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- Business Insider spoke to large firms and risk management companies about preparing for business trips during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Many of those companies plan to return to “business as usual” as soon as possible, with the same number of international trips as before.
- Risk management companies say firms should give traveling employees clear guidelines and real-time danger alerts.
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As countries across the world start to ease lockdown restrictions, business travel — on hold for several months — may start to kick off.
A March poll suggested global firms had suspended or canceled around 90% of their business trips to Europe due to the coronavirus outbreak — now, 44% of global companies plan to resume corporate trips, a survey published by PwC last week suggested.
Some firms are already sending employees abroad. Bookings through TravelPerk, a Barcelona-based travel management company, hit the floor in April, but bookings by businesses in Germany, which lifted lockdown measures earlier than other countries, have since quadrupled. TravelPerk expects other countries to follow suit.
“We have seen a direct correlation between measure relaxing and companies going back to business trips,” Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo, chief commercial officer at TravelPerk, told Business Insider.
Business trips during the pandemic come with risks, and firms will have to decide if those risks are worth it. Some, clearly, think they are. If you’re asked to go on a business trip, here are eight things you should do before you depart.
1) Ask if your firm will track you abroad
Companies are showing increasing appetite for tracking their employees’ locations on business trips, Clare Hughes, global mobility director at PwC, told Business Insider.
Firms see tracking as a way of reducing risk. For example, employees visiting another country might end up stranded — their company wants to know where they are and, if they face an extended stay, ensure they comply with local tax and social security rules. “I think it’s an option to build trust between the employee and the company,” Hughes said.
The “easiest way” for companies to monitor an employee’s location is to track their IP address when they log in for work. But some firms will be “nervous about doing it, because it feels like an invasion of privacy,” Hughes added.
To avoid privacy concerns, ask your company how, or if, they are going to track you abroad.
Read more: How to use a ‘mistake-proofing’ philosophy developed by Toyota in the ’60s to redesign your office cheaply and effortlessly for the age of social distancing
2) Ask your firm about healthcare and health insurance, and what they cover
Most companies have you covered for business trips through an international healthcare plan.
For a shorter business trip, most firms work with a travel security company, but may also ask you to rely on your own private health coverage. Before going on a trip, check all the details of your health insurance – private or coporate. Ask your HR rep or line manager to find out the extent of your coverage.
3) Your firm might have access to databases full of information about your destination — ask to see it
Most large companies work with risk management firms and may have access to a database — PwC has one covering most countries, for example.. These should cover all the information needed for your trip, from immigration rules to the documentation needed, and quarantine restrictions.
Travel management companies, such as TravelPerk, have also produced risk alert systems based on infection rates and government measures.
If you want further information, some security services companies, such as International SOS, provide firms with real-time risk guidance and travel safety education, but can also manage evacuating processes, if required.
4) Contact anyone you plan to meet — they may be playing by different rules
Countries have their own, unique measures to combat coronavirus — and so do companies across the world.
A source from the financial services sector with knowledge of the matter told Business Insider on the condition of anonymity, that if a client came to see them then they would ask them to follow certain measures, which in many cases go a little further than the government minimum.
Measures might include temperature checks on the way into a building, mandatory two-metre social distancing at all times, and reduced lift capacity.
Read more: THE COST OF REOPENING: Here’s how much companies should expect to spend per employee when it’s time to welcome everyone back
5) Guidelines keep changing, so keep yourself updated
This global crisis has taught us that everything can change, and change fast.
Companies must adapt to changes in immigration rules, COVID-19 restrictions, government guidelines, and infection rates. It’s probably “one of the biggest changes companies have seen in years and years,” Hughes told Business Insider.
If you decide to go on your corporate trip, make sure you stay updated on any changes in both the country you are leaving and the one you are travelling to. Your firm should be able to keep you informed.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask to break the normal rules of a business trip
If you’re anxious about your trip, feel free to ask your manager whether you can take extra precautions abroad, such as attending a few of your meetings virtually, rather than in-person. If you’re visiting a company office abroad, you may still be able to work remotely for some of the time, too.
“In the past, many companies might have said no to that because it brings corporate tax risk exposure, payroll exposure, etc. It brings compliance complications with it,” Hughes said.
“But companies are starting to say okay, I don’t think we can still carry the default ‘no’ anymore. We need to work to look to see what we can facilitate.”
7) Talk to your HR rep or line manager before travelling
If you have any questions about your upcoming trip, ask your HR rep. They can, in most cases, provide further information about risks and how to minimize them, including the healthcare protocols you should follow, and any protection you need before you travel, such as masks.
Keep in touch with your HR rep and line manager throughout your trip, so they know where you are.
8) And don’t forget — in most cases, you have the option not to travel
Most companies will ultimately let you decide whether or not to travel — and it’s something you should think seriously about. Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, told Business Insider that business trips carry many health risks.
“People are going to be meeting inside the same room with people for hours, because there’s no point to having a short business meeting,” he said. “So I think the potential risks keep multiplying up: lots of people, different countries, length of time long meetings inside, often face to face, which is worse than sitting next to somebody.”
He encouraged firms to consider alternatives to business trips, such as virtual meetings.
If you’re undecided, you can ask your firm to buy a flexible trip — if you change your mind at the last minute, your company will get a refund.