How Health Management is Redefining Business Travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined everyday life, introducing phrases like social distancing into daily conversation and flipping the switch on virtual workplaces around the globe. Businesses from small companies to big-name brands are all fighting to adapt to the sudden changes and, most importantly, anticipate the “new normal” that will last long after the crisis has waned.

While recovery forecasts and projected trends vary by industry and region, corporate travel has already begun to witness a shift in preparation for the post-pandemic future. At the forefront of this evolution, the safety and security of employees as part of a concentrated focus on health management. Below we’ve tapped into the insights of Direct Travel’s Chief Technology Officer, Darryl Hoover, to break down what health management looks like and why it matters not only to your travel program but to the overall well-being of your company.

From Global to Granular

When coronavirus first spread around China’s now reopening Hubei province in early January, the response from businesses ranged from slight apprehension to complete lack of awareness. With the exception of some multi-national global companies, many focused on the ostensibly far-off nature of the virus—its distant location and the nebulous information surrounding its spread. Two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the world is a much smaller place than we’re willing to admit.

Historically, the risk management approach of a company’s Duty of Care platform has focused on impending threats deemed relevant to the company. Risk data concerning civil unrest in India or border conflicts in the Middle East can seem too far-flung and disconnected for businesses to bother managing. This mindset (“I don’t travel to that market, so I don’t need to be aware.”) limits the ability of businesses to take global threats and anticipate their effects on a granular level.

Travelers Are Employees First

Understanding how the events in one part of the world can impact a seemingly unrelated business in another part, underscores the need for an employee-first focus when crafting travel policies and Duty of Care standards.

For travel managers and Travel Management Companies (TMCs), it can be challenging when managing risks to look beyond the individual in their role as a traveler and view them first as an employee. During a pandemic, the benefits of Duty of Care standards protecting travelers are lost if those same standards aren’t applied to the company as a whole. An employee planning a vacation to an emerging outbreak area can pose just as much of a concern as an executive returning home from a business trip abroad, especially if the employee has not been properly briefed due to their status as a “non-traveler.”

In today’s globally connected environment, not only are all travelers first and foremost employees, but all employees should be viewed as potential travelers necessitating the same level of health and safety care.

Forecasting Data & Privacy Changes

Preparing for the future, an important step in this holistic approach will involve adapting existing technology to pinpoint threats on a local level. Although companies currently have the ability to easily track employees while traveling, the question of how far to extend that technology for use in broader health management is only beginning to be explored.

Due to COVID-19, remote workers have emerged as part of the “new normal.” This poses a different set of risks and data privacy concerns compared with those who are site-based. Consider the method of communication in place and the tools being utilized to ensure the safety of each employee regardless of location. A natural disaster near a corporate headquarters may not immediately impact remote workers in another region, but the effects will be felt all the same. Conversely, a highly localized threat like a school lockdown may effect a remote worker but not employees working on-site elsewhere.

Data regarding work location, place of residence, spouse’s work location, HR insights, etc., will all be components of how a company responds to such threats, providing privacy laws allow accommodations for ways in which such data can be used. These threats and conversations around data privacy are not specific only to corporate travel, but must be taken into account when evaluating your risk management strategies to ensure the health of your company and employees.

Is your company prepared to adjust to this evolving standard of care and the “new normal”? We can help you anticipate the next evolution of your travel program.