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Victoria Deboon’s safety advice for travel during COVID-19

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Victoria DeBoon is the Director of Sales at SAP Concur Canada. She has helped businesses of all sizes drive sustainable growth by empowering them with data insights to increase efficiency, optimize performance and scale across Canada. Victoria is a customer-centric leader with a proven track record of exceeding business results by cultivating talent for high performing teams.

Victoria is a business travel expert having logged millions of miles and a sought after speaker on the topic. Victoria is committed to spearheading inclusive best practices and is passionate about mentorship and growing her teams. She is recognized as a leader in supporting women to enter and stay in the tech industry.

Victoria holds a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) degree focused in Business from Simon Fraser University.

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What would you say has been the biggest impact that COVID-19 has had on business in Canada?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses of all sizes across the country. Many businesses have had to shift their operations over the past 6 months. Notably, businesses transitioned to a remote work environment with varying degrees of success. Companies who were equipped with digital tools and processes fared better than the many companies that relied on manual processes.  

This pandemic has tipped the scales for many businesses, facilitating an increased adoption of digital tools to maintain operations and enable remote work. For departments like finance who were faced with the responsibility of maintaining business continuity, access to real-time information and visibility into company spend was crucial to make smart decisions. We’re seeing many companies evaluate their processes and adapting to aid their recovery and improve business continuity. 

 

Do you think the way companies will engage in business travel will change? Do you think travel will be necessary with the virtual formats available? (e.g. virtual conferences and meetings?)

Business travel continues to play an irreplaceable role in the success of today’s enterprise. Research from SAP Concur’s survey of global business travellers shows Canadian business travellers expect their company to experience negative outcomes due to travel restrictions around COVID-19, including a reduced number of deals or contracts signed that require in-person interactions (51%) and declines in new business wins that require in-person meetings (44%). Business travel will return, but it is being reshaped and a new era of trip preparation and policies, will be front and centre as travel resumes. It’s also important to consider industries such as mining or oil sectors where travel is required to get employees onsite to perform their roles. There is no virtual solution for these industries – travel will still be necessary, and employers will need to follow federal guidelines as well as put their own measures in place to ensure the safety of their travelling staff.

For other industries, we’re going to see business travel take a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual meetings, meaning employees will only travel when deemed necessary. Face-to-face meetings will continue to hold value, but health and wellbeing of employees will be a priority and businesses have a responsibility to make sure they have the proper safety protocols in place for in-person conferences when they return. Companies will need to supply PPE equipment such as face masks and hand sanitizer for in-person meetings and maintain smaller groups in meetings.

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What are some solutions that SAP Concur has that can help ease concerns for corporate travellers? 

With COVID-19 bringing health and safety to the forefront of everyone’s minds, companies face more pressure than ever to ensure the safety of their employees. Duty of Care is one of the most important drivers of travel policy changes. A duty of care action plan is important to help companies mitigate challenges in locating and communicating with travelling employees when an emergency arises. 

Especially with many employees now using a variety of self-serve booking apps and websites, it becomes increasingly difficult for managers and HR teams to access accurate, timely traveller location and activity data. SAP Concur solutions provide wide-ranging data through our Itinerary API that delivers the entirety of consolidated travel information from Concur Travel, TripIt from Concur, Concur Request, and Concur TripLink. This gives companies access to both intent-related travel data and confirmed itinerary data, providing visibility into who might be impacted as well as who is actively being impacted by an event.

We recently expanded our duty of care partners within the SAP Concur App Center to take advantage of the rich data stream that SAP Concur travel booking produces and, in turn, enable companies to provide the level of duty of care their employees expect.

 

The survey also revealed that 93% of Canadian business travellers have noted that some measures are crucial to ensure the safety of working on the road. What do you believe is the most important measure that employers should prioritize before resuming corporate travel?

In this moment, it’s important companies listen to its’ employees and invest in solutions their travellers want, including measures they see as necessary when travel resumes, such as improved traveller safety information, requiring pre-trip approval, or greater ability to change travel plans quickly.

Our research shows nearly 3 in 10 (28%) employees are looking forward to travelling for work again – but before this happens, they’re looking to their employers to provide training and put safety measures in place to make sure they’re ready to return to travel. These measures include mandatory personal health screenings for travellers (40%), only allowing staff to travel when deemed essential (38%), real-time health and safety updates while travelling (34%), and easier access to personal protective equipment (28%). Employers need to communicate with their teams to see what their top concerns are. 

Company training is also important to employers – more than 9 in 10 (92%) Canadian business travellers say that training would be beneficial, notably training on how to protect their health and safety while travelling (50%) and how to maintain healthy habits during travel (50%). Employers have a responsibility for providing their employees with the most up-to-date information and tools to help ease their concerns.

 

Results from this survey show that the trip itself is now the most stressful stage of business travel (47%) in a significant shift from last year where last year more Canadians were stressed before the trip. What are businesses doing to address the concerns among their employees?

Employees play a big role in business decisions and their concerns should be top of mind for employers in the plan to move forward. An inherent part of safe business travels is clear communication between employees and employers. Businesses need to balance what is required of employees and what employees are actually comfortable with. 

Leaders need to listen to the concerns among their employees and invest in solutions and implement new policies to ensure their travellers feel safe when they return to the road. 

 

More than half of Canadian business travellers confirmed that they would be more comfortable with mobile check-ins as the best mobile app feature once travel resumes. How will technology play a role in easing travel concerns?

There are many uncertainties around the future of business travel, but what we do know is that employees are looking to technology to ease their concerns. Business travellers are looking for a touchless experience while on the road from bookings to the luggage drop off. This can be done with tech, in particular, mobile phones. Findings from our survey show that over half (52%) of respondents agree that mobile check-ins are the most important app feature as it helps to minimize contact. Other important app features include traveller safety information (38%), the ability to book air travel (38%), and the ability to view and manage trip itineraries (36%).

The industry has been moving towards this trend, but now more than ever technology will play an enormous role in helping business travellers plan their trip. 

 

Compared to other countries, do you believe Canada is well prepared when it comes to safety measurements for travellers?

Health and safety of employees continue to be a top priority for businesses across Canada. As many businesses continue to work remotely, employers are looking to make sure they have measures in place to ensure a safe return to the office – and we can expect the same when it comes to business travel. Canadian businesses need to ensure they’re listening to the needs of their employees and are implementing travel policies that address all concerns from their staff. More than 2 in 5 (43%) of travellers say their health and safety is their top priority while travelling for business – more than three times as many who prioritize business needs (13%). Canadian businesses need to set policies in place to ensure traveller safety, health, and security.

 

On a final note, what advice can you give to companies when it comes to implementing measures that will ensure the safety of their employees and customers when travelling?

It’s important for Canadian business travellers to have the most up-to-date information and preparation for when it comes to being on the road – and most employees agree. More than 9 in 10 (92%) of Canadian business travellers agree that company training would help set them up for a safer experience while travelling for business. Employees are also looking to leaders to put policies in place and implement safety procedures to keep them safe, but it’s important for businesses to seek the opinions and voices of employees to understand their worries and know what procedures can be put in place to ease their concerns. 

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