By Nina Herold, Executive Vice President and GM of Travel of TripActions
Travel is back and not just for holiday-goers. TripActions recorded that global business travel bookings have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Business is done better in person, and post pandemic, that spark of human connection is valued by employees more than ever. As the rapid return continues, business travel also stands to boost the UK economy by as much as £17.5 billion by 2030.
Fundamentally, the way people are travelling has changed. With many younger members of the workforce wanting to ‘work from anywhere’, employers must enable employee flexibility through their business travel programmes. Equally, business travel as we know it is becoming a more sustainable and flexible experience. The traditional multi-day trip to a convention with 400+ attendees is being substituted for smaller gatherings and overnight stays.
In order to embrace changing employee expectations, businesses must keep the following trends in mind when returning to business travel:
1. Teams want to be together
Having teams distributed across hybrid working models has left businesses with an urge to bring teams together. Recent TripActions research found that 49% of respondents are expecting their remote/global teams to travel more in the near future. Why? Ultimately, having teams back together under one roof can increase collaboration and strengthen company culture — all while keeping employees connected to vital human connection.
Having a distributed workforce has led to the creation of a category of travellers that we like to call ‘super commuters’ and ‘quarterly commuters’. Employees are travelling to meet with coworkers and build in-person relationships. Super commuters have brought about the need for business leaders to promote business travel that encourages team training and bonding between employees. Business as usual travel is now a thing of the past. Employees value their time, and employers should too, making travel as easy as possible.
There is a clear appetite for in-person relationship building at wider industry events as well. Recent Deloitte research has confirmed that managers are seeking events with a ‘powerful mix of networking and content’. The demand is there — businesses must empower employees.
2. Embrace individual preferences
Research has shown that there are huge differences with who’s travelling from each industry now compared to before the pandemic. According to our data, engineers, who made up just 7% of travellers by job function pre-pandemic, are now at a 12% share. Marketing and Product teams have similarly increased their respective share of travellers. Meanwhile, Operations, HR, and Finance & Administrative departments, which continued to travel during the peak of the pandemic, have settled back into their pre-pandemic share.
The way we work has fundamentally changed. Flexibility is the norm, and as such, we’re seeing shifts in the sectors travelling — as well as shifts in travel booking processes. Today, if you want to go on holiday, you book the holiday yourselves. Searching for transport and hotels that meet your preferences (swimming pool and seaview, if you ask me) and controlling the end-to-end travel processes. Business travel is no different.
Employees want to use a platform where they can make their own corporate travel decisions. Put simply, they want the choice. Flexibility is now a valued perk and businesses who offer it are set for the happiest travellers.
3. The rise of ‘blended’ travel
Another booming trend is the rise in ‘blended’ travel, with one-third of business travellers making the most of their business trips by extending their trip with personal travel — or extending their vacation by adding remote work days. Travellers are adding leisure days before or after business trips to explore new destinations, take time to rest and recharge, or see friends and family. Job satisfaction goes up in turn.
The adoption of remote working has given employees the freedom they need to be flexible with their business travel. They can now work from anywhere, anytime. In fact, business travellers attributed the ability to work remotely as the reason they planned at least one trip last summer according to Deloitte.
Currently, 66% of businesses openly allow (or plan to allow) leisure extensions to business trips. This figure is expected to rise over the coming years. Those businesses that give their people the freedom to take control of their travel, within a company policy, will ultimately have happier, more engaged employees who feel trusted and empowered.
4. An increased focus on on reporting amid rising costs
When preparing for any upcoming business trips, it’s important that organisations keep costs down. With the cost of living crisis, monitoring spend and finding the best deals is crucial to maintaining bottom line profitability.
Technology continues to play a vital role in business flexibility and resilience. Travel is no different. Travel management platforms give employees the freedom to book their own business travel, and can even help incentivise selecting the best deals. For finance teams, trips are automatically populated into real-time reports, making cost management and reporting simpler than ever.
Innovative expense management tools also now allow finance teams to implement a proactive policy to keep business travel costs in line. Spend controls mean that in-policy purchases are automatically approved, and any policy violations are prevented before they occur. Finance teams again have 360-degree visibility into company expenses, mitigating the need for expense reports entirely.
With the right tools, businesses can offer employees the seamless experience they want, enable ‘blended’ travel, and account for individual preferences, all while making cost reductions. Reports are simple to run when efficient financial processes are established.
It’s clear that travel is back, and businesses need to support their teams, while also keeping costs in check. Companies must continue to look for ways to empower their employees when planning business travel, and stay on top of the ongoing factors that may impact those trips.
As companies determine which working model best supports their visions of success, optimising productivity and modernising processes should be a top priority for businesses of all types and sizes. Those who get it right now will benefit from happier employees and healthier balance sheets.
Global Banking & Finance Review
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