Carl Asks: What is the New Normal for business travel?
THE QUESTION: As businesses across the country emerge blinking from pandemic restrictions, what will be the New Normal approach to domestic and international business travel?
THE ANSWER: In 2020 few of us would have been familiar with the phrase "You're on mute!" The advent of WFH and Teams/Zoom online meetings has taught us all a new way of doing business. National lockdowns have had a terrible effect on travel and accommodation providers, but they have also provided savings to companies as corporate travel and accommodation reduced to the bare minimum. So how are businesses changing their approach post-pandemic?
Is your trip really necessary?
After a long period with little or no travel, companies are reviewing the value of individual trips. In the past face-to-face meetings were considered essential. However, we now know that in some instances it is now viewed as completely acceptable to hold virtual meetings using online services offered by the likes of MS Teams or Zoom. Corporate bean-counters have latched onto the reductions in travel budgets, encouraging managers to adjust to the new ways of working, including finding the right balance between virtual and in-person meetings.
COP26 put climate change and sustainability firmly in the global spotlight. Companies are engaging with sustainability, and many managers are now considering ways to reduce their corporate carbon footprint. Travel, particularly air travel, can seem to be 'low hanging fruit' to companies determined to meet environmental challenges.
Corporate duty of care
Increases in remote and hybrid working (WFH) requires companies to reconsider their duty of care to employees whenever they are away from the office, and not just when they're on a business trip. Forward-thinking companies recognise the need to keep all employees safe, no matter where they are travelling or working.
Risks associated with the global pandemic have dominated people's minds for almost two years. But as travel returns, it's important to recognize the other risks to which business travellers may be exposed, including extreme weather events, economic risks, terrorism and even cybersecurity breaches. Companies must evaluate their travel risk management policies to ensure their employees' safety and security on the road.
A new phenomenon is being reported from our cousins across the pond. 'Bleisure' refers to the combination of business travellers tacking on a few extra days of leisure to their business trip. Many of us will have attempted this in the past, reclassifying the wife as a personal assistant and essential for the success of the business trip to Bali. Unfortunately, the guys and gals of the HMRC seem to have a different attitude to the US IRS so this particular American trend will probably not catch on here.
It's not clear when business travel will return to pre-pandemic levels. As the Covid cloud starts to clear, we now view the fog of war emerging from eastern Europe. So, whether it's a flight to a supplier in Taiwan or a car trip to a customer in Tewkesbury, company managers will be thinking long and hard before they provide their authorisation.
Carl Gibbard was co-founder of Concept Smoke Screen Ltd and a pioneer in the use of smoke and fog in a security role. Currently chair of the BSIA Export Council and Vice Chair of the Security Equipment Manufacturer’s Section.