When is it Safe to Travel for Business Again?By Jack Ablon
While many states are beginning to open back up after COVID-19 closures, you may be wondering: when is it actually safe to let my employees travel again?
The answer, as you can probably expect, is it depends. On a lot of things. Let’s go through them!
Do we really need to take a trip?
What type of work needs to be done? With the increasing shift to remote work, trips that you may have asked employees to take in the past may be able to be more easily accomplished online. Zoom has proven to be a pretty good alternative to flying back and forth for a quick, 1 hour meeting.
Other work may still need to be done in person, such as site visits, visual inspections or anything else that requires physical interaction with someone or something. Even if this work does need to be done in person, though, how important is it? Does it need to be done right now, or can it wait a month or more? As we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we should be trying to eliminate non-essential trips at all costs.
Can we even travel there?
Even if you deem a trip safe, it may not be feasible. For example, Florida is enforcing residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and many states like Massachusetts are “urging” all incoming travelers to quarantine for 14 days. For states with quarantine policies in place, we’d recommend skipping the trip for now.
Additionally, you need to be mindful of the stay-at-home or other orders that are still in place in the state that you’re planning on traveling to. You need to know what you will and won’t be able to do there, such as how restaurants must operate and when and where face coverings are required (though we recommend you don one whenever in public). Also, potentially having a direct impact on your travel plans, some hotels are still closed – or only open to certain individuals such as residents of that state or first responders/medical personnel. It’s best to check with wherever you’re thinking of staying before booking. Take a look at this link and find recently updated information for the state you’re planning to travel to.
Who will we be interacting with, and where?
You definitely need to take stock of the other people that your travelers will be around. Who might they come into contact with, how many people might this be, where have they been and have they been quarantining? Further, will everyone be wearing protective gear such as masks? This should be a definite yes. Additionally, will the work be conducted inside or outside? Taking meetings outside may provide a safer environment offering more opportunities for distancing.
How are we getting there?
Mode of transportation is a big consideration. Airlines are undertaking immense cleaning efforts, such as Delta’s “Delta Clean” campaign, and it is true that cabin air is constantly flowing and refreshes approximately every 3 minutes. However, there is definitely risk associated with going through airports and being on airplanes. Even with precautionary measures such as blocking off middle seats (as many airlines are doing), interaction and potential exposure will be unavoidable. Additionally, many ‘touch points’ exist from tray tables, to arm rests, to overhead bins – places that may miss being completely sanitized even with the best efforts.
What might be a good alternative? Driving could eliminate a lot of interaction that might occur in the airport and on the plane. For routes that can be driven in under ~4 hours, a car may be a much safer (and often just as quick!) way of getting there. But, please don't ask your travelers to drive from NYC to LA – we don’t really have to say this, do we?!
If you’re going long distance and you must have your travelers fly, though, how many stops or layovers will there be? Each stop more than doubles your exposure as you’re interacting with a new airport, new airplane, and new passengers. For this reason, nonstop flights should be highly prioritized at this time, even if they come at higher cost.
Where are we going to/from?
Where are you planning on sending travelers to? While rural areas may be reasonable, densely-populated areas with recent COVID spikes or other virus hotspots should be avoided at all costs. Do some research into this on behalf of your travelers. This map from the NYT is a fantastic resource.
Also, where are your travelers traveling from? Are they coming from a hotspot themselves? Ask them to give some thought to where they’ve been recently and keep in mind that they have social responsibility to not inadvertently spread the virus.
Are we as prepared as possible?
Should you send some employees on the road, you’ll need to provide them with 'wellness kits' with items such as masks, sanitizer, wipes, and more, or at least provide them with funds to purchase these items themselves. Additionally, you should verify that the airline(s), hotel(s), and/or rental car provider(s) that you're sending your traveler(s) on are taking effective measures to sanitize and maintain distancing. This info is only a quick Google search away.
How comfortable are we with the trip?
As a travel manager, you need to give some thought to your own comfort level as well as that of your traveler(s). Do you feel comfortable putting your employees in any and all of these situations, most of which you won’t be able to control if something goes wrong?
Regardless of how meticulously you have researched and put together an itinerary, though, you need to give your traveler(s) the final call. If they raise any concerns about any part of the trip, you should work together to come up with an alternative that doesn't involve travel. And, most importantly, do not penalize them or try to change their minds. Now more than ever, we must treat our people right.
Lastly, you should also check in with those that your traveler(s) is planning to meet and/or do work with. Are they ok with the trip and its structure? Do they even really want to meet? Check in with them!
Ok, so how can you and your travelers come to a decision?
Weighing the risk of a trip when there’s so many factors isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve created this risk analysis chart to help you easily break down every single part of your trip and ensure that you’re keeping your travelers safe.
Based on the ways in which you’re planning to have an employee travel, you can quickly estimate of the risk of the trip and make adjustments accordingly to bring it down!
Be mindful of what you're asking your employees to do, be respectful of their concerns, and be Wicked Loving as always. When you do choose to travel, please do so safely.