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More than one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. labor force worked onsite to keep the economy moving during the height of the pandemic, according to research from Stanford University. Consisting mainly of essential workers, this group included the construction workforce.

As employees in the infrastructure and construction industry continued to travel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a guide for construction workers and their employers to know how they could maintain safe working conditions and protect against virus transmission. Throughout the past two years, many essential traveling workers have grown used to these and other additional safety measures that employers have provided during the pandemic.

Now, business travel managers and senior leadership in construction are recognizing the new expectations and needs of employees who continue to travel to complete projects. Here’s how to incorporate them into your travel plans in a way that helps your construction business and employees thrive.

Plan ahead for travel and time on the job. Travel managers know the importance of planning in advance. For construction workers, they must also consider the physical safety of the worksite as well as ongoing labor and materials shortages, which continue to challenge the industry and disrupt project timelines. Having a set schedule and clearly communicating expectations can help employees feel safe, minimize travel-related confusion and save money.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that construction managers pose screening questions when scheduling jobs to gain a better understanding of the work environment and any imposed risks to employee safety. OSHA also suggests that employees bring their own tools to the jobsite and that managers coordinate break and lunch schedules to ensure proper social distancing and other safety measures remain in place. But the reality is that it’s easier to enforce safety protocols such as maintaining distances of six feet apart for outdoor construction projects than it is for indoor ones, especially when indoor jobs are in tight quarters. And speaking of tight quarters, traveling construction workers have grown used to going from sleeping two people per hotel room to single   occupancy—a trend that’s expected to continue.

Additionally, 2022 hotel rates are expected to rise by 13% globally year over year, and by another 10% in 2023. This makes budgeting and planning ahead crucial, but travel managers will need to have some flexibility. For example, it may be smart to avoid practices like pre-paying room rates and agreeing to limited cancellations. Supply-chain issues make the time for project completions—and, as a result, the length of hotel stays—difficult to predict.

Provide resources to help eliminate obstacles. Travel managers should also continue to prioritize their travelers’ health and safety. Providing the resources that workers need and keeping track of their location throughout trips is key to that.

Business Travel News reported that, during the early part of the pandemic, a tightly managed travel program made it easier “to locate employees, assess their risk and steer them home through fast-changing health recommendations and border restrictions.” This statement remains true on the back end of the pandemic, too, as a tightly managed travel program promotes safety and ease.

While travel managers monitor the location of employees moving from one jobsite to the next, it’s important for employees to keep track of all necessary documents and trip-related information. With all-in-one apps, travelers can expect to have quick access to all the resources they need, including per diem and hotel information, along with transportation details and schedules, in one convenient, easily accessible location. Digital-first business travel plans also cut the time managers spend on manual labor such as printing schedules, allocating and distributing cash or checks for per diems and collecting receipts for expense reports once travelers return from a job.

Enable worker safety with touchless options. Contactless technology goes beyond QR codes for restaurant menus or temperature scans when entering buildings. To minimize potential exposures to COVID-19 and its variants, business travel managers can incorporate contactless options into their travel plans, such as virtual payment cards. Going the extra mile to provide flexible options for essential travelers allows them the freedom to operate how they are most comfortable to protect themselves, their coworkers and their families at home.

Communicate clearly and regularly. To ensure that essential travelers are comfortable with and prepared for post-pandemic travel, employers should regularly communicate current safety protocols, updates and expectations. This includes local mask mandates and other health and safety guidelines around COVID-19. 

Employers should make sure their team members have access to guidelines in a language they understand. ACTFL, an association for language teachers, found that, of all U.S. industries, construction has the widest language gap between employees—and it’s expected to grow. Putting all materials related to COVID-19, including safe travel guidelines and company expectations, in employees’ native languages helps ensure that they’re getting the information they need. 

Give your employees confidence on the job. Ultimately, the most valuable strategy for travel managers is to directly ask employees how they can best support them during their travels. Construction workers—particularly those willing to travel for their job—are in short supply, and once hired, they can be hard to retain. Travel managers can do their part by understanding how these essential workers’ needs and expectations have changed since the start of the global pandemic and incorporating those changes into their travel plans. 


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