In a globalised market place, sending employees abroad has become an essential part of business. Global mobility policies, designed to manage business travel risks and ensure that a trip runs smoothly, are equally essential.
The mechanics of international business travel have become so easy: pack your suit, don’t forget your passport and, before you know it, you’re cruising at 40,000 feet, ordering your first G&T.
It’s easy to forget that all it takes is a lost passport, a misunderstanding with local authorities or a natural disaster, for things to go horribly wrong.
An effective global mobility policy is designed to ensure your employees are safe, that they make the best of the commercial purpose of the visit and avoid unnecessary distractions.
We wrote recently about the importance of obtaining the correct international visa. Beyond that, it is essential to properly research a destination and provide employees with all the information they need to safeguard against business travel risks.
Before any business trip, HR and global mobility departments should provide an employee with the following information:
- Potential business travel risks
The UK Government provides foreign travel advice online, identifying country-specific risks under the headings of:
- Safety and security;
- Local laws and customs;
- Entry requirements;
- Natural disasters; and
Organisations should regularly monitor for travel advisory updates in the regions that employees are travelling to.
Last month, for example, the UK controversially warned LGBT travellers that they might be affected by anti-homosexual legislation that was passed in southern parts of the US.
Organisations should also take note of any UK Government ‘exclusion zones’ and areas that are prone to natural disasters. Ensure that an employee’s itinerary doesn’t intrude on these areas.
- Contingency plans
Travelling employees must be told the procedures they should follow in the event of an emergency.
Before they depart, provide business travellers with contact details of the local embassy or consulate and local emergency contact numbers.
The UK’s Consular assistant team can be contacted 24 hours a day on 020 7008 1500.
Often, in less dire circumstances, it might be necessary for an employee abroad to contact someone from head office outside of business hours.
Travellers will need a reliable means of communicating, either with a local SIM card, international roaming plan or an Internet-based application like Skype.
Confirm that business travellers have made an electronic copy of their passport and are covered by travel insurance for the trip.
3. Health risks
At least four weeks before departing, employees should visit a health professional and check whether any vaccinations or other preventative measures are required for their intended destination.
Country-specific advice is also available on the Travel Health Pro and World Health Organisation website.
A reality of global mobility is that medical standards vary around the world.
Some countries require patients to pay for medical treatment in advance and claim out of pocket expenses back from their travel insurance. Treatment may be delayed where a person does not have access to sufficient funds up front.
Employees must have sufficient travel medical insurance.
Be aware of any pre-existing conditions that your traveling employees suffer from and confirm that any insurance policy covers these pre-existing conditions.
- Immigration and customs
Difficulties at the border can usually be avoided with appropriate global mobility planning.
In addition to obtaining the correct visa, travellers should also have evidence of their accommodation, the purpose of their trip and departure details at hand.
Be familiar with the requirements of customs authorities in that area. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, importing pork products or pornography is illegal. E-cigarettes are also banned and will be confiscated at the border.
Over the counter medicines and common prescriptions in the UK may be illegal in other parts of the world. Offenders risk arrest or deportation.
- Local laws
Business travellers must know the law in the countries they travel, as ignorance is never an excuse. Criminal offences and penalties differ widely in other parts of the world.
Alcohol, for example, is illegal in a number of countries and the measures that some countries have implemented to prevent drug usage are severe. And in Japan, police have the right to test any person for illicit substances in their system.
In the UAE, possession of even a residual amount of illegal drugs will lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence. The maximum penalty for drug trafficking there is death.
A person may be deported or jailed for behaviour that is deemed to be offensive in the UAE, like kissing in public.
Particular care not to cause offence should be taken if travelling to any Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan.
Sex outside of marriage is illegal in the UAE, as is any homosexual sex. If a woman falls pregnant outside of marriage, she and her partner may be deported or imprisoned.
- Etiquette and culture
Encouraging your employees to familiarise themselves with local culture, and customs, will allow an employee to avoid embarrassment, impress locals and increase the likelihood of conducting successful business.
Negotiating styles, proper introductions, suitable attire, diet, gestures, religious customs, business formalities and rules of politeness can differ hugely in different cultures.
Business hours and working days may also vary.
In some places, like the Middle East, it is customary to engage in small talk at the beginning of a meeting.
In Japan, being late to a business meeting is considered to be offensive and loud, rowdy behaviour is completely unacceptable.
Global mobility policies such as these may seem excessive but in the event of an emergency, your employees will be appreciative that they have been properly prepared for business travel risks.
Failure to take proper care, and putting your employers at unnecessary risk, may give rise to a legal action against the organisation.