After the borders that closed at the pandemic’s onset started reopening, we were just beginning to feel free to move about again. Yet with aggressive new variants and populations that lack (or refuse) available vaccines, international travel is once more in doubt. Although we aren’t back to full-on sheltering in place, the state of travel is still unquestionably questionable.
Global companies find themselves somewhere on the spectrum between “as usual” and “unusual” or “in situ” and “ex situ.” Travel is being impacted by vaccine and testing protocols, fluctuating airline operations, supply chain disruptions, and border closures. However, like the show, business must go on even in uncertain times.
Companies need to remain flexible enough to adapt to ever-changing conditions in real time or risk failure. The good news? There are ways to overcome the challenges and keep doing business overseas even when travel remains dicey.
Communication is job one
Good communication is critical to the success of any company under the best of circumstances. Challenged by distance, time zones, and language barriers, though, “good” can be a difficult standard to attain. For certain, it will require a solid strategy and concerted effort.
Developing remote team communication guidelines will facilitate interaction between teams and managers who can’t be in the same room. The guidelines should encourage high-quality communication, not just more of it. Communicating randomly and too frequently will hamper productivity at the level where you need it most.
You also need to have strategies for communicating with your customers — especially those who can’t travel to your location. Your digital marketing plan should do more than address how you tell them about your products and services. It needs to address what tools and channels you will use to engage them in conversation.
Don’t neglect other audiences you must communicate with, most notably your suppliers. You will need to work with them to devise routine communication procedures that keep everyone in the loop. Good communication can give you advance warnings of potential supply chain problems and adequate time to go with Plan B.
Effective communication can truly make up for a lot of travel uncertainty. Just don’t forget to communicate your communication plan to everyone who needs to know about it.
Plan for unplanned travel disruptions
By now, companies should understand the likelihood of having their employees’ travel plans change at the last minute. It doesn’t only happen when a country closes its borders to reduce the spread of COVID. It might also occur when the airline your company uses cancels hundreds of flights in a matter of hours.
Most companies have eliminated nonessential travel and replaced it with remote communication platforms. But sometimes an employee has to show up in person because their job can’t be done via Zoom. You need to have a plan for essential travel and contingency plans when you’re running out of options.
Monitor protocols in every country you have to travel to and keep your essential travelers up-to-date. Travel schedules should accommodate testing and quarantine protocols, just as they would an international visa requirement. Employees need to be armed with appropriate documentation that will pass scrutiny upon arrival at their destination.
If you have corporate contracts with airlines and other transportation providers, it would be wise to review them. Work with those companies on contingency plans for cancellations and routing changes. In these times, you and those you contract with are in this together.
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so be prepared. Use your company’s existing business relationships to help employees travel as smoothly as possible.
Keep your remote programs online
You are probably well past believing this coronavirus thing will be over soon, and life will return to pre-pandemic normalcy. (If you aren’t, get there.) The pandemic spurred not only the use of remote technology but development of better tech as well.
The money your company saved on global travel might have paid for the remote technology you’ve needed to keep going. You’ve likely also invested time in training employees to get acclimated to that technology. You may have used it to develop remote onboarding programs, do time tracking for payroll, and even host the company holiday party.
There are two great reasons to keep this tech in tip-top shape. First, you have a workforce that may demand at least some amount of working remotely for a very long time. Second, your technology is the best backup plan you can have when travel plans suddenly change.
Cement remote technology in every communication, sales, employee recruitment, and retention strategy. When things can’t be done in person, even with little warning, your IT investment will pay dividends again. Don’t let the systems and procedures you developed in a crunch fall into disrepair. It’s probably safe to say that the future is, at a minimum, a hybrid one. Keep your remote systems tuned up and raring to go when you need them.
The unpredictable nature of international travel is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Companies that formerly relied on overseas travel can’t just sit back and wait it out. What they can do is design and execute well-considered plans that compensate for dicey travel. Back up every travel scenario with a contingency plan, including virtual communications. You’ll be hedging your bets with every roll of the dice.