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The most health-conscious workplaces are doing this one thing

The status quo

At Envoy we have a unique perspective on how travel restrictions, shelter-in-place orders, and the progression of COVID-19 have affected global travel. We see over half a million visitors a week sign in at offices across the globe as well as nearly 100,000 packages scanned with Envoy Deliveries. Like many companies, we see some seasonality with long weekends and holidays but our trends have always been predictable. However, with the rise of COVID-19 and the measures taken to abate its effect, we are witnessing changes in how people travel and conduct business. 

Office visits in the face of COVID-19

The world has seen varying responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. From travel bans, quarantines and shelter-in-place orders to social distancing measures and shuttering of non-essential businesses. These measures have completely reshaped how people work and travel for work. In this blog post we’ll delve into how milestones in the progression of the pandemic have affected visitor volume in non-linear fashions.

In the animation below, we overlaid a map of the United States with the progression of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the decline in baseline Envoy visitor volume. We’ve defined the “baseline” as the day with the most visitor volume by state in January 2020 before the first COVID-19 (Jan 21, 2020) case in the United States.

Visitor volume down as COVID-19 spread across the US

On the left side of this chart, we see that Envoy experiences some natural fluctuations around visitor volume. This aligns with Saturdays and Sundays, where individuals do not travel as heavily to other locations with Envoy. March 12th was the day after the WHO designated COVID-19 a global pandemic. It was also the day before the United States declared a national emergency. On that date we observed a marked drop in visitor volume compared to the baseline across all states. At that time, nearly every single state had reported at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. By this point, many states were only seeing 50%-75% of their usual visitor volume at offices with Envoy.

As of writing, visitor volume has plummeted. Most states have implemented shelter in place orders and non-essential employees are working from home. New York, a pandemic hotspot, is down to 2.7% of baseline visits.

US states are at different stages of recovery in terms of visitor volume

The graph above presents a time series of visitor volume in a few key states compared to the baseline. We again define the “baseline” as the day with the most visitor volume in January 2020 before the first case of COVID-19 in the US (Jan 21, 2020). This graph makes it clear that visitor volume begins to plummet across all states starting on March 11th. This coincides with the WHO declaring COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. Note the decline in visitor volume when California, and other states, began implementing work from home measures. On March 16th the Bay Area announced the nation’s first shelter in place order. By that date, visitor volume had already dropped to a third of usual across most states. The rest of the United States follows a similar pattern with a steeper cliff around March 11th and flatter usage during April. 

As of writing, the 4 states with highest COVID-19 case counts are New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts. In each of these states, and New York in particular, visitor volume has plummeted and stayed flat – below 25% of baseline. We’ve also listed Texas, Tennessee, Ohio and Florida as these states began reopening their economies sooner than most. In these states, visitor volume has returned to above 30% of baseline with Ohio at 66%. It is also worth noting that in Tennessee, Florida and Ohio, visitor volume did not decrease as much as other states. States are following their own timelines, and they’re all experiencing changes to visitor volume at differing levels.

Minimizing travel distance and risk

As nations scrambled to contain the COVID-19 outbreak they began to impose restrictions on travel. Within national borders, countries advised against travel to heavily-affected areas and implored their citizens to curb non-essential domestic travel. While it’s one thing to reduce travel volume, reducing the distance of travel is another critical aspect of controlling an outbreak.

To understand this, we looked into the travel distance between origin and destination. Said another way; the distance between the visitor’s home office and the office that they visited. To represent this, we use Vincenty distance, the general calculation for distance on a spherical surface. We separated US-based travel from non-US based travel. We also looked at whether the office visit was international (visitor’s home company and visited company are in different countries) or domestic (visitor’s home company and visited company are in the same country).

Both travel distance and frequency have plummeted after March 11th

Internationally and in the US, the number of office Envoy visitors decreased after COVID-19 was designated a pandemic. Using polynomial modeling we see that, even when traveling internationally to visit another company, the average Vincenty distance decreased over time. Even when travel is necessary, visitors are taking precautions by shortening travel distance.

The following animation illustrates travel paths by connecting origins and destinations of visits. The animation starts around December 2019. At this point we can see a seasonal drop in office visits due to the holidays. Visits picked back up in January. But after March 16th we see a drop-off in Trans-Atlantic, Trans-Pacific and domestic office visits.

International traffic falls off after the week of March 16th

Here’s another view focused on the US:

Domestic travel falls off towards the end of March

Within the US, the drop-off in travel is even more noticeable after the week of March 16th. After the declaration of the pandemic, coastal and cross-country office visits fall off but the remaining visits are clustered in the central United States. For example, California and New York represented 33% and 8.7% of US-based entries in February, respectively. Today they only represent 27.9% and 2.6%. On the other hand, Texas and Tennessee represented 6.1% and 2.5% in February respectively and are now at 8.4% and 5.2%.

How our customers are responding

As we noticed visitor volume declining in March, we noticed another metric on the rise: the number of seconds to complete a visitor sign in. Historically, our median time to sign in a visitor only fluctuates by about 2 seconds, between 34-36 seconds. It’s one of our most stable metrics.

P90 time to sign in is driven by asking visitors more sign-in questions

While our median time to sign in has held steady at around 36 seconds, we noticed that the P90 (90th percentile) time rose at the end of February. It continued to climb in March from 90 seconds to over 110 seconds. Breaking down the different steps of signing in a visitor in Envoy, we saw that the increase was attributable to our Guest Info screen. On this screen, visitors fill in information about themselves. We theorized that companies were beginning to ask more of their visitors when they arrived onsite. Upon further investigation, we found customers adding not just more questions, but longer and more involved questions. Significantly, we found that companies were adding fields related to recent visitor travel history. This includes specific questions like “Have you traveled to a country affected by the COVID-19 outbreak?” It also includes broad, overarching travel questions like “Have you traveled outside of the country in the last 14 days?” The graph below charts the addition of sign in field questions that include words like “travel”, “visited”, “14 days” and “COVID.”

Over 5000+ sign-in fields regarding travel history and health created since Feb 2020

Travel shelved and workplace safety elevated

As this blog post demonstrates, the world responds to official declarations (WHO pandemic declaration, national emergencies, etc.). After the designation of a global pandemic on March 11th, visitor volume across the world fell by 62.7%, 42.1% and 12.9% over the next 3 weeks. By the week of April 6th, visitor volume had cratered by 87.5%. Across the world, offices closed, travel declined and businesses shuttered in an effort to impede the pandemic. Only 12.5% were still active, most in a very specific set of industries. Our customers are being more thorough than ever in asking questions of their visitors to understand who is coming onsite. The implications for workplace safety are significant.

Since April 6th, visitor volume has increased week over week as countries and states begin to reopen. While most US states curbed travel simultaneously, we are seeing the emergence of new patterns as some emerge from shelter-in-place sooner than others. Whether these shifts are short term or here for the long run will be subject to further analysis.