Business trip obituaries are back in the news. The hotel and aviation industry continues to bleed billions of dollars to death as companies say they want to spend less on travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Business Travel Association does not expect a full recovery until 2025.
Despite this ominous data, I claim that business travel is getting different and is not dead. Whether or not travel volume recovers, business travel can become more valuable, strategic, and valued than ever.
New job market, new traveler
Two trends have shaped the labor market for knowledgeable talent in the pandemic: teleworking and mass layoffs. Glassdoor reports that searches for remote positions increased and continued to grow 460% between June 2019 and June 2021.
By opening up local job markets to employers everywhere, remote working has increased competition for talent while making job changes easier. Hence the “great resignation”. Counterintuitively, business travel can be the answer to retention.
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Think about who is stepping down and why. In a study of 9 million employees in 4,000 companies, researchers from the HR analytics platform Visier found that mid-career employees between the ages of 30 and 45 – mainly millennials – are most likely to quit. Resignation rates rose the most in the technology sector, which, according to Glassdoor, has nearly a quarter of the remote positions in the United States.
Resignations among remote millennials are likely to increase. When Best Place to Work surveyed 330,000 millennials on behalf of Fortune magazine, it turned out that connection with colleagues is an important predictor of retention. Can remote workers make these connections without ever meeting their colleagues in person?
It’s one thing to maintain relationships through Zoom, but quite another to connect in time-limited, lag-free meetings while trying not to look at the video of your own face.
Bringing remote workers together at least quarterly can be essential to establishing a connection. In a survey by BCD Travel, a partner of my company Topia, of 738 business travelers, 73% thought personal team building was extremely or very important.
Anecdotally, we recently sent one of our managers to Dublin to finally meet her teammates and work together in person. Because of their enthusiastic feedback on productivity and valuable bonds, we plan to plan more business trips of this type.
Bleisure trips as a discount
Remote workers are eager not only for connections, but also for novelty. Stuck at home for months – often in confined spaces with kids or roommates – remote workers likely drove the comeback of leisure travel.
Many commentators and companies believe that trips combining business and leisure travel (also known as “bleisure” travel) could become an attractive asset for remote workers.
Former Airbnb manager Stanley Fourteau is making that bet with Ukio, a provider of “curated apartments”. He believes that long-term remote work in Ukio’s international locations can be a reward for high performance. Dónde, a Utah-based startup, also advocates travel as an advantage.
The company aims to help its customers recruit and retain talent by providing company-tailored travel savings accounts and a platform for booking experiences.
Wanderlust is a largely untapped resource for employee engagement and retention. Even when travel for internal meetings, training, and technical support dwindles, the joy can grow. And bleisure trips are great for fostering the connection between remote workers.
As companies delay office reopenings and mandatory travel, they prepare for post-pandemic normalcy. To reap the benefits of bonding and bleisure travel, HR and travel managers should consider the following.
1. COVID-19 Policy: Carefully define your COVID-19 travel policy. Do employees have to show a vaccination card when traveling? What transfer or hospital stay rates should travel cancel? Should employees with children who are too young to be vaccinated be given the freedom to travel?
Bleisure trips are ideal for promoting connection between remote workers
2. Compliance: Think about the technology you need to allow employees to travel in compliance with immigration and tax laws. For example, employees who paid their wages while on a bleisure trip to California or New York are expected to file a non-resident income tax return. With tax revenues decimated by COVID, these jurisdictions have become aggressive in checking travel books, expense records, and payrolls for non-compliance.
3. Expectations: Have this awkward conversation with customers and partners about whether to show up. You may want to visit him because a client’s contract needs to be renewed, but he may not be in the office anyway. Measure your comfort. Perhaps suggest meeting outdoors for coffee, dinner, golf, or a hiking get-together.
Less but more
In the next few years, business travel may not look like it did before 2019. But less travel can be more.
Instead of demanding road warriorship, companies can extend trips to remote employees who crave novelty and human connections. Freed from zoom, these business travelers can enjoy the opportunity for personal collaboration and bonding.
Add a little luck and travel can turn into an asset in the globalized competition for talent.
Business travel is different, but not dead. Employers, be ready.
About the author…
Steve Black is the Chief Strategy Officer at Topia.