Industry Update
External Article12 November 2021

Understanding the Pandemic-Era Business Traveler

Employees have more influence than ever over workplace policies and programs. How will travel managers balance the new dynamic—and what tools and strategies will engage travelers?

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The Covid-19 pandemic has baked more scrutiny but also more purpose into the decision to travel for business. The shift to remote work, which catapulted brick-and-mortar offices into the future in a too-quick-for-comfort scramble, has now become the preferred environment for a majority of the knowledge-based workforce, according to professional network Blind. Most only want to visit the office intermittently to power up their work relationships and dive deeper into collaboration projects. According to EY, only 20 percent have interest in returning to the office full time. Indeed, no matter where you look, worker surveys show overwhelming preferences for flexible work arrangements and employees demanding to work more on their own terms.

The focus on how we work and not where we work has enveloped business travel as well. Is it necessary to travel to meet that client? Is there a return on investment for that conference or trade show? Can in-person training now be reasonably achieved through video-enabled online learning? On the flip side, however, do we need to enable more internal meetings so our now-geographically-distributed workforce can come together to engage with and understand our unique corporate culture?

All these questions put a laser focus on the fact that travel in the context of business is a means to an end—a tool or an enabler that allows businesses to get the job done. Now, however, the decision to hop on a plane may not be as straightforward. There are viable alternatives available at our fingertips and plenty of reasons to stay put: traveler health concerns, productivity, sustainability, work-life balance, mental well-being. They all play a part in the decision-making process, and in many cases are deeply personal to the employee. So how does this affect travel management?

What Travelers Want

Before we look at what employee travelers want, let’s look at what they have: power.

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