We all know the story too well by now: when the world shut down more than a year ago, we had to get creative when it came to day-to-day business operations. Given the spread of the coronavirus via aerosol droplets, face-to-face meetings were one of the first activities halted — even though more than three-quarters of small business owners report in-person meetings can make a big difference.
Now, thankfully, vaccines are being swiftly administered, and the CDC says folks who’ve been fully vaccinated can remove their masks, even indoors. The world is reopening, and among other previously prohibited practices, you may be considering resuming business travel.
But should you?
Should you travel for business again? Here’s what to consider
Here’s what to weigh while you decide whether or not you’re ready to resume business travel.
Your employees’ (and clients’) vaccination status
Scientists agree that COVID-19 vaccines can help keep the people who take them from getting severely sick — and can also help reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Per recent guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, most employers can legally require their employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, with certain exceptions. But not everybody is on board. According to recent data, fully 15% of Americans are “certain” they won’t get a vaccine. Unfortunately, requiring your employees to do so could unwittingly become a political statement.
However, no U.S. states require vaccination for interstate travel — and only a small minority have testing or quarantine requirements. Of course, you still have to factor in your own conscience and your employees’ (and clients’) safety. You might consider only allowing vaccinated employees to travel for meetings.
The state of your business
The pandemic had a major impact on the economy, and small businesses in particular. We’ve all heard the horror stories of mass layoffs and even closures.
But pandemic restrictions didn’t affect all small businesses equally. And, in fact, some businesses even thrived throughout the hardest parts of the pandemic — such as liquor stores and drive-in movie theaters.
Depending on what kind of business you own and how critical travel is to your success, you might be able to continue to delay travel just to play it safe for a little longer. On the other hand, if travel is essential to your business model or if you’re trying to calculate faster ways to pay back debt, it might be worth getting back out there — while still meeting all safety guidelines, of course.
It’s also worth pointing out that some public health authorities, such as the California Department of Public Health, are asking that people avoid non-essential travel until after they’ve been fully vaccinated (which is to say, two weeks after they receive the final dose of their vaccine). While work and study trips are considered essential under their guidelines, technology like Zoom and Slack make it possible to communicate with colleagues at a distance — so if a meeting is the only purpose of the trip, you might consider a digital alternative.
Courting new clients
For many small business owners, travel is an important part of expanding your client base and bringing new customers into the fold.
But different people have very different comfort levels when it comes to COVID-19 safety practices and precautions. Some prospective clients might be surprised when you postpone an in-person gathering out of an abundance of caution, while others may be committed to staying distanced for the foreseeable future.
As with other parts of your client-facing business, it’s important to see this conversation as a negotiation — albeit one around personal boundaries rather than finances. Rather than telling a prospective client what to expect, ask them how you might best meet their needs while still respecting their safety preferences (and, as always, the guidelines set out by the regions you’d be traveling to or from). Chances are your prospective customers will appreciate your thoughtfulness and flexibility in this area — which might make them that much more willing to sign the contract.
We’ve been talking throughout this article about the quarantine policies enforced by state, local and federal governments. But how do those quarantine policies affect your business?
As an employer, you generally can require your employees to quarantine after potential exposure to the virus through travel — though it’s always a good idea to review your state laws and ensure you’re acting accordingly. If possible, you might arrange potentially exposed employees for a remote work setup to allow them to continue to perform their duties while maintaining social distance.
Your quarantine policies should align with local laws and guidelines and may depend on where the employee travels to (and what the COVID-19 cases are like in that area).
Keep in mind that keeping an employee from catching the coronavirus may not only be better for their well-being, but also for your business: although the expanded sick leave requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on Dec. 31, 2020, sick leave is still protected by many states and unions. If your traveling employee contracts the coronavirus, you may end up paying for their recuperation time.