CLEVELAND, Ohio — As the COVID-19 pandemic trails off, when will business travel return?
The return of conferences, conventions and meetings depends on vaccines, state rules and people’s comfort levels. But the pandemic may have so changed the business world that remote meetings become part of the norm.
Ashley Qualls, director of human resources at Embrace Pet Insurance, believes travel could return toward the end of the year.
“Think about it even this way, like pro sporting events. They’re now starting to fill up stadiums to full capacity, which wasn’t an option three months ago,” Qualls said. “I think as we see how the vaccine works and how it impacts people’s ability to get together, that will open things up more. I would like to say by the end of the year we start to see some normalcy, but I would think until next year really we’ll start to see those conferences come back or annual conferences that we’re used to attending.”
For the 2021 Top Workplaces list, cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer have compiled 175 stand-out Northeast Ohio employers, based on employee surveys. We’ve focused on their responses and adaptations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cleveland-based Embrace Pet Insurance, the No. 6 mid-size firm on Top Workplaces, typically attends conferences such as the American Veterinary Medical Association Convention, the Midwest Veterinary Conference and the Veterinary Meeting and Expo. (confirming whether those conferences will be in person or virtual or hybrid with Qualls)
But travel may no longer feel as necessary
“I think that being remote is more acceptable than ever. There’s (Microsoft) Teams, there’s Zooms, there’s different ways to connect, and people are used to connecting that way now. So I don’t think it’s going to be as required as it was before,” she said. “I think there’s a benefit of people being together, but I don’t think it’s going to be required.”
Union Home Mortgage, the No. 1 large company for Top Workplaces, hasn’t had any business travel for 14 months, said president and CEO Bill Cosgrove.
Cosgrove said conferences seem to be returning in September for the mortgage lending industry.
One fall conference will be held by the Mortgage Bankers Association in San Diego. The annual convention happened virtually last year.
Union Home has recently approved some executives to travel via plane. Executives are required to be vaccinated in order to fly and stay in hotels, Cosgrove said. But employees do not need to be vaccinated if they are not traveling.
“We’re not requiring our employee partners to be vaccinated or (show) proof of vaccination,” Cosgrove said. “Although we are highly recommending it, and we’re promoting vaccinations within the company. As long as your doctor approves.”
The summer is serving as a transitional period from the vice grip of the pandemic to loosened policies.
Oswald Companies, the Cleveland-based insurance broker, is the No. 8 mid-size firm for Top Workplaces. Business travel is making a gradual return for the company, said Deborah Cooper, chief human resources officer.
“I think companies are taking it slow,” Cooper said. “All of us are navigating vaccinations and how we manage employees who are vaccinated versus those that choose not to get vaccinated. And our approach is being cautious.”
Cooper said the company is starting to see in-person business meetings return. Some clients have come into the office, and the account team has also done some on-site customer visits, Cooper said.
She added that conferences and trainings, though, are beginning more slowly and plans are starting to form for in-person events around the fall.
“That’s why I step back, and I say I think a lot of us are taking a wait-and-see approach through the summer months,” Cooper said.