As business leaders consider not only corporate travel and conference attendance for 2021, but tweaks to their traditional holiday celebrations, it’s important to consider the risks we face as the prevalence of positive COVID-19 viral tests and active cases continues to rise rapidly throughout the nation.

To reduce the chance of putting team members in harm’s way, or worse, initiating a super-spreader event, it will be necessary to consider the risks now associated with business activities that didn’t pose a danger prior to 2020. More importantly, it will be vital to check sources that provide hyper-local data in the cities and counties where your employees not only work,  but live, so the threat to the collective well-being can be weighed properly. 

Know the risks

The rate of infection for every state, county, and city varies widely. It’s essential to understand where our colleagues and business associates are coming from and what the infection risk is in those communities before bringing people together in one space. One state’s infection rate can vary significantly from one city to another and local insights are more critical than ever for getting a specific understanding of what is changing in our communities. In counties and cities where infection rates are very low, small gatherings aren’t as problematic as they are in cities where infection rates are high. 

If colleagues live in or visit high risk areas, they can put associates and loved ones at risk as they travel to and from places.  A comprehensive meta-study in the early period of the pandemic calculated one in five people with positive COVID-19 test results remain asymptomatic throughout a 7 to 10-day course of ‘infectivity’ to others. More recently * [NBC Meet the Press, November 29th, 2020] Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,  has been quoted that the NIH now estimates that 40% of COVID-19 infected individuals are pre-symptomatic and/or remain asymptomatic throughout their course of illness.  Therefore, it’s not enough that colleagues “feel okay” and don’t have symptoms. When assessing the RISK of a gathering, look for sources that enable users to search hyperlocal data by both city and county in order to give a full picture of the percent of people from those local areas that are testing positive.

Adapt your corporate party

Corporate holiday parties as we know them may be gone this year, but don’t have to be completely forgotten. The safest option seems to be hosting virtual events so team members can share holiday spirit together and receive acknowledgment for the hard work they have put in during this very difficult year.

Also, one size does not fit all. Smaller businesses headquartered in areas with a very low risk index might consider options that look different from companies with a large number of employees or those that are located in an infection hot spot. If small groups do choose to gather, they should consider getting a Viral test beforehand and maximize conscientious efforts toward preventive measures: masks, distancing, outdoor settings vs. indoors, limited time together and frequent handwashing. Reevaluate corporate party plans daily based on public health guidance, keep guarded, and do not overlook the possibility that even a small gathering can be cause for concern. 

2021 business planning 

As companies reassess when it’s safe for teams to resume air and ground travel, it is important to evaluate not only the infection rate of the community where a team member will be traveling to, but also the infection rate of the community the team member is leaving. They may become sick themselves and or asymptomatically bring the infection back to their own community. Even when planning customer touchpoints in 2021, it is going to be more important than ever to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine the absolute necessity of travel versus a virtual meeting.

If the pandemic has taught business leaders anything, it’s to think critically and strategically to ensure the safety of our team, their families, and our clients and customers. One area of the country, or even the state, can see wide ranges of infection risk. This makes it even more imperative, before we dash into the holidays and 2021, to know what the “precise local” risk factors are for ourselves and our colleagues and the steps we should take to keep everyone safe.

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