Why Bill Gates is wrong and business travel won’t die in 2021
The COVID‐19 pandemic will no doubt drastically change the way business gets done moving forward, especially when it comes to travel. Microsoft co‐founder Bill Gates has even predicted that over 50% of business travel will go away permanently now that remote work and virtual meetings have become the norm.
While I'm sure he would offer Microsoft's Teams as a worthy substitute for face‐to‐face business deals, Gates' dire travel prediction substantially underestimates three key factors:
- Human connection is how work gets done. We are fundamentally relationship‐driven creatures and even with the most advanced technology, when push comes to shove, business still gets done in person. By his own admission, Gates himself hasn't made a single new friend or business connection this year, and most of us can relate. We're talking with people we already knew through happy hours and team collaboration, but with conferences, trade shows and other networking events cancelled, new connections are much harder to come by.
- There will be an arms race in sales. Your CFO may be thrilled about the lower travel and entertainment expenses this year but ask them how they feel about sales numbers. Most won't be so thrilled because you can't have one without the other. Your sales team might say they're perfectly happy to sell virtually—it's much more convenient—but as soon as your competitor gets in the same room with a prospect, you've essentially lost the deal. Not to mention, there's a tremendous amount of upsell, expansion and retention that hinges on personal relationships. It's often over lunches, coffee or drinks that consultants and vendors learn about other challenges their client is facing and can offer support. That's how a one‐off project turns into a long‐term engagement. The reality is the weaker the relationship, the more likely you are to get unseated by your competitors, and if you're not physically there, your risk is much higher.