How to Manage Business Travel in a Socially Distanced World
What Is Business Travel in a Socially Distanced World?
Business travel is critical across a range of industries – with meetings across countries and international visits to client sites, as well as industry and academic conferences.
Business travel plans used to be reasonably straightforward, just involving linking travel and flights, hotels and conferences, as well as any destination-dependent visas or vaccinations.
In the post-pandemic world, national and even international business travel is still possible, but more planning and preparation are necessary to ensure that it can happen safely and within the parameters of local restrictions and laws.
Businesses that require or expect their employees to travel, either nationally or internationally, will have to spend more time researching and planning to make sure their travel plans can still work in a socially distanced world.
What Should Your Planning Include?
Detailed planning for all business travel will ensure that it is not only safe but also the best use of employees’ time and business budget.
There are more steps to consider now regarding making travel plans, considering the changing laws around the pandemic, such as social distancing and other regulations.
Consider where travel can happen.
Some destinations will have red lists (countries they are not receiving visitors from), while others might have strict vaccine, testing and/or quarantine laws.
While pre-pandemic travel considerations around visas and vaccinations did exist, restrictions have now increased.
There is a chance that international travel may be subject to bans without the relevant coronavirus vaccine, and at the very least, there is likely to be testing at each location, if not mandatory quarantine.
Most COVID-19 related quarantine is 14 days. Effective planning should include the cost of testing and the extended stays at a hotel for quarantine (as well as the time itself).
The clients that your business might be visiting, or the venues hosting conferences or seminars, may have restrictions on the numbers of attendees – and many conferences, seminars and meetings in person are canceled for the foreseeable future, or moving entirely online.
There may be a necessity to change the location of an international meeting if attendees are coming from countries that might be on the red lists or have long quarantine periods.
Before booking anything travel-related, ensure the event is still taking place and the employee who will be going has a guaranteed place (for example, via a ticket).
Both making the travel plan and the trip itself will take more time than before.
The plan needs to include time set aside for possible cancellations – even as travel options open up, there is no guarantee that travel planned in advance will be able to go ahead.
Counter this by making travel plans with contingency options for last-minute cancellations, such as alternate accommodation and travel options to get back home.
Time spent in quarantine (up to 14 days on either side of the event) may initially seem lost but consider if quarantine time can be spent on paperwork or other work that can be completed away from the office.
When planning business travel, there needs to be a goal for each trip – is it an in-person meeting, a tour of a facility or a conference? Can it be completed virtually without travel?
Additionally, with the different prohibitions in neighboring countries and even states, a business planning travel must keep up with local news and advice to ensure they are following all regulations.
Budget must be a big consideration of any travel plans in a socially distanced world.
Not only are there likely to be more costs incurred for the travel itself, but budgets also need to cover more or enhanced PPE for employees (such as masks, disinfectant and disposable gloves), coverage for travel cancellations, extra expenses for extended hotel stays during quarantine – including meals – as well as the time spent away from the office (which could be 14 days at either side of arrivals and departures).
Employee Feelings and Circumstances
The other consideration that a business must make is how its employees feel about traveling.
Some employees will be ready for the chance to jump back into traveling , while others will not be comfortable doing so – legally businesses must make reasonable adjustments and accommodations for staff who want to remain at home or not travel.
Following the legal obligations of health and safety around business travel in a socially distanced world must be of utmost importance.
How to Manage the Trip Itself
Prep Before Travel
Always keep a bag on you containing multiple masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes and know where you can buy or get more.
This bag will help make sure that anywhere you spend time will be as safe and as clean as possible.
Depending on the length of the trip (and the regulations for the airport regarding liquids and other items in hand luggage), try to bring prepackaged snacks and drinks so that you are as sure as you can be that what you consume is protected.
If possible, check ahead with the different companies involved in the trip to get an understanding of the personal safety and travel restrictions that you should be aware of.
On the way to the airport or wherever else you are departing from, when traveling in a taxi or Uber, be sure to handle your luggage yourself where possible.
Sit in the back seat and wear a mask and gloves, plus open the windows for extra ventilation. Any air conditioning may just recirculate air throughout the vehicle.
Hire cars should have been professionally cleaned and sanitized before use, but wipe down the steering wheel, handles and buttons for your own peace of mind.
If on public transport, like a bus or a train, wipe down the seats before sitting down and maintain social distancing – wearing a mask and gloves is also a good idea, as is opening the windows if that is allowed.
Much public transport now blocks off certain seats to help maintain social distancing, which reduces its capacity, so be aware you may have to wait longer than usual to find a bus or train you can ride in.
At the Airport and on the Plane
Check in online where you can, and only bring hand luggage if you can fit everything you need in it.
If you do need to check your bags in, be sure to handle them yourself and put them on the carousel if you are able to.
Around the terminal, wash hands regularly and avoid touching too many surfaces.
Follow local regulations around wearing masks, be sure to keep your distance from other passengers and, if you sit in the departure lounge before boarding, wipe the seats and armrests with your disinfectant wipes.
When going through security, try to ensure that you do not have anything on you that might cause security to request further examination, so that you can minimize the time spent there.
Follow the instructions of the staff for boarding, but before you sit down, be careful to wipe your seat, tray table and seatbelt with the disinfectant wipes.
During the flight, stay in your seat as much as possible, but if you need to get up for the bathroom, take your hand sanitizer and disinfectant so that you can clean the handles, seats and taps before you use them.
Immediate Post Flight/Train
After disembarking, as soon as is practical, wash your hands thoroughly.
Follow the airport directions for your next step, whether that is to go to a testing area, straight to quarantine or out of the airport.
For peace of mind, the business should research beforehand what happens on arrival at the destination so you can be certain you follow the correct procedures.
If you need to quarantine, go straight to the hotel or quarantine area as directed.
While on the Trip
During your visit, be sure to follow local covid regulations – whatever the specific rules are for the country/state.
In public spaces where there are likely to be a lot of people, wear a mask and wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.
Maintain good social distance from others – even those you are meeting – and avoid handshakes, hugs or any close contact.
In your hotel, try to use contactless check-in where possible and, once in your room, clean all surfaces that are likely to be high-touch areas (such as door handles, light switches, TV remotes and charging points ) with your disinfectant wipes.
When dining, remember that restaurants and bars are likely to have maximum capacity rules if they are open, and avoid eating buffets or potluck-style meals if you can do so without causing offense – choose prepackaged foods and wash your hands before and after eating.
Be courteous to your hosts and follow all local regulations to protect yourself and cover the company from any legal issues.
When You Get Back
On your return home, you may need to be tested again and/or head for compulsory quarantine.
Make sure that you thoroughly disinfect your luggage – you can buy effective spray disinfectants that are particularly useful for this.
Clean yourself by taking a shower and changing into fresh clothes before you leave the house again.
Avoid contact with multiple people and continue to practice covid-safe measures like social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, even when you are in more familiar territory.
Business Travel Is Still Possible When Planned Carefully
As the world begins to open back up, business travel is likely to resume, but it might take time to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
While airlines have found that business passengers make up just 12% of their passengers, they are worth 75% of the profits – so it makes sense for them to do what they can to attract more business users.
This means that they now should be more flexible (for example, about last-minute cancellations) while reassuring passengers that they are doing all they can to help maintain safety for all users.
Destinations are likely to change too, with specially designed covid-secure conference centers and meeting suites likely to be available for business use in the near future.
Business travel may have changed, but it is still possible.
More consideration needs to be made for how necessary the trip is and what will be achieved; it is a judgment call as to whether it could be conducted through video conferencing or in another virtual way.
Employees who are traveling need to be prepared for long queues, as safe and socially distanced travel takes more time, and know that tests and quarantines a necessary part of it.
Employees should take responsibility for their own health by ensuring that they are wearing a mask when necessary, washing their hands often alongside using hand sanitizer, and avoiding handling surfaces unnecessarily in public areas.
Businesses should shift to treat business travel as something allowed but not required – it is possible, but with more planning and detailed consideration.