COVID Business Travel
COVID Business Travel

The In-Between Times: HR Tech Must Adjust to Conferences and Business Travel

Emily Bogin |

As we enter into the fall of 2021, we are beginning to have an even better understanding of where we stand with COVID-19 and what it has meant for businesses.

In 2020, articles, blogs, and more were prophesying the “future of work” and describing the importance of business continuity — and the adjustments we would have to make in order for businesses to remain continuous.

Today, we are occupying a liminal space, where we can begin to see the end of the pandemic, or at least begin to figure out what this “new normal” really means. Instead of predicting the new normal, we look around, and we begin to see it for ourselves. 

But just because the future of the past is meeting up with the present of today does not mean that we have the whole picture. We won’t have that for a little while.

But we do know that some employees are heading back to work in the workplace, some are remaining at home, some meetings are in person, some remain remote, and employees and employers alike are trying to reconcile their personal beliefs with mandates coming from all different levels.

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What are the biggest concerns our survey identified?

The return of the in-person conference

Annual conferences that were put on hold in 2020 or moved to zoom rooms are slowly coming back in person. In order for this transition to take place smoothly, conference organizers must be communicative and transparent about their plans.

If a conference is held in person, what can attendees expect in order to secure their safety and peace of mind?  Are all attendees asked to be vaccinated, or to get tested for COVID-19 before attending?

At Mitratech, we’re excited about upcoming conferences.  But preparing for them as the Delta variant surges has been tricky. Whenever there is an opportunity for in-person events we ask our teams what they are comfortable with. We get lots of different answers.

Those who make the decision to host in person meetings or go on-site are supported with masks, sanitizer, and our commitment to their mental and physical health.  Those who choose not to go to those events are supported with clever ways to use video-conferencing and also our commitment to their mental and physical health.

Don’t get us wrong: we are thrilled to go back to in-person events. We love seeing our customers, meeting experts who have fresh takes on old issues, learning from experts, and building our Mitratech family… but this year, we’re doing it very carefully.

Requiring vaccination – and, equally, not requiring it – brings up many different ethical questions, which affect everyone on both the level of the individual and also as a collective. 

Managing changing expectations around travel

In years past, travel has been a reasonable expectation for certain roles in an organization; often in the job description itself is a breakdown of how often an employee would be expected to be on the move.

Today, organizations struggle to understand how much they can, and whether or not they should, require travel. As conferences pick up, those who previously would have signed up in a heartbeat to drive sales or gather information may be resistant.

This resistance is new for companies. They can hardly require employees to engage in activity that their employees feel is unsafe.  And they equally may struggle if employees are unwilling to comply with the attendance requirements of a particular conference, such as vaccination.

Thinking through transparency

As a result, as conferences update their requirements with rules around vaccination, prospective attendees may be turned on or off by those requirements. The same is true for in-person work more generally: someone who was hired on in 2019 for an outside sales role may no longer be comfortable with in-person meetings. How does that shift the role, the expectations of the role, and the expectations of the company?

The answer may be simpler than anticipated: we should follow the results. There have been many accounts of remote meetings and events being just as useful as in-person; there have been accounts of the opposite. The most important thing to keep in mind is that employers need to encourage their teams to do what is working for them, and if something stops working, to adjust.

Workflow automation can be a simple way to track what works and what compliance means to a particular company, team, or conference. Those who plan conferences must be upfront and transparent about their requirements, and these requirements must be enforceable. How to make it easy? Ask for confirmation of vaccination in the sign-up forms, and include a waiver for those who decide to attend. Even if the waiver does not hold up in court, it is a good way to help conference-goers think about their decisions and the possible consequences.

The same is true internally: By having employees update their preferences and comfort level through a workflow platform, employers have a much easier time managing expectations and understanding the various pressures that their employees face.

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