How will duty of care impact the way we travel, meet and connect in the future?

Duty of Care has always been high on corporate agendas. For travel managers, this has meant providing support and assistance, before, during and post-trip. The key to success has traditionally been in ensuring travellers understand how to respond should a problem arise and that employers always know where their travellers are so they can be located in the event of an emergency.

COVID-19 has propelled workplace health and safety right to the top of those agendas because the pandemic has affected people’s income, job security and social contacts. The lockdown has directly impacted personal and company health too; the 2009 financial crisis showed that prolonged financial hardship affects health directly.

Although the long-term impact of COVID-19 on healthcare, social care and society will take time to quantify, there may be positive outcomes such as reform in social care or the continuance of large scale volunteering. In the meantime, planning for what happens after COVID-19 is well underway.

Like all responsible TMCs, we take duty of care very seriously. We harness our knowledge and tools to ensure that our clients’ risk management is informed through reporting, that travel, and meetings policies are sufficiently agile to track and update travellers wherever they are, provide support on the ground and mitigate risk with specialist partners.

Lockdown has increased awareness of wellbeing, and the importance attached to wellness by employers. It is inconceivable that this re-ordering of priorities will not be carried through to travel and meeting programmes.

As hotels re-open, travel bans are lifted and businesses strike an effective balance between office and remote working, business travel will gradually recover. However, the impact of travel on employee health could force companies to take more responsibility for employee well-being.

Travel policies are more likely to put people first, making workplace safety employers’ top priority, even at the cost of organisational performance. Post-COVID, travel policies are likely to be subject to oversight from risk managers as well as traditional procurement teams. Policies are also likely to become more flexible to adapt when the unexpected happens. Travel managers may also require suppliers to provide flexible cancellation policies as standard or an optional extra to help travellers’ peace of mind and employers’ finances.

Enhanced awareness of health-related risk may usher in new standards of health certification such as a Certificate of COVID immunity, Employers may require all business travellers to undergo COVID testing; wellbeing, fitness programmes and health insurance policies could become mandatory. Employers may also address the mental health impacts of lockdown and remote working through pre-travel mental health assessments, to ensure their teams are mentally prepared to travel.

For suppliers, having hotel rooms and meeting venues professionally sanitized could become a new operating standard laid down in RFPs and contracts. Airlines may need to provide food and beverages in a way that reduces the risk of disease transmission. Equally, they may require travellers to exercise a more rigid personal hygiene regimes.

Corporate risk management policies could embrace suppliers’ hygienic environments and safety protocols, whilst the scope and scale of related data to be captured could be transformed. Travelers may need certification to cross international borders.

Global health insurance cover could become a mandatory element of travel policies to protect employers and employees – especially if countries go back into lock-down and the business travelers are stranded. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may become part of the business travellers’ tool kit, especially for those travelling by train, plane or tube.

Impetus for standardisation and sanitization will probably not come solely from employers. Employees will demand that social distancing be implemented and will look to their employers to provide environments that minimise health risks whilst encouraging a responsible work/life balance.

Although traveller tracking tools should already be mission-critical in most corporates, post-COVID traveller tracking could be widened to include not only where employees are traveling to, or where they’re staying, but who they are meeting with– and where. Privacy and data security concerns will have to be addressed by employers too, as will providing clear ethical guidance on the use of tracking technology.

More companies may implement Duty of Care systems to give them greater visibility around employees’ whereabouts when traveling for work. Technology, and a platform approach will be critical to connecting staff working from home with office-based colleagues -as will the fostering of confidence in the technology amongst users.

The coronavirus may also accelerate the trend towards smart working by developing virtual-meeting best practices, trainings, tools and support. By avoiding unnecessary travel and meetings, a smart working approach enables people to make conscious decisions about how they meet and the best way to travel to and from those meetings. If travel is necessary, promote decisions that are based on cost and value, with safety and well-being at the centre of those decisions.

Above all, the post-COVID world, employers will need to lead with empathy. It will no longer be acceptable to ask business travellers to travel 200 miles to an event for a 9am start. It may not even be acceptable to require them to stay away from home the night before when a virtual solution is available.

Never has it been more important for travel managers to engage with their travellers; listen to them, find out what their worries are and what they need from their travel programme.