Should your company consider a travel ban?
With the coronavirus outbreak leveling off in China but a growing threat elsewhere in Asia, Europe, and the United States, how concerned should your company be? How about future travel and conference attendance?
“Every organization is having these conversations,” says Kent Kedl, a Shanghai-based partner at Control Risks, a global risks consultant group. Face-to-face meetings in hard-hit countries like China, Italy, and South Korea are becoming harder to schedule because of travel bans and quarantines, he says.
“You really have to think about how effective you’re going to be when you get to your destination,” Kedl explains. If everyone in a certain area is already working remotely while they wait for the coronavirus outbreak to pass, he asks, why would you fly an employee in?
NAVEX Global, which advises companies on how to mitigate risk, hasn’t offered advice to clients asking about travel bans, says Nelson Pratt, the company’s director, corporate marketing. It has, however, informed its employees only critical corporate travel, approved by a manager, will be allowed; all non-essential travel should be canceled until further notice.
If an employee visits one of six coronavirus outbreak hot spots—China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, or South Korea—that employee should work remotely for two weeks upon return. The policy applies to business or personal travel, Pratt says. “We’re asking them to stay home when they get back from their trip,” he adds.
Corporate bans of all nonessential travel, while not yet the norm, have been announced by many large companies, including Nestle, Twitter, Google, EY, and Amazon. Other companies—Coca-Cola, Kraft Heinz Co., and L’Oréal SA among them—have banned employee travel to coronavirus hotspots like China, Italy, and South Korea, according to Bloomberg News.
How about conferences? If your company is hosting a conference in the next three months or sending employees to one, should you consider canceling?
Companies may consider that traveling for conferences is non-essential and will enforce their travel policies from that perspective. Travel within the United States may be considered less risky than international travel.
Even so, dozens of national conferences—hosted by the likes of Facebook, Google, and industries as varied as energy, telecom, mobile phones, cars, game developers, and children’s books—have been postponed, canceled, or turned into online-only events, according to stories in ZDNet and The Los Angeles Times.
“We’re really testing everyone’s work-from-a-distance, virtual company frameworks,” says Kedl. The value of face-to-face interactions could be diminished if the crisis continues, and “we might see a real culture change” toward virtual meetings, he says.