Pandemic business travel is different, not dead
Obituaries for business travel are back in the news. The Hotel and Airline company industries continue to bleed billions of dollars, while companies say they plan to spend less on travel after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Business Travel Association does not expect a full recovery until 2025.
Despite these disturbing data, I argue that business travel is becoming different, not dead. Whether or not travel volumes rebound, business travel can become more valuable, strategic and appreciated than ever.
New labor market, new traveler
Two trends defined the knowledge talent labor market during the pandemic: remote working and mass quits. Glass door reports that searches for remote positions increased by 460% between June 2019 and June 2021 and continue to increase.
By opening up local labor markets to employers located everywhere, remote working has increased competition for talent while facilitating job changes. Hence the “Great Resignation”. Counterintuitively, business travel can be the answer to retention.
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Consider who is quitting and why. In a to study of 9 million workers in 4,000 companies, researchers at the HR analytics platform Visier found that mid-career employees between the ages of 30 and 45 – largely millennials – were the most likely to quit. Quit rates have increased the most in the tech sector, which offers almost a quarter remote locations in the United States according to Glassdoor.
Resignations among distant millennials are likely to increase. When the best place to work interrogates 330,000 Millennium Employees on behalf of Fortune magazine, he found that the bond with his colleagues was one of the best predictors of retention. Can remote employees make these connections without ever meeting their coworkers in person?
It’s one thing to maintain relationships on Zoom, but another to bond in time-limited, jet-lagged meetings while trying not to watch the video of your own face.
Bringing remote employees together at least quarterly can be essential in establishing the connection. In a investigation of 738 business travelers by BCD Travel, a partner of my Topia company, 73% considered face-to-face team building to be extremely or very important.
For the record, we recently sent one of our managers to Dublin to finally meet his teammates and collaborate in person. Based on their rave reviews on productivity and valuable connections, we plan to budget more for business travel of this nature.
Leisure travel as an advantage
Teleworkers are hungry not only for connection, but also for novelty. Stuck at home for months – often in tight spaces with kids or roommates – remote workers likely helped drive the to recover in leisure travel.
Numerous commentators and companies believe that combined business and leisure travel (aka, “leisure” travel) could become an attractive benefit for remote workers.
Former Airbnb executive Stanley Fourteau makes this bet with Ukio, a provider of “organized apartments”. He believes long-term remote work at Ukio’s international properties can become a reward for high performance. Likewise, Donde, a Utah-based startup, touts travel as an advantage.
He wants to help his clients recruit and retain talent by providing the company with matching travel savings accounts and a platform to book experiences.
Wanderlust is a vastly untapped resource for employee engagement and retention. So even as travel for internal meetings, training and technical support decreases, the fun can develop. And leisure travel is great for fostering connection between remote workers.
As businesses delay reopening offices and mandatory travel, they prepare for post-pandemic normal. To take advantage of liaison and leisure travel, HR managers and travel managers should consider the following.
1. COVID-19 policies: Carefully define your COVID-19 travel policy. Should employees be required to show proof of vaccination to travel? What rates of transmission or hospitalization must cancel trips? Should employees with children too young to be vaccinated be allowed the flexibility to travel?
Pleasure travel is ideal for fostering connection between remote workers
2. Compliance: Think about what technology you will need for your employees to travel in compliance with immigration and tax laws. For example, employees paid while traveling for pleasure in California or New York would be required to file a non-resident tax return. With tax revenues decimated by COVID, these jurisdictions have become aggressive in checking travel diaries, expense data and payroll reports for non-compliance.
3. Expectations: Have that awkward conversation with clients and partners about whether to show up. You might want to visit because a client’s contract needs to be renewed, but they might not be in the office anyway. Evaluate their level of comfort. Perhaps you suggest meeting outside for coffee, dinner, golf, or a walking meeting.
Less but more
Over the next few years, business travel may not look like it was before 2019. But less travel can be more.
Rather than demanding road warriors, companies can extend commutes to remote workers who seek novelty and human connection. Freed from Zoom, these business travelers can relish the opportunity to collaborate and bond in person.
Add a little fun and travel can become an advantage in the global competition for talent.
Business travel is different, but not dead. Employers, be prepared.
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