By approaching travel as less of a transactional function and more as a dynamic strategy, leaders can in turn unlock ways to cultivate company culture and achieve sustained business goals.
While the pandemic had initially thrown the way we work off course, many industry leaders have taken these changes in cultural tides as opportunities to "course-correct their management strategies". For example, the emergence of roles such as chief data officers, chief diversity officers, and even chief wellness officers represent a clear reprioritisation of new areas, with more focus on addressing and elevating essential workplace needs.
One large area of work that has been undeniably impacted would be travel, as workforces become increasingly distributed and the travel landscape continue to shift.
Particularly, these changes allowed organisations to refocus business goals. According to Amex Global Business Travel and Cultique's recent whitepaper, "business travel was once a world shrouded in the minutia of expense lines, compliance, and duty of care. Now travel managers’ quickly expanded roles require more agility, planning, awareness, and intention behind every booking".
As such, travel managers have the chance to rethink travel programmes within the context of higher-order company priorities, and inclusive of historically-neglected, internal travel needs.
Additionally, fragmented work cultures are being reinvigorated — 99% of large companies have committed to hybrid work plans, reducing the touchpoints that once conveyed company culture, and leaving many employees feeling disconnected and confused about the future of work. Yet for all companies, including those which never went remote, unprecedented reports of burnout and stress are signaling that businesses must quickly adapt if they are to survive — particularly as 40% of workers consider resignation.
As the importance of workforce unity and work-life balance ascend, so too has the ability of travel programmes to shape employee experiences, connectivity, and mobility.
In light of such a shift, talent mobility has found new meaning. As company-wide mobility poses a potent solution amidst business leaders focusing on building culture in a new work world, its role has expanded to include:
- How new hires and prospective employees experience company culture.
- How teams or whole companies align, bond, and collaborate at retreats, offsites, or all-hands meeting.
- How companies exercise thought leadership at events and conferences.
- How employees sustain and build client relationships.
- How companies showcase their priorities and values to all internal- and external-facing audiences.
To adapt to the above, Amex GBT encourages a strategy of "thinking like a chief journey officer". By approaching travel as less of a transactional function and more as a dynamic strategy for unlocking company cultures and advancing priorities, executives and managers can collaboratively future-proof a new, culturally-attuned path toward growth and prosperity.
1. Travel fuels your corporate culture
Business travellers surveyed for the whitepaper were asked: If your company remains remote, how do you create a cohesive culture?
As derived from the responses, the pandemic has seen the rise of virtual collaboration tools, making companies more discerning about why and where employees are travelling.
Business travel is taking on a new meaning as a progressively valuable and powerful generator of company culture. Now, travel programmes are becoming the core way through which remote teams gather. One such example would be Dropbox’s Virtual First plan, where offices become as-needed team meetings centres.
Interestingly, 82% of business travellers cite the irreplaceable value of in-person meetings, with more than one-third of executives saying preserving company culture is their biggest hybrid work concern.
- Be bullish when it comes to internal business travel, amplifying team relationship building as a core travel programme focus.
- Curate and package team offsites featuring inspiring locales, unique stays, team-building tools, cultural programming, and motivational speakers.
- Drive employee interest and engagement by marketing travel schemes through company communication channels.
- Align the business travel strategy with company retention and recruitment strategies, elevating it as a cost and human capital saving mechanism.
2. Travel incentivises your workers’ wellbeing
The respondents were next asked: As burnout remains a key concern from both productivity and retention angles, how can you create better work-life balance?
Employee burnout has been brewing even prior to the pandemic. However, the stressful circumstances of recent years have understandably tipped an increase in stress levels, amplifying the need for businesses to address employee wellbeing more directly and aggressively.
Travel’s intrinsically rejuvenating nature poses as an UX-driven aid for boosting employee wellbeing.
"Going from something that pre-pandemic was associated with the problem — staff travelling too much — business trips in the future can be redesigned to demonstrate personal care and lifestyle consideration."
- For personal wellbeing: Expand vendor deals beyond basic accommodation and transit toward spa services, meditation app subscriptions, and noise-cancelling headphones.
- For career wellbeing: Aid professional development associated with business travel and remote work, such as written communication skill training to help employees thrive within asynchronous work environments.
- For social wellbeing: Offer phone plans to stay in touch with family/friends while on the road.
- For financial wellbeing: Be transparent about procurement to explain cost rationale.
- For physical wellbeing: Consider spending caps that can include a personal travel allowance.
- For community wellbeing: Create the opportunity for fellow business travellers to share tips on a company communication channel.
- Make these actions count by creating new KPIs (in conjunction with HR) to leverage travel data as a barometer of employee wellbeing or burnout risk.
3. Travel drives your employees’ personal development
The third question posed was: With people questioning the merits of a traditional 9-5 work model, what programmes and policies can help you stay competitive in the talent pool?
Shifts in employee perspectives have amplified and accelerated a decade-long demand for workplaces to actively support employee happiness and personal growth.
As workers continue to recalibrate their priorities and put more stock into personal experiences, retention, and acquisition are becoming more about emotional and psychological gains than historic signifiers of success. Business travel is becoming a key differentiator within the talent equation amidst a tight labor market. In step, transformational perks connected to business travel are challenging the category’s historically transactional reputation.
- Build a programme offering that caters to blended/extended travel including partnerships for on-the-ground entertainment, recreation opportunities, cinemas, restaurants, and live events franchises.
- Forge partnerships with hotels launching co-working spaces as accommodating and enjoyable refuges for employees before and after meetings or trip duties.
- Initiate an employee sabbatical offering, connecting trip duration to years of employment to fuel retention and giving employees something to look forward to.
4. Travel provides your employees with autonomy
Next, came the question: How do you give business travellers more freedoms and options while still making sure compliance and duty of care obligations are being met?
With the advent of remote and hybrid work, autonomous workstyles are no longer exclusively associated with unorthodox career paths. As such, mainstream and full-time employees have become increasingly averse to strict travel policies. There is more preference for companies that demonstrate an understanding of individual preferences and provide more choice within travel programmes.
As employers reconsider their programmes, they must put more stock into the end-to-end travel experience — reducing moments of friction during travel while carving out new opportunities for employee autonomy when it comes to trip planning, booking, and amendments.
- Rethink compliance by adopting less-stringent vendor relationships that give people more booking options and choices.
- Partner with travel management companies (TMCs) to design or bundle services based on specific travel needs and sensibilities.
- Employ corporate booking systems that enable employees to take control of travel date/time changes, leaving the door open for them to add a layover, extend trips over a weekend or tack on PTO.
- Include employees in the travel program process by holding town halls, deploying surveys, or tapping focus groups and subcommittees to provide critical perspectives and feedback on policies.
5. Travel showcases your company values
Respondents were asked the final question: It seems like business travel and sustainability will always be at odds — what can you do to demonstrate leadership and progress in this space?
Against the backdrop of global crises, ascendant cultural values — such as sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion — are playing an increasingly important factor in how, where, and why people and businesses invest their assets and energy.
Business travel — via its vendors, partners, locations, food, fuel, and technology — contains a plethora of policies and relationships that exercise and exemplify company priorities. Organisations are encouraged to adopt policies and programmes that reflect slower, more inclusive, and regenerative travel, to demonstrate social responsibility.
- Use travel vendor relationships to express company priorities and CSR/ESG goals, i.e. work with service providers to build out a more diverse supplier database, and increase the percentage of minority-owned/operated vendors in your programme.
- Address climate pressures head-on with impactful policy efforts, such as fewer but longer trips, partnering with TMCs on a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) strategy, or carbon footprint tracking.
- Tailor programmatic offerings to incentivise travellers' use of low or no emission modes for on-the-ground transport (bike shares, electric car rentals, public transit).
- Make business values holistic by applying them to cross-department efforts. For example, partner with events teams to offer green transportation to and from events, in addition to event-specific offerings like compostable/plastic-free cutlery or plant-based menus.
Concluding the whitepaper, AMEX GBT encourages organisations to turn to travel as a business differentiator. Opening the aperture on business travel will allow leadership to overcome many hurdles of a newly-distributed work world — unlocking ways to cultivate company culture and achieve sustained business goals.
Calling all HR & mobility leaders: If you are looking to make employee mobility a key business differentiator in your organisation, then our upcoming Talent Mobility 2022 conference, happening in-person on 26 May 2022 (Thursday), is just the space for you.
This one-day, knowledge-packed event takes everything you loved about our former conference, Workforce Mobility Interactive (the interaction, the knowledge, the panel discussions, and the on-stage experts), in a brand-new format dedicated to enhancing the in-person networking experience that we have all been missing since the pandemic first begun.
If you are keen to attend, do reach out to our producer & Group Content Director, Prassana Pillay, for more information.
Lead and body image / AMEX GBT
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