As an industry that used to be a tightly controlled relationship between corporate entities and travel bookers, the Internet has blown open the world of business travel unlike most other industries one can think of. With all of the world’s best accommodation deals available at the average workers’ fingertips, the job of finding and booking business travel is increasingly falling to the employee themselves, and the major beneficiaries of this change in the business model are online travel agents (OTAs) like Airbnb and Trivago who are supplying the platforms that make booking so easy. It seems like a win-win scenario: businesses are freed from the administrative burdens of securing bookings themselves, they’re free to find cheaper rates away from locked-in relationships with hotels, and workers are free to choose the accommodation that most suits their wants and needs. But could all this choice be a false friend to business?
Pushing up cost
One of the major benefits of the OTA booking model for business is that, theoretically, it helps reduce cost. The administrative burden of making bookings is lifted from the company themselves, so they can end up spending much less time and cash on business travel, while there is also the potential to find great deals that hotel companies simply can’t match. However, the increasing popularity of this model of business travel has created a supply problem, particularly in the world’s major cities like New York and London, which is pushing up the cost of accommodation on social booking platforms as a new glut of business travellers compete for beds with tourists.
As well as the supply issue, a more surprising problem is that there’s actually too much money pouring into the sector – something for which the business model wasn’t designed. Instead of ad-hoc visits by travellers and tourists, some of the best run and most attractive properties on OTAs are gaining a steady stream of revenue from business travellers that is pushing the rules surrounding letting and tax requirements to the limit in many countries. By turning empty rooms from an occasional revenue earner into a successful business, many Airbnb properties are attracting the attention of the authorities and finding themselves pushed into tighter regulation and higher tax bands – both of which add further to their cost.
The compliance factor
A second problem that has arisen thanks to this new booking model is one of compliance. One of the major advantages of a relationship with a corporate hotel or serviced apartment chain is the knowledge that each unit will be exactly the same wherever in the world it is booked, guaranteeing global mobility and making relocation smooth for the business. However, by outsourcing corporate housing to the OTA and the employee, the business gets much less visibility over exactly what is being booked and how it is being used. From a purely practical perspective, this means that the employer can’t always be sure what facilities are available or how good they are.
Elements of the accommodation such as the technology available can make a big difference – and issues such as unreliable or slow internet connections can have a major impact on the employee’s ability to work remotely. Other compliance issues can be more serious, and can even impact the worker’s safety. Corporate housing in hotels presents a uniform standard, but the sheer variety of accommodation offered through an OTA means there is a patchwork of standards which may or may not meet company policies. Everything from fire regulations to issues around safety in shared accommodation, as well as how check-in and check-out are managed, is different for each property – generating a totally new and burdensome bureaucratic jungle for corporate travel bookers to navigate that almost dwarfs the task of booking that OTAs were supposed to eliminate.
Despite these cost and compliance issues, the sector shows no signs of slowing down: Airbnb boasts a three-fold increase in corporate bookings year on year, which will surely only increase as more companies adopt the social travel model. Rather than pulling back, the sector appears to be changing to accommodate this phenomenon – setting up divisions or whole companies dedicated to servicing the corporate market in parallel to the domestic one. Airbnb Work was set up in 2014 specifically to serve multinational organisations, while other organisations have also sprung up with a model that addresses the concerns that businesses may have – such as those around technology and compliance with corporate rules. A secondary benefit of this change is likely to be an easing of the pressure on supply, as leisure and business travellers once again court different markets.
As an inclusive country, the UK is a low-risk country for the majority of its workforce, a similar experience echoed in other LGBT-friendly locations such as America, Brazil and South Africa. But for employees in different areas around the globe, or those on international assignments to countries overseas, the welcome may not be quite as warm as it would be in these lower-risk destinations. When it comes to supporting LGBT employees’ global mobility, there’s a lot to consider – and it’s vital to be in the know to ensure the ultimate safety of your staff wherever they are in the world.
Global mobility for LGBT individuals
For global organisations, the majority of placements and international assignments are created based on the merit of the individual employee; whether they’re a rockstar in their field or hold a particularly vital skillset, this is the first consideration of most worldwide firms. But when it comes to LGBT staff members, there’s a little more to consider. In fact, according to statistics provided by Stonewall, more than half of the total countries worldwide don’t offer any form of protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals, and in some of these countries, sexual acts with those of the same gender may even be illegal under the law.
As such, there is more to consider than simply the individual’s skill set when considering their placement in a country abroad. International human resources are a must to ensure global diversity can remain as effective as possible within businesses. This means providing the support and tools for LGBT staff members to take the same opportunities as all other team members, leading to:
- The development and retaining of effective and talented LGBT staff members
- The improvement of the organsiation’s global reputation in regard to LGBT rights
- Compliance with LGBT discrimination laws across all countries, from the UK and beyond
Issues facing LGBT global mobility
For LGBT individuals, the act of working abroad can be a difficult one, especially when it comes to the various barriers they can face in the workplace as a result of the location in which they have been posted. These barriers can include anything from a lack of rights and protection, all the way through to the restriction of rights or even criminalisation in the most extreme cases. It’s vital that businesses are educated on the LGBT laws and barriers of a country before deciding upon sending an individual to a country that may be unsafe for them.
In countries such as Hong Kong, Russia and Middle Eastern locations, the challenges faced by LGBT employees may be far more significant. In contrast to more LGBT-friendly destinations, the majority of companies within the countries stated do not recognise the rights of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual. However, these concepts may apply to locally-run businesses, but that does not necessarily mean that global companies should carry those same discriminatory policies or laws.
Using global diversity to your business’ advantage
With many multinational companies openly leading the way when it goes to changing the laws and behaviours surrounding LGBT culture in anti-LGBT locations, the ability for LGBT employees to reach their full potential is easier than ever, promoting global diversity as a positive element of your business practices. Ensuring you allow your LGBT employees to reach their full potential is a must to ensure your business can reach its full potential too.
From extreme weather resulting in forest fires across Europe, a devastating earthquake in Indonesia, political unrest in Iran and Zimbabwe and the continual threat of terrorism, only goes to further highlights the importance of duty of care for organisations with globally mobile employees.
Although mobility is essential for the strategic global growth of any business, it does not come without inherent risks to both the individual and the organisation. Employees can be caught up in anything from political unrest, natural disasters, outbreak of a disease or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Duty of care is deep-seated within most organisations policies and business processes when it comes to dealing with risks in the workplace, however it becomes more challenging when that workplace could be located anywhere in the world. So what can be done to provide adequate duty of care for those globally mobile employees?
What is Duty of Care?
Duty of care is an employer’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who may be affected by their business. Organisations must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This is a very broad term and as you would expect is open to a certain amount of ambiguity. It is therefore not surprising that there can often be a lack of clarity of what is needed in order to provide the necessary duty of care for all concerned, especially when it comes to those global employees.
What Steps Should Be Taken?
For those organisations who may not necessarily have the resources to create and administer a comprehensive global mobility risk management programme it can be a challenging and sometimes daunting task. Organisations may need examine the end to end processes in order to ensure that the corporate policy ticks all of the duty of care boxes. Breaking the stages down into logical steps allows for far easier management of the process.
The core steps that should be considered are:
- Understanding the Risks
An important first step would be for businesses to analyse and determine their mobility exposure. This is where accurate global mobility data can be very useful, by collating information on all of their globally mobile employees worldwide, their locations, job functions, employee behaviour, mitigating circumstances and scheduled travel allows global mobility teams to build a detailed picture of the potential risk. Organisation must also consider special locations, risks and coverages. For instance, the needs of expatriate and long-term assignees will have different factors compared to the needs of short-term assignments and business travellers.
- Developing the Policy
Organisations will likely need to bring together key stakeholders from across the business and potentially an external expert to assist with the development of the mobility risk policy. The risk policy needs to be robust and fully embedded with the central global mobility and travel polices before being effectively communicated to all. Incorporated into these policies should be procedures and strategies for both proactive and reactive situations and guidance on the roles and responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders, along with detailed information on the range of assistance partners and insurance programmes that are in place.
Once the policy is in place, effective communication to employees will be key to ensure they are aware of the commitment undertaken by the business and also what roles they themselves need to play.
There is training and education that can be provided for employees and managers, these can be in the form of online travel safety awareness courses to medical risks and country specific knowledge and intercultural training.
Geographical monitoring will be able to provide trusted pre and on-trip information, covering destination risk assessments, medical information and country profiles. Thus ensuring organisations and their employees are as prepared as possible before any travel or assignment commences.
The next type of monitoring comes in the form of the individual employee. Possessing accurate real-time data on their static locations, planned and current travel itineraries will enable businesses to take any necessary steps to help ensure their safety. Having systems in place that allow organisations to locate and communicate swiftly and clearly with employees is critical to managing and mitigating any risks.
Offering both reactive and proactive support for employees around the clock is a key factor for any effective duty of care programme. Organisations may need to communicate updated travel information or guidance to employees during their trip or assignment, employees may also have their own medical or security concerns that they require advice or assistance with.
Having solid channels of communication with globally mobile employees will enable organisations and individuals to pre-empt (where possible) and effectively deal with any potential incidents that they may arise.
Although rare, there will be times when businesses and their employees may find themselves faced with the unimaginable. It is therefore vital that organisations implement an incident management programme to plan, avoid and respond to such crisis situations (e.g. emergency evacuations, terrorism, political unrest, natural disasters etc.). The incident management plan should be developed with all stakeholders both internally and externally, and be regularly revisited, updated and tested.
At this day in age it’s difficult to foresee all eventualities, however having a robust duty of care policy and risk management strategy which is effectively implemented and communicated throughout the business helps to offer piece of mind to employees and an efficient response structure should the worst happen.