A Different World for Travel and Workforce Mobility
Business travelers are returning to the road and skies and employers are reactivating and relocating their talent. Global mobility, whether for travel or relocation, is coming back to a world of changed expectations. We lasted visited this topic in our September 2021 blog (here) and the world has changed significantly since then. We’re seeing increased expectations from the workforce itself as well as increased obligations of the employer to their mobile talent. Collectively, these expectations and obligations are known as Duty of Care and increasingly that also includes Sustainability, as investors, employees and a broader stakeholder group are looking at companies for their responsible actions for the good of the planet, as well as of the people in their care. How do all these key expectations fit together? Let’s take a look at the trends.
How has Duty of Care Changed?
In the ‘before’ times, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Duty of Care in relocation and business travel was primarily associated with risk mitigation and physical safety. Large scale global engineering, logistics, and energy firms, for example, had well-documented procedures for safety and security for their operations, for the housing of their international travelers and employees on assignment, and for the effective tracking and evacuation of employees in the event of political unrest and natural disasters. The concept was to provide care and support in extreme or exceptional circumstances. As the mobile workforce became more diverse and global travel became more common, the definition of risk and of risk mitigation became broader. Companies provided more extensive training and support to prepare their employees to successfully adapt to daily work and cultural life in their destinations, since cultural misunderstandings could also trigger risks, such as lost business opportunities and failed assignments.
More recently, the ‘rare’ instances of political upheaval, climate-caused disasters and adverse public-health outbreaks have become much more common. Employees have made clear they expect their employers to assume greater responsibility for their health, safety, and well-being on the job…including travel, project work, short- and long- term assignments, and permanent relocations. In Europe, ‘duty of care’ has the force of law, and in the US, employers are learning that they are increasingly expected to provide not only a response to high-risk events, but to create an environment of well-being for their employees’ daily work. BTN recently quoted a leading travel management executive on Duty of Care, stating: “These [pandemic] considerations have remained a priority. They are a key part of the employer value proposition – today, there’s a greater focus on employee burnout, attrition, retention, and talent acquisition.”
Duty of Care Expectations in Global Travel and Mobility
In our industry, this topic is on the agenda at every major conference and regional gathering, including the recent Great Lakes Relocation Council in Cleveland, the GBTA Convention in San Diego, and the upcoming Worldwide ERC Global Workforce Symposium in Las Vegas. Duty of Care has come to mean supporting the whole person …. providing an environment of physical and social/emotional well-being for a diverse, inclusive, and global workforce, whether working from home, the office, or on the road.
Duty of Care is both compassionate and practical. For all the headwinds we face coming out of the pandemic, employers in most global employment capitals are still competing fiercely for talent and that talent has a high expectation for support and service. A recent GBTA update noted, “as employees return to business travel, many have faced hurdles … GBTA stakeholders most often report they and/or their colleagues have experienced confusion on travel restrictions/travel documentation (63%), are more anxious or stressed about business travel (45%) or have had challenges when navigating airports and security rules (36%).”
Can Accommodations and Destination Services be part of the Duty of Care solution?
As noted, travelers expect to be supported in a world of new guidelines and safety, beyond masks and vaccination requirements. Employees may prefer the greater privacy of furnished accommodations versus hotels, for example. In a stay of more than 30 days, a serviced apartment will almost always be less expensive than a hotel, provide an employee with more work/living space, and less traffic at the property. Hotels continue to be challenged with a full return to staffing and have fewer housekeeping and dining options than before. An employee in furnished accommodations has the option to prepare their own meals and/or access delivery services. An apartment setting is a message to the employee that the company has a ‘traveler centric’ policy, meaning the accommodations and related benefits offered are aligned with the length of stay, frequency of travel, and personal as well as business needs of the traveler.
Similarly, employees on assignment may need familiarization and area orientation support beyond online search. A local expert can explain why apartments in London are scarce (over 50% of the inventory was sold off during the recent real estate boom) or why the ‘most local’ school may not be an option (priority is given to local residents and recent Ukrainian refugees) or why obtaining a national identity card can take up to 12 weeks (pandemic backlog and staffing shortages). Duty of Care is duty to inform and local resources are the most reliable way to get practical and actionable information.
Sustainability and Duty of Care
Good Environmental, Social and Governance practices align well with Duty of Care. ESG initiatives – the actions taken and documented by a company to support independent assessment of its practices beyond financial results - are taking hold. According to an industry consultant site, 88% of publicly traded companies, 79% of venture and private equity-backed companies, and 67% of privately-owned companies have ESG initiatives in place. The documentation and practices that support ESG initiatives necessarily include a company’s plan for the well-being of its associates and the engagement of its supply chain. Strategic travel planning … fewer trips, more productivity…is a trend that takes into account this dual focus on employee well-being and carbon footprint reduction, all while focused on business results. Per GBTA, “corporate travel managers recognize sustainability will impact their travel program. The most frequently cited expectations include fewer trips per employee overall (54%) and longer, multi-purpose business trips (43%) and more rail and multi-modal options (34%).”
Putting a Plan in Place
Most companies have travel and relocation policies, and risk assessment/disaster recovery/business continuity plans. In a post-pandemic world that is more aware of risk….in public health, in climate, in global politics, in economic shifts…it makes sense to review all these policies through the lens of Duty of Care and Sustainability. Foundational steps would include:
- Gathering input – not only from risk and legal resources, but from associates, HR, and supply chain partners aware of the expectations of your mobile workforce on the ground, in real time
- Prioritizing risk and opportunity– stack rank the areas of greatest risk and greatest opportunity to positively impact employee well-being and organize your policy accordingly
- Creating clear and comprehensive communications - effective Duty of Care means making sure all stakeholders know their responsibilities and where to find resources and support
- Embedding in the culture – Duty of Care is a practice not just a policy. Offer options that support choice and recognition of individual need, while providing a framework that defines the company’s commitments and obligations
- For more specifics, check out the recommendations in our Quick Reference Guide: The Six Pillars of Duty of Care, here.
Duty of Care practices are a strong indicator to your partners and people that you’re committed to them in a new world of expectations and opportunity.