The world is an increasingly small place. Businesses of all sizes are expanding overseas and more and more companies are employing mobile workforces.
With this, business travel has greatly increased and the risks have soared alongside it. Global risks, which we all too often see in the news, carry the serious potential to impact an employee abroad.
Continued instability in the Middle East and attacks such as those that took place in Paris are undoubtedly a concern for both a company and a travelling employee; but more often than not it is the smaller hurdles which can catch you out. Businesses are often prepared for big events, but how prepared are you for the smaller, everyday issues?
In comparison to major - and largely infrequent - global events, a stolen wallet, misplaced passport or running out of prescription medication are more likely to occur and can subject a travelling employee to considerable stress and risk. In the security and familiarity of home, an individual could survive with relative ease without their work mobile phone for a few days. But remove an employee’s phone in a foreign country, and it will have a negative impact on their ability to work effectively as well as robbing them of potentially their only channel of communication. All of which can cause considerable distress to the employee and significant productivity issues for the company. In such a situation, time and communication are of the essence – an employee needs an effective channel to communicate problems so that you can implement a plan of action and resolve the issue at hand.
If you do not have the right processes in place, the aftermath of an incident can be an extremely stressful time, and could have adverse effects on your workforce. A good response plan is often a quick one - and a well implemented and efficient response from you can significantly reduce the burden on the employee. Many travel policies focus on enforcing corporate guidelines – are you staying in a pre-approved hotel is a well-known example. But, whilst it is important to manage this expense, applying a travel risk management strategy to avoid operational and physical risk is often much cheaper than the resulting cost of an incident.
For this to happen, you have to be extremely well informed in regards to your employees. Without being invasive, a company should look to obtain as much information as possible before a member of staff travels. Local laws and customs, flight details, hotel contact numbers, medical and dietary requirements and overall schedule information should all be considered. If you don’t have this information your capacity to support your employees and assist them when they require help will be impaired. For example, if a traveller loses their prescription medication for a pre-existing heart condition how do they obtain more? Is it available in their location, and if so does it have a different name or brand and are local suppliers likely to provide genuine medication? If it needs to be flown in do you know their full itinerary and schedule or only the airport where they landed?
Ultimately, obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Emergencies are sometimes unavoidable, and whilst certain issues can often seem trivial at home, an employee can be in real danger if they occur in a foreign setting. Language barriers, legal and cultural differences and access to medicine all muddy the waters. As a firm, you have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to safeguard your employees. This obligation has very tangible benefits; an employee who is worried about their safety will not perform to the best of their ability. Therefore instilling confidence throughout your workforce that you have taken all necessary measures to safeguard their health, safety and security whilst they are carrying out their job should be a priority.
So what should you do? It’s important to incorporate effective travel risk management processes throughout your wider travel policy. With travel risk management the old axiom ‘if you can’t monitor it you can’t manage it’ applies. As such, you should have full details of the locations of where all of your employees are carrying out your business, whether that is in Birmingham, Berlin or Baghdad. Utilising travel data and employee insights in order to empower your workforce to make informed decisions to manage and mitigate risk when travelling overseas is crucial and one of the most effective ways of ensuring safety. Plus, the more key staff are able to learn about the specific requirements of business travel and incorporate these into effective management platforms, the more prepared they are to deal with all manner of risks. Because overall, when you have an accurate, holistic business travel picture, both you and your employees can feel reassured that be it big and global or small and personal – everything is under control.
Jon Richardson, EMEA Risk Management Specialist at Concur.