Crisis or Opportunity: The Changing World of Business Travel

The world is changing. Will travel for work ever be the same again? From the economic meltdown to Covid-19, it seems like there’s never a dull moment when it comes to business travel–and that may not change anytime soon. The pandemic put an end to some of our usual ways of doing things, but as economies continue on their slow recovery and technology continues its rapid advance, companies are having a tug of war justifying the return of travel whilst adapting to change, all that impact the bottom line. 

In 2020, Amazon saved nearly $1 billion in employee travel expenses, as the coronavirus pandemic kept employees from hopping on airplanes.  Google shut its global offices and working from home saved Google almost $1 billion.

Decisions need to be made on whether or not we should go back to how it was…or pivot towards new ways of working.

In this article, we will discuss the early signs of travel coming out of the pandemic, the changing forces  of remote work, the  impacts on employee retention, and policies of  sustainability and technology with the return of business travel. 

Business travel Vs Leisure

A few early signs are starting to emerge, in that personal travel is leading business travel. People are traveling to reconnect with families, friends, and loved ones. Whilst international protocols are still being formed on recognizing vaccine certificates, travel bubbles being established, the complexity of layovers for long-haul flights, domestic travel has a head start. Will travel for work ever be the same again? How will companies handle situations of those that do not feel safe to travel, has enough time passed where people might even feel like they are overreacting by not getting on a plane. The problem is that it is really hard to know when something may happen again, or break out. How about those that refuse to get a vaccine or a client feeling uncomfortable hosting at their facilities.  Employment policies may vary company by company whilst governments work through what can be legislated versus individual freedoms. 

The shift toward remote work

How will the shift toward remote work affect the return of internal meetings, client visits, and conferences? Will companies be more hesitant to hold meetings in person?

Perhaps it’s time to continue investing in  that home office set up so that employees can work remotely when local travel is not possible.

Some companies will embrace the idea of remote work while others will stick with business travel. It might depend on established norms, whether they are used to working in different locations if the workforce has a strong track record of working remotely, or even if it is an international company. Will there be a minimum amount of time that workers need to spend in the office, or is it possible for them to work from home if they are not working long hours? Will some companies go back and forth between both options depending on how busy it is with business travel or other reasons why people want to stay at a central location?

The future will bring more change when considering remote work. Will businesses have rules about what can happen when employees choose remote over local offices? Will this lead to co-working spaces where freelancers can rent out desks rather than having their own dedicated space? Will we see more open workspaces instead of cubicles as well as full-time telecommute opportunities become available across all sectors? How does this affect employees with disabilities? Will it be easier to find a full-time telecommute job or will the skill sets required to expand dramatically?

As more companies shift toward remote work, what happens next remains up in the air. Will workers have managers that check-in frequently on their progress and performance levels while working remotely? Will some employees miss having an office environment where they can interact face-to-face with people without being too far from home offices or family members who need them nearby at times of crisis? Will this shift allow us to travel more during holidays like Christmas or summer break instead of staying at home because we were not given any time off by our employer for these special occasions which are one reason why many choose personal travel over business trips when possible? Will the shift toward remote work also change how companies handle maternity or paternity leave, as well as sick days that are used to take care of loved ones because they need daily attention at times when telecommuting is not an option?

What about the perks…

The one thing to keep in mind is that some employees might not be too happy about having to drive to work instead of flying. They will also be more likely to complain about the lack of business travel, especially if they feel like there are still some things that need face-to-face meetings, client visits, or conferences.

It might take some time for people to adjust to the idea. If they are used to flying all over the world, then driving just a few miles in their own city could seem very strange indeed. The good news is that when things return to normal, employees might actually appreciate what they have.

Chances are they will appreciate the extra time in their own bed and spending more time with their families. While some people might miss business travel, others might breathe a sigh of relief to not have to deal with jet lag or worry about whether they can get on a flight.

And if something does happen again, employees will be happier that they do not have to go flying all over the place. They will be able to stay local and deal with whatever comes their way.

Sustainability Matters Now More Than Ever

It can be difficult to find the perfect balance between sustainability and ROI. Traveling for work has become a necessary evil in most cases, but it is important to not only look at the dollar signs when making decisions about travel plans. Traveling with carbon offset programs or by plane will help lessen your footprint on this earth while still giving you the opportunity to do business face-to-face with other companies around the world. Traveling off the grid does not always mean that you are traveling sustainably. Travel can also be one of your greatest carbon footprints if it is done in an unsustainable way, so don’t forget to look into options for these business trips with sustainability at heart.

Dilemma: To fly or not to fly

Business trips will fall somewhere in-between where they used to be and with the changing forces. The use cases for travel will be based not only on ROI but also have to align to adapting company policies on climate change, the environment, and sustainability. Companies will also have to justify these business trips with how well they can be replaced with common technology platforms and other future of work solutions.

With the rise of new technologies and economic uncertainty, business travel is changing. But with so many uncertainties—from Covid-19 to the global economy–it’s hard to know what will happen next. Should we go back or move forward? Or somewhere in the middle as a hybrid. It seems like there are pros and cons on both sides of this argument, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to helping companies navigate these changes in order to reach their goals faster than ever before.

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