COVID-19 and your business travel policy
The COVID-19 pandemic flipped the way we work on its head. It forced us to rethink the concept of an office, shun a brighter light on employee wellbeing, and drastically reduced the number of business trips we take. Nowadays, when travel does happen, travel managers have a lot more to take into consideration from travel restrictions to effective risk management for business travelers and more.
The Global Business Travel Association predicts that corporate travel will fully recover by 2025 and that the signs of recovery are already encouraging. That being said, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the shape of the business travel industry, at least for the foreseeable future.
Taking all of this into account, corporate travel managers need to revisit and overhaul their corporate travel policies and ensure that their organization and team members can head back out into the world safely.
Responsible business travel during a pandemic
As the pandemic continues to affect business-related travel, companies need to adapt to an ever-changing situation in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff members. This goes beyond simply stopping non-essential travel. Travel managers are bound by a duty of care to their travelers and this is especially true of our current situation.
Travel must be planned using an analytical approach and the traveler’s opinions and perceptions of the safety of the trip must be given top priority. Planning ahead is the best way to mitigate risks.
- Easily stay up-to-date with and communicate the latest travel advisories, restrictions, cancellations, risk of exposure, and other vital information.
- Track employees throughout their trips and offer them 24//7 support and emergency response management.
- Obtain clear insights and reports on every trip for better future risk management and compliance checks.
Pandemic-proofing your travel policy
The severity of the situation and the fact that it will likely change the way we travel for a while (see the next section) means that businesses must adapt their corporate travel policies to reflect this new reality and ensure that all travel management is done safely, responsibly, and with a duty of care at its center.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when COVID-proofing your travel policy:
1. Follow the right advice
Your travel policy must be based on the recommendations of the official authorities, both on a local and an international level. These include the Occupational Safety & Health Authority (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
These are the sources to refer to for information on how to travel, where to travel, and when to travel. If traveling to or within the European Union, check out the Re-Open EU website for information about which EU countries are lower or higher risk areas, which require COVID-19 tests, vaccination certificates, or mandatory quarantine upon entry and information on any other important measures in place.
2. List the travel precautions needed
Whether precautionary or mandatory, it is important to outline and stress the importance of business travelers taking certain measures to ensure their own and others’ personal safety while traveling. These include wearing a face mask, frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer, and practicing social distancing.
3. Procedures in the event of COVID-19 infection
If an employee gets a positive test result or develops any of the typical symptoms of COVID-19 during or right after they travel, the policy should outline the necessary steps they need to take in accordance to public health recommendations. Such recommendations normally include immediate isolation, seeking the appropriate medical care, and further COVID-19 testing when necessary. They must immediately inform the internal contact person (such as an HR manager) to inform them, especially in the case where there might be risk of further infections within the company.
4. Any changes to layers of trip approval
Every business has its own standard layers of approval for corporate travel booking. However, during a pandemic, even though travel has started to open up once again, it’s important to review approval workflows.
When considering changes to approval layers, you’ll need to think about whether you need an additional short to mid-term layer to ensure adherence to company best practices and travel policy rules, and whether you need to adopt a COVID-19-specific risk management process that sits within the approval process.
Since delays and cancelations are commonplace right now, you might also want to consider changes to your advance booking policy. Whereas it’s usually cheaper to book travel in advance, extending the booking window can help give your business travelers more flexibility.
5. Requirements for proof of vaccination
In a bid to limit the spread of the virus and to comply with certain country, airline, and hotel requirements, many companies have started to restrict business travel for employees who remain unvaccinated or those who have not disclosed their vaccination status.
If you decide to implement similar guidelines, they should be expressed clearly within your business travel policy to avoid any confusion or disappointment.
6. Alternatives to air travel
Airports and planes are crowded places, and despite heightened cleaning protocols and mask requirements, many companies have begun to opt for alternatives to air travel.
Ground transportation options, such as trains and traveling by car, are great alternatives that can potentially limit business travelers’ exposure to COVID-19.
You might want to consider new transportation guidelines for shorter-haul trips, and with that, any new rules on trip duration, car rental policies, and mileage reimbursement.
7. Business travel and event guidelines
Again, limiting employees’ exposure to the virus also means reconsidering new restrictions within your policies that cover event attendance. Whether you want to enforce new rules that cover videoconferencing in place of in-person attendance, or guidelines that cover protocols for traveling to certain events only, these must be clearly laid out in your business travel policy.
When considering adding any restrictions, think about the following questions to help you create a risk assessment framework:
- How does the business trip/event attendance align with our business goals?
- Is the business trip/event essential for training new employees or upskilling existing employees?
- Are there any alternatives to the in-person event that would produce the same end results/goals?
8. Guidelines for extending trips for leisure
If you currently have bleisure guidelines in place, consider how these might need to be adjusted during the pandemic.
Your goal is to keep business travelers safe, which might mean limiting trip durations. Alternatively, you might want to encourage bleisure trips to help encourage employees back into business travel.
9. Rules on travel partners
When employees take advantage of bleisure travel, it’s common for them to want to bring a partner or friend with them.
Consider whether you want to adjust rules on travel partners in a bid to keep your travelers and anyone they might interact with during the trip safe. For example, while you can adjust your policy to limit non-vaccinated people from business travel, you don’t have the same control over any partners employees might want to bring with them on the trip.
10. Testing and/or quarantine requirements on arrival and/or departure
Pre-departure and post-arrival tests are mandatory in many countries, as are mandatory quarantine requirements.
If you require employees to travel for business, you’ll need to set out guidelines that cover COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules. For example, be clear about any reimbursement guidelines that cover the costs of tests, and also lay out a protocol that covers employees’ rights if they become sick or need to quarantine after a business trip.
11. Procedures for cancelations
Nowadays, there are many reasons why business trips need to be canceled, both in advance and at short notice.
Whether your employee tests positive for COVID-19, there’s an increase in cases at the trip’s destination or a flight is canceled, you’ll need to account for cancelation procedures in your post-covid business travel policy.
To prevent costs racking up, consider implementing FlexiPerk, our flexible solution that offers at least an 80% refund on booked flights, hotels, trains, or cars when canceled up to two hours before employees were meant to travel.
Business travel, post-pandemic
Just because COVID-19 cases continue to drop in some countries and vaccination rollout is underway doesn’t mean that business travel will necessarily resume to the way we knew it pre-COVID.
A group of 25 high-level professionals from the travel and mobility tech sectors made a number of interesting predictions of the future of business travel post-COVID-19. These predictions included:
- The importance of real-time information, monitoring, and communication between business travelers and their companies.
- Remote and hybrid working are probably here to stay which means that this will affect the way we travel. Business travelers might not necessarily travel less but their trips might need to be better planned to include larger professional and personal itineraries. But like it or not, videoconferencing is probably here to stay!
- Employee wellbeing has been given higher priority. The emphasis on a travel manager’s Duty of Care is now more prominent than ever. The importance of hygiene has also embedded itself within this concept of care.
- Along with wellbeing, more emphasis is being placed on traveler satisfaction.