Posted: 12 Mar 2020 How can travel professionals assist with Duty of Care in uncertain times?
Today’s hyper-connected world allows even the smallest of companies to operate with a global footprint. And with an increase in doing business across regions and borders, small companies are ramping up their business travel to meet the needs of clients, customers and suppliers based near and far.
This represents exciting new opportunities for SMMEs, but with it, comes a new host of considerations. It's one thing to ensure duty of care when your employees are safely seated in the office. But once they hit the road or take to the skies, you need to have a clearly outlined plan in place to minimise and mitigate risk, ensuring your employees' physical and mental wellbeing.
Andrew Grunewald, Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT) Brand Leader knows that this can be a daunting task, especially in uncertain times when global issues become local concerns or when there is a mismatch between perceived risk and actual risk.
“These days, threat levels can change rapidly in any country. And although the probability of experiencing such a scenario while travelling for business is extremely small, political unrest, extreme weather, and public health events can all occur with little to no warning,” says Grunewald. “While some risks are beyond the control of even the most organised and compliant of itineraries, what you can control are the steps you take as a company to prevent, support and respond in these situations.”
A trusted travel management company (TMC) can help businesses navigate the complexity of duty of care. With the help of experts whose job it is to manage business travel risk, you can develop actionable strategies within a comprehensive duty of care policy.
A TMC partner also has the tools and resources to monitor global events that may arise and pose a risk to business travellers.
Grunewald points to the recent spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), which has put global travel under the microscope and duly affected business travel with the cancellation of flights, conferences and meetings.
“It’s easy to give into alarm and indiscriminately suspend all business travel ,but doing this, especially within an SME business, can do more harm than good.”
A better approach is to consult with your TMC and any concerned public authorities (e.g. NICD, WHO, International SOS) to make sure that you and your employees have the latest information on the situation. Then you can better assess the benefits and risks related to upcoming travel plans and make a plan to manage the risk.
“Pre-travel risk assessment is a crucial component of your duty of care policy. In fact, a good way to structure your policy is into three verticals: pre-travel, during travel, and post-travel,” Grunewald advises. “Again, the primary concern on everyone’s mind at the moment, coronavirus, emphasises the importance of each of these components.”
By consulting with experts and performing a thorough risk assessment, you can base decisions on fact rather than fear. The two primary considerations involve the individual travelling and the environment in which they'll be working.
For instance, in the case of public health events, companies should avoid sending employees who may be at a higher risk of serious illness, e.g. older employees and those with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems. And take into account the possible transport disruptions that may leave your employee temporarily stranded. Ask your travel expert to ensure your duty of care policy and travel insurance policy covers you and your employees.
You’ve done everything you can to ensure a safe and friction-free itinerary, and your employee has embarked on their trip. What happens now?
"Tracking the location of your employees and providing them with real-time advice or on-the-ground assistance are priorities for your duty of care policy. Where an SME business may not have the capability to take on these responsibilities themselves – a TMC partner can provide a personal approach where you can call your dedicated travel expert in any emergency and help re-route your traveller " says Grunewald.
Post-travel duty of care tends to receive much less attention – it's easy for employees to return from their trip, submit their expense report and move quickly onto business as usual.
However, it’s still vitally important to provide things like post-travel health check-ups, especially if an employee has travelled to a high-risk infection zone, e.g. malaria.
"With globalisation, the focus on entrepenuers in the recent budget speech and the increasing ease of travel, the world has become much more accessible for SME’s – that's exciting, but it also comes with the added responsibility to ensure employee safety while travelling. And in uncertain times, this can feel like a very heavy responsibility. Your business should know that they needn't go it alone, though. Partnering with a trusted TMC like Flight Centre Business Travel can help you tighten up your duty of care policy, assess your travel insurance and reassure your employees that they're being looked after – allowing your whole team to focus on more productive matters of business," concludes Grunewald.