As business travel came to a standstill in early 2020, scores of road warriors stashed their well-used suitcases in closets and tucked away their passports for the time being. While the level of readiness to return to business travel varies throughout the world, businesses and their employees are now thinking about what the “new normal” will look like once they receive the green light to hit the road again.
New research fielded by SAP Concur in July 2020 looks into business travelers’ concerns and expectations as restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 are being lifted slowly. While the data suggests travel will continue to play an irreplaceable role in meeting critical business demands, it also shows that health and safety are top-of-mind among employees. The survey reveals that ensuring their health and safety while traveling is most important to business travelers, with 58 percent placing it in their top three considerations. Top concerns about returning to business travel also include getting sick themselves (57 percent) and infecting their families (46 percent).
These concerns could be contributing to employees’ stress during the trip. 38 percent of business travelers said they find the actual trip the most stressful stage. 30 percent find pre-trip activities such as planning, booking and organizing their trip to be the most stressful, while 32 percent find post-trip activities such as filing expense reports and monitoring their health after returning home to be the most stressful. Additionally, business travelers hold themselves most accountable to protect their health and safety once travel starts again However, they also are looking to their employer to protect their health and safety in addition to the company’s travel agency (and the government
This leads to the question – Are companies prepared to meet business travelers’ expectations in light of the fluid state of business and travel during these unprecedented times?
The SAP Concur survey found that many travel managers across the globe reported that their company was not fully prepared to manage evolving travel demands during the outbreak. What were the biggest pain points experienced?
- Handling the volume of cancelled reservations
- Processing the volume of refunds, receipts, and unused tickets
- Determining if it is safe to travel in the absence of government guidelines
As business travel resumes, companies would need to gear up to sift through the ‘new normal’ and adapt to new processes and guidelines. Companies could also face additional challenges on top of meeting employees’ expectations to ensure they feel protected and safe. If companies don’t adapt, 73 percent of business travelers say they intend to take some degree of action, such as asking to limit or reduce travel in their current position (44 percent), searching for a new position within their company that does not require travel (19 percent), or searching for a position at a different company (9 percent). In light of this, here are a few tips that can help companies meet business travelers’ expectations to keep them healthy and safe:
- Update travel policies. Companies should look at their current travel policy and make updates to fit the current situation. One important guideline to update is what the company will consider essential travel. The human resources department should work with the business leaders to determine which business functions need to be conducted in person and which ones can be done online. 36 percent of business travelers say they consider limiting business travel to only the most business-critical trips as vital for their company to implement when travel resumes. Not only will it help minimize employees’ exposure, it can also make a difference in the company’s bottom line.
- Consult the experts. National health organizations, Ministries and even hospitals offer free information regarding safe travel. Companies should stay up-to-date on the latest guidance and ensure employees know about these resources. They should closely follow the periodic announcements made by the relevant state and central government authorities to get information regarding safety advisories and travel guidelines.
- Health checks and personal protective equipment (PPE). Companies should look for ways to implement mandatory personal health screenings before and after travel for employees. In fact, 48 percent of business travelers believe this is an important measure companies should take. This can help ease business travelers’ concerns about infecting others and being infected themselves in the course of travel. Business travelers also want easier access to PPEs like gloves or facemasks and expect their company to provide them with this equipment.
- Implement technology that gives insight into employees’ travel plans. It’s vital for companies to know where employees are during business trips so they can communicate with them should an incident occur. An integrated technology solution that provides up-to-date business traveller data and the ability to reach out to employees in the event of an emergency offers peace of mind to both the business traveler and the organisation.
While these tips won’t fully solve for all business travel challenges, they can help alleviate some of the concerns employees have when it comes to returning to travel and help businesses adapt, stabilize, and reimagine business travel in the new normal.