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Will Business Travel Return to Normal After Covid-19?

Will Business Travel Return to Normal After Covid-19?

 

In 2020, Business travel came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with countries starting to roll out their vaccines programs, many businesses are now looking tentatively to the future and wondering: 

Was all that business travel really necessary?

According to a recent report, 89% of employees expect international business travel to be significantly reduced for at least the next three years. Even Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has waded into the debate, by stating that he expects 50% of business travel to disappear in the post-pandemic economy

In this article we’ll explore why so many businesses are rethinking their approach to business travel. We’ll then share four compelling reasons why you might want to replace traditional business trips with a modern digital alternative. Finally, we’ll introduce you to a technology that can provide that invaluable, face-to-face experience with zero travel required.

Bill Gates: “My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel will go away”

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed every part of our lives, including the way we work. 

Throughout the pandemic, many essential workers continued to head into their physical place of work. However, businesses outside of these essential services were forced to find new ways of working

For many of us, 2020 was the year we embraced digital communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, and cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft 365. Far from being a poor alternative, many businesses discovered there were some areas where technology has the edge over face-to-face interaction. 

But does that include business travel? 

Speaking at the New York Times’ Dealbook conference, Bill Gates gave his predictions. After so many months spent working remotely, Gates imagines there will be a “very high threshold” for conducting business travel, in the post-pandemic business landscape. 

Is it time to rethink our approach to business travel? Let’s look at four reasons why you might want to join Microsoft’s co-founder, and replace at least some business trips, with digital alternatives. 

1. Minimize your carbon footprint, while maximising your positive PR

The environment is a huge topic, with many businesses actively taking steps to become more sustainable. This includes Microsoft, who recently pledged to become carbon negative by 2030.

With commercial air travel generating 2%-3% of global carbon emissions, there’s no denying that airline travel is a huge contributor to global pollution. However, there’s an environmental impact associated with all travel. Even if your staff only travel locally, every car journey contributes towards global emissions. 

By replacing business travel with digital meetings, you can minimize your company’s carbon footprint. 

Sustainability is a great cause that every business should care about. However, conservation is also a huge buzzword, particularly amongst millennials. Consumers are increasingly looking for businesses who share their ethical viewpoints. By reducing your business travel, you can appeal to today’s environmentally-conscious customer. 

Sustainability can also be a great way to generate positive PR. Microsoft was recently praised for their plans to purchase jet fuel made with waste oil. This fuel is made from waste sources such as cooking oil, and then blended with traditional jet fuel. Microsoft plans to distribute this fuel amongst Alaska Air planes at Los Angeles International Airport, as these represent their staff’s most frequently-booked routes. 

Eco-friendly initiatives are generally received well by the press, and the public. However, this positive PR can quickly turn sour if you’re discovered to be promoting environmental issues – while also taking unnecessary business trips. 

Leonardo DiCaprio was famously lambasted by the media back in 2016 when he flew 8,000 miles to accept an award on climate change. More recently, Prince Charles took three private jet flights in 11 days, expanding his carbon footprint by 16,000 air miles, before meeting climate activist Greta Thunberg. 

It’s unlikely your business trips will feature in the tabloids or gossip columns. However, these celebrity stories demonstrate how negatively the general public views environmental hypocrisy. If you have any plans to speak about environmental issues in the future, it’s vital you minimize your business trips. 

2. Save $2,600 per business trip  

Corporate expense specialists Certify estimates that domestic travel costs businesses $111.7 billion every single year. If you travel further afield, it’s estimated that companies spend $31.6 billion each year on international travel. 

This is already a hefty amount, but business trips often incur additional expenses. This includes eating out, local travel such as taxi fares, travel insurance, and overnight accomodation. When you factor in these additional expenses, Certify estimates that the average domestic business trip costs $949 per person, while the average international trip comes in at $2,600.

It’s also important to remember that time is money. Each business trip takes your employees away from their regular place of work and responsibilities. While dedicated employees may still answer work emails on their smartphone, or check in with the occasional phone call, business trips will always have an impact on employee productivity. 

Depending on the business trip, the employee may lose hours or even days to travelling. You might be tempted to recoup this lost time by encouraging your employees to travel outside of their regular working hours. 

While this may help productivity in the short-term, this rarely works in the long-term. An employee who’s in the office full-time and travelling in their “free” time is going to be unhappy, stressed, and unmotivated. They may even question whether they might be happier with a less demanding job (and a more reasonable employer!) 

When you consider the cost, it becomes more difficult to justify the average business trip. Replacing expensive, unnecessary business trips with a digital alternative could save your business a considerable amount of money. 

3. Minimize the risk to health and safety, and avoid expensive lawsuits  

Health and safety is a huge concern for many businesses. As a responsible employer, you’ll likely have strict health and safety policies in the work environment. However, travel exposes you employees to lots of additional risks. 

If your employees suffer an accident while travelling, you could face expensive legal action. One solution is to invest in staff training. This can provide your workforce with the skills they need to remain safe while travelling. 

However, regardless of whether you create or commission these training materials, it’ll cost time and money. You may also struggle to create training for all the situations your employees might conceivably encounter while out in the field. 

By minimizing the number of business trips, you can also minimize the risk to your employees. This can keep your staff safe, while protecting your company against expensive and reputation-damaging lawsuits. Despite the health and safety risks, some travel may be unavoidable. However, it’s easier to create training for a small number of necessary trips, compared to creating training for a long list of different situations. 

4. Promote a better work-life balance

Business trips can be a great opportunity to experience new cultures and countries. Many regular business travellers enjoy this part of their job. However, there is a point where a hectic travel schedule can start to take its toll.

1 in 5 businesses travellers admit they feel stressed about upcoming trips. According to the same study about 30% struggle to stay healthy while traveling for work. Close to half of respondents also feel they don’t get enough sleep due to business trips. 

Regular travel can also negatively impact the traveller’s personal life, by taking them away from their friends, family, and other responsibilities. Anyone in a parental or care-giving role may find it particularly difficult to juggle their responsibilities with regular business trips. Even Bill Gates admits he has a “simpler schedule” now that COVID-19 has made business travel impossible. 

By reducing the number of business trips, you can help your employees achieve a healthier work-life balance. This can benefit your bottom line, as a happy workforce is a more productive workforce. Employees who enjoy their job are also less likely to go job-hunting. 

When considering the impact that business travel has on your employees, it’s also important to factor in the stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19. Many countries are making good progress with their vaccines, but people remain understandably cautious about resuming normal activities, including business travel. 

Even someone who has received their vaccine, may be concerned about transmitting the virus to their friends and family. Other people are concerned about news reports regarding new variations of the coronavirus. In this climate, even necessary business travel may cause your employees a significant amount of stress. 

Business travel: What’s the alternative?

At Systems Assurance, we believe that the majority of expensive, time-consuming, and stress-inducing business travel can be replaced by advanced digital solutions. 

In recent years, we’ve seen huge advancements in “mixed reality” solutions such as VERTX Remote Support. Many frontline workers and engineers are already using these mixed reality applications to communicate with co-workers, partners, and customers remotely. 

With solutions such as VERTX, you can explore the end-user’s surroundings in real time, using their smartphone or tablet’s built-in camera. You can then personally guide the end-user through any task using voice and annotations. This might involve helping them resolve the issue themselves, or working with them to assess a problem before deciding what the next steps should be. Both of these actions would typically require an in-person visit, potentially racking up considerable travel expenses, and reducing employee productivity. 

Request a trial and see for yourself how “Remote Assist” by Systems Assurance will help you save costs by eliminating all your business travel.

 Request your 30 day, 3 user trial – Free of Charge – call us on 0114 292 2911.