially hard hit. Also, the guidelines concerning businesses may be different than those in your home state. You will need to inform your business traveler of any relevant guidelines before they depart—and you may want to reconsider the trip entirely if overly restrictive local guidelines are in effect.
How bad is COVID-19 in that area?
You will also want to consider how fast COVID-19 is spreading in the area you are considering traveling to. This analysis is best done on the local scale, since hotspots form at the local (rather than state or federal) level. While the US as a whole has managed to flatten the curve, that flattening is really the combination of some states where daily cases are going down and others where it is going up. It is important to know the conditions on the ground where your employee will be traveling.
This interactive map from the New York Times depicts the trend of daily positive cases on a county level, making it a very useful tool for a travel manager looking to determine whether a given business trip is safe or not.
Do other factors make the area unsafe?
Although the pandemic is certainly the biggest factor to consider in determining the safety of a particular region, it is not the only factor. It’s important not to have blinders on to other potential regional threats—most notably, hurricanes. Hurricane season is just now kicking off, and forecasters agree that it looks to be a particularly busy season.
A threat monitoring system is a critical tool when trying to stay on top of threats from so many directions. AlertMedia’s threat monitoring system displays all threats—COVID and otherwise—on one interactive map, and even lets you filter out pandemic-related threats so that you can focus on any other threat types you might be missing. A solution like this will help you track the latest COVID-19 developments, while ensuring you don’t miss any other emerging threats.
WHO should Travel
Next it is time to determine which employees will be traveling. As you slowly ramp up your business travel, it is important to be smart about who you are sending out—to maximize the return and minimize the risk.
Who is comfortable traveling?
To start, you should try to get a high-level idea of which of your employees feel comfortable traveling. Obviously, travel carries risk with it—and you obviously don’t want to force any of your employees into doing anything they aren’t comfortable with. Also, this will give you a good idea of what percentage of your workforce you will have available if you start reinstituting business trips.
The best way to accomplish this is by using the survey feature of your emergency communication system. Obviously, surveys are a critical tool for reopening your business. But they are also the easiest way to get a quick sense of your employees’ thoughts on a certain topic—like whether they would be comfortable traveling. Make it clear that the survey is non-binding, but it will help you get a preliminary sense of who in your workforce would be available.
Who is safe to travel?
It’s common knowledge at this point that different people have different risk profiles when it comes to COVID-19. Those who are older or immunocompromised are much more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the disease. Your company should make sure you are only sending low-risk employees on business trips. The risk is simply too high to justify sending a high-risk employee into a situation where the risk of transmission is so significant.
On the flip side, you should prioritize sending employees who have recently tested negative for the disease or who have tested positive for antibodies. A negative test will decrease the chance that your employee transmits the disease to others and antibodies will increase the chance that your employee has some sort of immunity.
Who has flexibility to travel?
Complications from the pandemic have increased the value of flexibility when it comes to business travel. Employees with high flexibility—those who do not have to take care of kids or elderly parents, are comfortable working from home, and are able to adapt when plans change quickly—are ideal candidates for business travel during this time of uncertainty.
One of the most common state restrictions is the requirement to quarantine for 14 days following travel. If your company is based in a state with those restrictions, it will be important to choose someone to travel who can easily comply with that requirement upon returning (without having to worry about care-taking responsibilities, etc.). Also, because there are so many moving parts that go into the travel decision, plans are much more likely to change at the last minute. New guidelines, a surge in cases, a positive test at the office—any of these factors could derail your plans at the last minute. It’s valuable to have an employee flexible enough to adapt to last-minute changes of plans.
HOW to Travel
Finally, once you have determined the personnel and destination, you need to consider how you are going to travel. Business travel during a pandemic should be noticeably different than pre-pandemic travel, in several ways.
What is the safest way to get from Point A to Point B?
For most business travel, flying is the only option. Even domestic travel is often simply too long to ask your employees to drive.
However, because of the risks associated with flying, you should consider asking your employees to drive for trips where it is possible (even if they would typically fly between those two cities). Consider setting a cap—say, 5 hours—where any business trip that can be driven in under that amount of time should be taken by car rather than plane. Although this policy will not affect many trips, it could apply to some, like Dallas to Austin or Cincinnati to Chicago. Cutting out the plane ride both ways decreases the risk of transmission significantly.
How should employees change the way they travel?
You should also consider what measures your employees can take to decrease the risk. All major US airlines are now requiring masks, which is a good start. But you should also remind your employees to take hand sanitizer and wash their hands frequently. Some public health experts go so far as to recommend that anyone flying on a plane should wear an N95 mask and protective eyewear (like goggles or a face shield).
Normal hygiene measures are all the more important while traveling (e.g. not touching your face, coughing into your elbow), but there are also some airplane-specific tips to keep in mind. For one, remind your employees that they should always leave their overhead air vents open, to maximize air filtration. Also, they should remember to use the bathroom before getting on the plane—to minimize the number of times they have to get up and walk down the middle aisle.
Which airline is safest to fly on?
Every week, the various airlines are adding new guidelines and safety protocol in an attempt to keep passengers safe. But still, not all airlines are created equal in this regard—and don’t assume that every airline is taking equal precautions. Although all major US airlines say that they require a mask, some have voiced that they will not be enforcing this requirement. While nearly every major airline has pledged to cap ticket sales, some have been notorious for appearing to break this promise.
Do your research on the different airline’s promises and reputation before booking your flight. It might just make the difference between your employee enjoying a socially distant flight and finding themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow passengers.
Making the Tough Decisions
Obviously, the decision of how and when to restart business travel is an incredibly difficult one. Many different considerations have to go into the final decision—and there is some amount of uncertainty that no amount of planning can remove.
But by using an emergency notification system with threat monitoring capabilities like AlertMedia, you equip yourself to make the best decision possible. Surveys will help you effortlessly get important feedback from your people, and threat monitoring will ensure that nothing catches you by surprise. Ask to see a demo today to see how AlertMedia can streamline your travel safety management.