Work and travel are inextricably linked. With travel being halted for the last 10 months due to COVID-19, Zoom and other video conferencing applications have allowed many of us to continue to work albeit in remarkably different environments. With Australian states starting to tentatively open their borders, discussions about a trans-Tasman bubble progressing and the vaccine not too far away, we will hopefully start to see travel restrictions being gradually lifted.
With the moderate spike in demand we have seen for travel over the Christmas holiday period, despite the difficulties with borders, I am eager to see whether trends will follow for business travel.
In a corporate setting, many people acknowledge the benefits of face-to-face interactions. I have previously written about the unparalleled opportunities that come from the 3D experience and the importance of keeping these benefits in mind when deciding whether to work from home, work from the office or travel for important meetings. It is highly likely the ease and convenience of video calling, that we have grown so accustomed to, will continue to influence future work and business travel decisions.
As we move forward, I predict both individuals and businesses will be looking to strike a balance between working from home and working in the office. In a travel sense, I predict we will also be striving for a balance between video conferencing and the need to travel to connect with people face to face. Therefore, it will be important to start thinking about the needs of both the business traveller and the requirements for the organisation to ensure a convenient, safe and compliant return to travel.
COVID-19 has moved the goalposts on a number of workplace issues that we have historically struggled to address, including working outside the regular workplace and balancing the demands of rigorous work and travel schedules. I have no doubt organisations will need to come to terms with this change and establish new standards that are designed to meet the needs of their employees in and outside the workplace especially when they travel. In this article, my aim is to understand and predict these expectations in order to reinvent travel practices to satisfy business travellers.
Flexibility choosing transportation
Commercial flights have access to major destinations all over the world, but they don’t access all the possible destinations. A lot of business travellers, especially in niche industries like universities, NGOs, public services, mining and small to medium enterprises, require the flexibility to access unique destinations via various transportation methods, including air, road, rail and sea.
Standard offerings by most travel management companies for transportation includes only the major commercial airlines. This can exclude low-cost airlines, rail and sea transport and road travel. But travellers are travelling to new unique destinations more often and relying on alternative transportation methods to get there.
What is an employee to do when they are required to travel to regional or remote locations that are not serviced by commercial flights?
I have personally experienced employees booking these “rogue” but “necessary for their work” trips outside the organisation’s preferred TMCs. This leaves the organisation vulnerable or worse completely in the dark on the whereabouts and safety of employees on these trips. But as exhausting as the madness is, the employee is not to blame, they’re just doing their job. It’s actually on the company to have the right systems in place to facilitate the travel needs of their employees.
With the globe in a state of change at the moment, post-pandemic, we don’t know what to expect even from standard businesses. They might also find a need to travel to more unique destinations where flights can’t access. It’s important that we, as leaders of organisations, start to think about how we need to adjust and adapt systems to provide flexibility to our travellers while also providing the peace of mind for the organisation in terms of safety and compliance.
Freedom choosing accommodation
In addition to flights, the freedom to book accommodation through suppliers that are not traditionally offered through the TMC is another benefit we should be granting our corporate travellers. Each individual traveller will have personalised preferences when it comes to living situations when travelling. The style, location, price and feel is very personal and has a great impact on the overall outcome of the trip. We all have the freedom to book our preferred accommodation when we travel for personal reasons, so why not afford the same flexibility to business travellers?
This should be a consideration for companies as well, especially as bleisure is on the rise. The general sentiment is that business travel will return when the pandemic madness has settled. But in any case, the future of business travel will never look the same. I predict that travellers are going to want to minimise travel time and maximise their stay. With the increased acceptance of remote working and the improvement in technology platforms that allow us to work just as effectively outside as we do inside the office, it will become easier for business travellers to extend their visit and work from their destination for extended periods. That is why bleisure travel is looming on the horizon. As companies we should embrace the change; For the benefit of our employees, our productivity and the organisation at large.
It is important to accommodate our employee’s travel preferences which might include booking alternative, non-preferred suppliers. However, to facilitate this properly, organisations will need to have the right systems in place to simply and automatically manage the costs, compliance, safety and tax liabilities (FBT in Australia) of such arrangements.
Functional and Simple Processes
As organisation leaders, we want to afford our employees the freedom to travel as they want as long we know our employees are safe, compliant with policy and spending within budget limits. Usually, the system's organisations implement to ensure this “peace of mind” when the travellers are travelling, is convoluted, inflexible and ultimately inefficient. When 70% of the travellers within a company travel infrequently (i.e. less than three times per year), overly complex and inefficient processes means they are more likely to be non-compliant and provide inaccurate information.
This isn’t the traveller's fault, it’s the process that makes it hard. We can all appreciate if a system is difficult to use, we would all be making mistakes and using it inaccurately from time to time. We can also appreciate that if a system doesn’t give us the flexibility to organise what we need for our jobs, I’m likely to work around the process. To reiterate, this is not something we should blame the employees for. Rather we should take on board their grievances and feedback to improve our systems so they are using it, they like using it and they’re using it properly.
Travel management companies are providing the business travellers with the option that they think is right, but that might not be right for the traveller. This isn’t good enough anymore when the traveller is competent enough nowadays to search online and find exactly what they want within a matter of minutes. This misunderstanding can cause friction and frustration for the travelling employees. And ultimately lead to non-compliance and increased risk for the traveller and the organisation.
The traveller wants the freedom to book where they want. Obviously within reason and within budget. As a company, you need to capture all the travellers’ details. So the systems that are put in place need to strike this balance between the change in traveller needs and the company requirements.