6 tips for creating a business travel policy in the Next Normal

As business travel shows signs of slow recovery in 2021, planes and trains are beginning to fill up once more with corporate travelers. But even if business travel one day returns to pre-pandemic levels, some of the changes brought about by COVID-19 may be here for good. 

For instance, the massive lull in travel last year gave companies time to revisit their corporate travel policies and make the process of filing claims and reimbursements more stringent—and for good reason. When an organization allows employees to travel in this current environment, it also exposes both the business and its people to increased risk. 

According to research by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the height of the coronavirus crisis saw:

  • 62% of organizations modifying their travel safety and security policies
  • 55% of respondents instituting new trip approval procedures

And even with growing vaccination rates and travel corridors, businesses are likely to permit travel only when necessary. In fact, a recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) survey found that 62% of business travelers believe they’re going to travel less even after the virus is contained.

In other words, business trips will likely be limited to essential travel and reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Despite the reduced rate of travel, however, businesses still need a travel policy that accounts for the new risks and variables of the Next Normal. 

Below are seven tips to consider when drafting your policy:

When possible, allow employees to work from home

Apart from being a public health crisis, the pandemic has also led to one big remote work experiment. And the results show that remote work, or some hybrid form of it, is here to stay.

While there’s still something to be said for the business case of business travel, social distancing guidelines have revealed how companies can still connect and stay productive with limited face-to-face time. 

Consider indicating flexible and remote conferencing as the top option in your travel policy. This will ensure that any approved business trip is deemed essential. 

Highlight health and safety protocols

Your travel policy should also include provisions for health and safety protocols, including the number of days employees should stay in quarantine after a business trip and the specific tests required before they can return to the office. 

For example, employees returning from overseas can work from home remotely for a minimum number of days based on your area’s quarantine protocols. When it comes to testing, be sure to indicate what type of COVID test employees should take and when to take it. 

For example: “Take a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test within 72 days of the scheduled departure of their flight.”

Note that different airlines will have their specific guidelines; for instance, Singapore Airlines requires travelers returning to Singapore to have a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of their return flight. 

This goes back to the importance of reviewing business trips on a case-by-case basis. 


Adjust procedures for the pandemic

Conduct a risk assessment of your travel policy to identify high-risk travel situations and prepare for instances of out-of-policy travel plans. 

In light of the unstable situation of the pandemic, risk assessments should be conducted regularly to update your travel policy alongside the latest government advice. For example, the UK currently has a traffic light system for travel that categorizes countries into a list of green, amber, and red list destinations — each one with different restrictions for arrivals. Each country’s designation can change depending on COVID case counts and vaccination rates. 

On the micro side of things, be sure to collect information about your employees’ emergency contacts. When they’re on a trip, travel managers should have full visibility of their travel itinerary, which should ideally limit where they go and whom they meet. It’s also a good idea to set up travel alerts for both employees and managers to keep everyone on the same page at all times. 


Determine who is responsible for Covid-related travel expenses

Even if your traveling employees have been fully vaccinated, some airlines and travel agencies may still require travelers to have a negative COVID-19 test before they board a flight or enter a country. 

Your travel policy should account for this expense to avoid any instances of employees paying for tests out of their pocket. On the off chance that they have to do so while on the road, your policy should have guidelines for reimbursements and claims. 

If your office offers insurance, then review your travel insurance policies. Comprehensive travel insurance should prevent your company from sustaining losses due to last-minute cancellations and non-refundable flights. 


Fulfill your duty of care to employees

Companies have a duty of care to their employees—a fact made all the more relevant by the pandemic. At the very least, anyone who has to travel for work should be vaccinated under the company’s dime. Likewise, any COVID tests they need to take any time during their trip should be filed as a corporate expense.

Employees should also get sufficient information on how to protect themselves from infection—a step that should also include infectious diseases apart from COVID. Make sure that employees who do travel get assistance from your HR department at any time in the case of emergencies 


Prepare for the unexpected

Not all employees who go on business trips will be able to come back to work immediately. As mentioned earlier, your risk assessment should provide clarity on how to handle outlying events and emergencies.

You should also iron out the details on things like paid time off and/or sick leave (if necessary), daily check-ins throughout the trip, and the steps the company will take if an employee tests positive for COVID after a business trip. 

Murphy’s Law applies here. Prepare for the worst and make sure your travel policy has all your bases covered. 


Consult with a lawyer to discuss your responsibilities

Consult with lawyers and regional legal experts to consider the actions you’ll need to take to protect both your company and traveling employees. The pandemic introduces specific questions that can complicate business travel. For example:

  • Can the company require employees to disclose the details of their vaccination?
  • Can the company require companies to sign risk waivers in light of COVID?
  • What are the company’s responsibilities if an employee is hurt, gets sick, or passes away on a business trip? 
  • Is the company allowed to bar employees from using their personal time abroad for leisure?


Travel smart and safely 

While business travel is in the middle of a “wait and see” mode, take this period of uncertainty as an opportunity to optimize spend management for a successful return to travel. Assess your travel policy from one end to the other to look for areas that need attention and improvement. Then, look for solutions to mitigate potential threats to both employees and the company. 

To receive assistance in preparing your business travel policy in this new environment, consult with SAP Concur—a trusted partner in invoice and spend management.

For more on our #BusinessSpendManagement series, click here

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