Q&A with Uber’s Global Head of Travel & Expense
In the interest of keeping employees and their loved ones healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, and following the recommendations of major health organizations, key stakeholders at companies across the globe have redefined and expanded their policies surrounding travel, remote work, and more.
Creating new policies in a time of crisis can be challenging, as employers consider the impact these changes may have on the business as a whole. We interviewed our Global Head of Travel and Expense, Anthea Crittle, to learn how Uber has approached new policies and weathered fluid situations.
Question: Walk us through your role at Uber. How long have you been here, and what’s your focus?
Anthea: I’ve been with Uber for about three and a half years, and I head up our Travel and Expense team. I’m focused on driving global strategies, including corporate card solutions, expenses, business visas, corporate travel, meetings, and analytics programs, in support of more than 26,000 employees across almost every continent.
One of my team’s core responsibilities is helping to ensure our employees’ safety during business trips while maintaining compliance. In my 20-plus years of experience in the business travel industry, I’ve learned that change is inevitable and can arise at unexpected times. You’ve got to master the art of managing through periods of change with composure and confidence.
Q: How did you handle the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation at the outset?
A: We were very quick to act. As soon as concern surrounding the coronavirus arose, I joined a daily meeting with a steering committee to discuss external and internal decisions. It’s easier to approach a crisis when you’re clear about who’s responsible for making these decisions and who will take on creating the plan, so that was our first step.
As the severity of the situation escalated, we needed to gain visibility from the executive team to move forward with our response strategy. When it’s time to secure executive buy-in, make sure you’re taking ownership. You’ve done the research and have the data to back up your strategy, so you should be part of the decision-making process.
Q: How do you partner with other teams to make sure employees are being supported from every angle?
A: Establishing points of contact and operating protocol across teams to move quickly and in lockstep is critical. It’s key to partner with HR, as they’re a major resource for employee support and can help people with questions and triage those needing support from our T&E team. We also aligned with Recruiting and other HR teams on the approach for candidate- and training-related travel. HR is key in the approach to working from home and employee and manager resources, which [for us] included an FAQ that addressed questions on expenses.
We also have a brilliant IT team who quickly pivoted to put office equipment and FAQ in the hands of employees. This really mitigated what could have been a higher lift on the Expense team.
The Security team does a couple of things. First, they proactively update our internal resources page with the latest on restrictions from local governments and decide to implement a travel freeze, if a country or state, for example, will deny entry or enforce a quarantine. Then the Security team will advise the T&E team’s point of contact as this happens so we can immediately update all of our travel agencies. Additionally, they pull reports from ISOS and message employees who are traveling to that destination to alert them and give them contact details should they need support.
Q: What is ISOS?
A: International SOS is a duty of care platform that helps keep business travelers educated, healthy, and secure. All of our travel agency reservations push close to real time into the Security team’s ISOS TravelTracker. We also have our Uber for Business account integrated with ISOS to help ensure traveler safety by keeping travel managers up to speed as employees move through their itinerary.
Q: What did you do for trips that were already planned?
A: If there is approved essential travel, you should highlight the need for employees to book through the travel agency in policy. The main goal is to keep lines of communication open, especially during times of uncertainty, to ensure traveler safety.
Employees shouldn’t have to concern themselves with travel when they have more important things to worry about. My team combed through travel arrangements every day to ensure that schedule changes were taken care of, flights were canceled on the traveler’s behalf, and people weren’t left stranded. Your employees deserve to feel supported and safe. Let them focus on their health and loved ones, while you aid the process of transporting them to safety smoothly.
Q: In what ways did this impact the greater business?
A: The impact is significant, as companies implemented new policies to protect employees, and as we’re all getting used to the new way of working at home. There is no doubt that the business travel industry as a whole and travel companies are feeling the pain.
Given this, we appreciate the response from our travel partners in extending waivers to cancel and change bookings. It’s great to be part of an industry that’s pivoting resources to support each other and the community. I can see this from our steering committee, as Uber shifted resources to Uber Eats to support the 10 million free rides and deliveries of food for frontline healthcare workers, seniors, and people in need, and as we’ve asked people not to ride.
Corporate travel managers can pull their reports to show what is canceled or refunded by the airlines and how to ensure that you have a process to optimize the use of airline credits when travel resumes. Sharing the numbers with the finance team will help as they pull together an overall financial perspective.
As we move out of the immediate response phase, what we’re seeing now is teams exploring ways to keep their teams engaged in the shift to working from home.
Q: How do you keep employees engaged?
A: There are a number of ways. Some methods may vary depending on your team, while other strategies may be employed companywide. I’ve seen some areas of the organization set up weekly virtual coffee chats, connecting people on different teams to promote socialization and networking. Weekly virtual lunches and happy hours are a nice way for teams to catch up and have the social interaction you would usually get in the office. Weekly or daily check-ins and skip-levels help to keep everyone on track and understand how team members are managing through the transition. We’re using tools like Slack for quicker, more consistent communication; Zoom for face-to-face meetings; and email for formal requests.