Resuming business travel — it's complicated

As businesses weigh a return to sending employees on trips and welcoming visitors to their offices, employee safety comes first.
Resuming business travel — it’s complicated

As some businesses begin to transition to a post-pandemic reality, travelling professionals are eager to resume face-to-face meetings with clients and colleagues, according to a survey by Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles leadership consulting firm.

Of the over 800 professionals surveyed, 93% said in-person meetings create better long-term working relationships, and 76% reported they miss business travel.

But while travellers are looking forward to getting back on the road, many of them expressed safety concerns, with 66% reporting that they would feel more comfortable if their company mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for employees who travel.

To help clients determine if they are ready to resume business travel, Korn Ferry has developed a series of questions, said Sarah Jensen Clayton, a Salt Lake City-based senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

Clayton and two accounting and finance professionals offer ideas to help organisations assess the risks and prepare for a return to business travel.

Monitor COVID-19 restrictions at the destination. Jeremy Dillard, CPA, CGMA, technical standards partner at SingerLewak’s Los Angeles office, recently resumed business travel, but before he planned his first domestic trip to Atlanta, he considered the pandemic restrictions in both cities.

“There are no COVID-19 restrictions when flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta, but there are restrictions and protocols in place when I return home, including a short quarantine,” he said.

He acknowledged that post-pandemic business travel requires planning and research to learn what to expect at different destinations. He advised his fellow business travellers to be prepared to wear a mask in public places, to show proof of vaccination, and to add days to your travel itinerary if you must quarantine.

Create guidelines for office visitors. As business travel ramps back up, you can expect to host people in your office. “I call it the new office etiquette,” Clayton said. “There’s a whole new system around what’s appropriate when you host meetings in your office.”

SingerLewak is prioritising safety, Dillard said. Some measures include establishing guidelines for visitors to follow, such as requiring visitors to wear masks and continue social-distancing protocols to raise comfort levels for both hosts and visitors. Publicly posting requirements can help preserve a healthy workplace.

And communication is key. Dillard recommended letting visitors know what to expect in advance of their visit, and if they aren’t comfortable, making other arrangements. “If it’s not safe to be in the office, then we will continue having videoconference meetings remotely,” he said.

Help employees stay healthy. For Amy Lam, FCMA, CGMA, finance director for Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl) at the Hong Kong International Airport, safety is top of mind, and employees are encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“When it comes to travel, the first thing we have to do is protect ourselves and protect those around us,” Lam said. Health insurance is also important, she added, and recommended that organisations examine their employee health insurance policies to ensure they are adequate and will cover employees when they travel.

Research risk. At Hactl, the commercial and customer services teams travel extensively to call on clients and exhibit at conferences. Lam places a high degree of importance on the safety protocols in the countries they visit, the airlines they choose, and the venues hosting conferences.

“Even if Hong Kong is OK, and even if our flight is safe, we must decide whether that recipient country is safe to visit,” she said. “We screen the airlines we choose to fly, and while we try to use those that are our customers, we always evaluate their pandemic protection measures before we select them.”

At Hactl, managers also evaluate safety measures at conferences such as social-distancing rules, mask requirements, food service, and other factors before deciding whether to attend. “Some countries are requiring a quarantine, so we have to take that into consideration before sending people off to a country where they will have to stay in a hotel for two weeks before they can even go out and conduct business,” Lam said.

Be prepared to pivot at the last minute. In addition to coordinating travel logistics, having a Plan B is essential, Dillard advised. “Even though your trip might be three weeks out, a COVID flare-up at your destination could cause you to cancel, and you should already have backup plans in place,” he said.

When a meeting needs to quickly convert to a virtual event, make sure everyone involved knows what to do to facilitate a smooth change. Many businesses are being proactive and taking a hybrid approach to meetings that combines an in-person component with a digital platform for those who can’t attend on-site.

Dillard also recommended reviewing refund policies, buying trip cancellation insurance, and having a strategy in place to avoid large financial losses if you need to change your travel plans at the last minute. “It all falls back to the universal Scout motto, ‘Be prepared’,” Dillard said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, an FM magazine associate director, at