Deep in the HR corner of a mid-sized IT company in downtown Toronto, a diminutive woman in a burgundy blazer sits in a small office. A mug of tea sits near at hand as she types away on a laptop. She reaches for it occasionally, often without taking her eyes from the screen. You wouldn’t know it, but this woman is quietly keeping dozens of employees safe all over the world.
Meet Ira Chowdhury. They call her “The Octopus” because she’s everywhere at once.
But how does she keep track of everyone? Ira has found a web and mobile application called Travel Navigator to help her maintain her tentacled reputation.
“This octopus has a secret weapon,” she whispers.
The Growth of Working out of Office
Ira’s main responsibilities are the employees who are currently working outside the office. Meetings, exhibitions and other events means that there is a constant flow of employees travelling for different reasons.
“Right this second?” Ira pauses, and hits a couple keys on her laptop. “I’ve got 23 employees out there. In 14 different locations.”
Small Concerns, not Major Anxieties
For most business travellers, their concerns abroad aren’t much different than they are at home. In a 2015 survey, frequent business travellers (1-5 times per month) listed road and air safety as their main anxiety while travelling. Larger concerns such as terrorism were not even on their list.
And these concerns are not invalid – in 2018, the WHO reported twice as many road-related deaths per year in the US than in Canada. Different standards and laws for speed limits and seatbelt usage can mean that simply crossing the boarder can increase your risk.
Over the years, Ira tried a number of different services and systems to help her track her ever-growing group of telecommuters and business travellers. “I needed a way to provide the same duty of care to employees abroad as they get at home,” she said. “As an IT company, a tech solution seemed the most natural.”
Recently, she’s discovered Travel Navigator, an add-on service with the company’s health benefits. “It’s a game changer,” she says.
Through the service’s employer dashboard, Ira can track all of her staff travellers across a global map. She can contact groups of employees directly through a text, and she can access information on the ground for each of their locations – weather, health services, even security alerts. Having everything centralized means that Ira spends less time hunting for information online.
“It doesn’t seem like a huge difference,” she says, “until something goes wrong.”
The Day of the Octopus
When asked about that day, Ira sighs. “It was crazy. Everything happened at once.”
First, three employees in Chicago for a one-day meeting were involved in a car accident when their rideshare was rear-ended. Then, an employee who telecommutes from Mexico found himself and his home in the path of an oncoming hurricane. And finally, an intern on a first-time work jaunt to an industry event in Germany, had lost her passport.
“I had all these messages coming in,” says Ira. “At first, it was pandemonium.”
Using Travel Navigator, Ira located the nearest health facility in Chicago that accepted the company’s benefits package and directed the employees there to get checked for injuries. She accessed security alerts for Mexico, and helped her telecommuter decide whether evacuation was recommended. She found embassy information for the nervous intern in Germany and helped her get a temporary replacement passport.
“It was remarkable,” says Olivia, a sales manager who was in the car in Chicago. “Ira was in touch immediately, with information and support. It was like she was there with us. When we found out she was doing this in three countries all at once… well, we couldn’t help but give her a nickname.”
Ira sits back in her chair and reaches for her mug. “If only I were an octopus,” she muses. “I’d certainly drink a lot more cups of tea.”
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