Don’t let your employees go off-grid

At Concur, most of the conversations we have about Travel & Expense (T&E) relate to finance, HR, and digital transformation – not the safety of employees on the road. From time to time, usually in the immediate wake of an incident, the topic of personal safety will be top of mind and the managers we’re talking to will suddenly start paying very close attention. That’s the right response – but it can be forgotten just as quickly once the dust settles and things quieten down.

Personal safety has become a major issue for today’s globally mobile workforce. Companies need data to locate employees at any given time, and the more comprehensive the better.

Not many business leaders would dispute that the risks to travellers – from natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and transport accidents, to name a few – seem to be rising. Around the world, businesses are taking far greater responsibility for what happens to employees who come face to face with those risks. In the UK, the Corporate Manslaughter Act can render company directors personally liable for managing the safety of their workers when they go overseas. Nearly 3 in every 4 companies in the US and EU now have a travel risk management plan in place, with 4 in 5 saying that their plans proved effective after being tested by last year’s bombings in Brussels.

Despite Asia being the world’s largest business travel market, businesses haven’t been as fast to take responsibility for the welfare of employees abroad. The region is by no means immune to major travel risks: 40% of natural disasters happen in Asia Pacific alone. After high-profile travel incidents like the Malaysian Airlines disasters of 2014, a lot of companies began talking to us about better safeguards for employees while travelling…but most ended up being overtaken by other priorities as time went by.

Making personal safety a travel priority

A strong travel risk management plan shows current and future employees that the company values its people as much as it says it does. It also insures businesses against potential legal implications if an incident does occur overseas. And, of course, it’s the right thing to do. But how to get started?

One of the most important aspects of travel risk management is making sure you know where your employees are at any time, and being able to check on their status as soon as possible. Doing so through traditional means – calling up numerous travel agents, trawling through emailed booking confirmations – can take hours or days, longer than most emergency situations allow for.

How do you keep your people on the grid, even when they’re constantly on the go? It turns out that T&E platforms are particularly well-suited to the task. When businesses use Concur, their travel-related data is all captured in one platform – not just flight and hotel bookings, but also food, entertainment, and other purchases that can provide valuable details about their current whereabouts. With that data, the company can definitively work out who might be affected by an incident within minutes, and use one of our features to send an alert out asking if each employee is okay (similar to Facebook’s Safety Check service).

In late 2015, my team and I were in discussions with a large global company about using T&E to streamline their finances and reduce operating costs. Immediately after the Paris terror attacks in November, during which the company had spent a long weekend trying to track down who might have been in or passing through Paris at the time, the conversation was dominated by how the company could be more effective in such situations. We shared our own story of how our T&E data streamlined the process for Concur internally, and the entire conversation shifted from dollars and cents to their duty of care.

Personal safety isn’t something that all businesses immediately see value in. Often, it takes an incident which directly impacts them to make that value clear. The best thing businesses can do is invest in a data-rich solution before they need it – it’ll pay off in the long run.

Laura Houldsworth is the Head of Enterprise Sales for South East Asia at Concur, based in Singapore.