With the increase in vaccination rates globally and re-opening of corporate offices in certain geographies around the world, many companies are starting to look at how and when to resume their immersive, pro bono engagements, as well as understand the complexities that are a result of COVID-19.
Pyxera Global is excited to share important considerations and lessons learned from interactions with multiple companies looking to maintain their successful virtual programming while also working towards restarting their immersive programming in the coming year. We have broken down these considerations into three buckets: 1) learning about the new policies/restrictions set by your company, 2) looking at the current conditions of your partners during COVID-19, and 3) assessing the reality of COVID-19 in your project location(s) of interest.
Navigating Policies and Restrictions
We encourage you to set up a meeting with your company’s security, legal, and HR teams to align on the following items:
- Does your company have a ban or freeze on corporate travel? If so, what types of engagements qualify for exemption?
- Are there special travel arrangements or protocols that employees must follow when traveling and holding meetings upon returning to the office? These may include specific guidelines on transportation, accommodation, locations, and more.
- Will your employees be required to be vaccinated when joining an in-person assignment that involves travel? This is a sensitive discussion, and many companies are still navigating how to handle a vaccination policy. To minimize risks and liability, some companies, partner organizations, and/or countries themselves may require participants to be fully vaccinated for the engagement to happen.
- Will your HR/legal team require employees to sign release forms when traveling for an in-person pro bono assignment? These forms will come in handy if your company opts not to require employees to disclose their vaccination status. It will be important to also check with partner organizations whether or not they will require participants to sign any waivers.
- Do partner organizations have to match your company’s protocols for holding meetings with your employees? That might include ensuring that partners have adequate PPE in place or cap meetings at a set number of attendees. If partners cannot meet your company’s standards, would your company be willing to provide resources to ensure the safety of all parties?
- Does your company’s medical and emergency travel insurance cover COVID-19 testing? Some insurance may not cover COVID-19 testing for travel purposes, and regular testing may be encouraged to ensure safety within the team. Please review the relevant insurance policy and set aside resources for your employees to get tested regularly if testing is not covered.
- What would be the protocol if an employee within the pro bono team or a partner organization employee tests positive for COVID-19? It will be important to have a contingency plan in place and share it with your partner organization(s). Additionally, consider who will be responsible for the additional costs associated with an employee having to stay longer at a project location to recover from COVID-19 (e.g., accommodation, meals, transportation, airlines change fees, etc.).
Coordination with Partner Organizations
Additionally, you should consider checking the conditions under which your partner organizations are operating. As you may know, several countries are currently experiencing issues with high vaccine demand and short supply. For this reason, some locations may still have stricter lockdown orders than others. When considering partners for a pro bono engagement project, we encourage you to review the following questions with partner organizations during the outreach phase:
- Are partner organizations back to in-person yet? If yes, discuss how they are returning to the office and what office safety protocols may impact how employees will engage with them during the assignment. When selecting partner organizations, seriously consider if they are equipped to handle your in-person team at this time.
- Does a partner still need time to regenerate and rebuild before it can accommodate your in-person team? Partner organizations may have dealt with staff layoffs, cuts in funding, and/or reduction in office space; hence, it is recommended to ask how many volunteers they are able to absorb in their physical location.
- Will the proposed project require participants to interact with several local stakeholders? Be mindful that if vaccinations are in short supply, some stakeholders may not be ready to interact with people coming from other places. Parts of the engagement may still happen in a virtual environment to ensure all stakeholders feel as comfortable as possible.
Finally, we encourage you to access the health of the project location; the city or region to which the team will be traveling. Questions to consider include:
- Do current COVID-19 guidelines and regulations from local, state/regional, and federal authorities allow pro bono consultants to deliver in-person services right now? This may require assessing the nationality and location where each of your selected employees resides. Some countries may still have restrictions in place for those coming from certain countries, including mandatory quarantine periods, or a temporary ban for those that have received vaccines not approved by the WHO.
- What is the vaccination rate in the project location? The WHO regularly publishes the vaccination rates for each country. It will be important to assess if the project location is making progress in terms of percentage change in confirmed daily cases and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the past months.
- How is the health system capacity in the project location? Learning if local hospitals/clinics are open and able to able to absorb patients or do testing is an important decision factor. If the local health system is under stress, it might be wiser to wait until the situation improves so employees can access the health system in case of an emergency.
While this list is not exhaustive and doesn’t include the probable impact of travel cost implications these are all key conversations you should be prepared to have as you consider the best strategy for re-engaging employees in in-person global pro bono programs. As there continue to be numerous complexities with deploying global teams during a pandemic, be prepared to get creative. Consider continuing your virtual programming as well as moving towards a hybrid pro bono model that allows for more flexibility and compliance with travel and gathering restrictions. This may mean exploring local or regional models in areas with high vaccination rates or designing engagements that allow for in-person work on a smaller scale.