Business travel is a topic that can engender huge differences in opinion by those whose jobs require them to spend time on the road. For some, it’s viewed as a perk, for others, a burden.
On one side, booking.com recently revealed research that showed 30 percent of people would accept a lower paying job, if it allowed them to travel more for work (sadly, their partners’ responses were not included in the research). This group of travellers – often younger – is referred to in academic terms as the “flourishing hypermobile,” who view business travel through a more romantic lens. They enjoy the opportunity to travel on the company dime, and may see the long flights and powering through jetlag as a badge of honor.
On the other end of the spectrum are the employees, often more established in their careers, who see business travel as a net negative part of their role. Illustrating this was a recent article in the New York Times, about how a tightening job market is allowing senior level executives to set their own travel policy terms. One of the article’s featured employees, upon discovering that the proposed role included considerable overseas travel, insisted that she be able to choose flight times and carriers for her trips – to which the company agreed.
A key challenge that both HR leaders and corporate travel managers face is that the groups that view business travel most critically are often those that are most valuable and hardest to replace: sales executives and senior management. They are also often the most expensive to replace – the cost of replacing a senior executive can be 200 percent of their base salary. Given that 80 percent of travellers would be interested in moving companies for a better travel policy, this issue shouldn’t be discounted.
Therefore, organisations must take measures to ensure that travel programs aren’t simply designed to get their team from A to B and back again as cheaply as possible. Traveller experience has to be factored into any policy, otherwise any savings made could be wiped out by the expense of having to replace disgruntled staff (regardless of less tangible impacts, such as sales opportunities lost with departing employees).
What price content (and productive) employees?
Mandating employees to stay in a certain hotel chain or travel on a specific airline only in economy class may look like it makes sense in the short term, but if it risks driving out your most valuable, highest revenue generating staff, it may soon become counter-productive.
While travel policies certainly need to be equitable and fair, it’s worth considering working with frequent travellers to tailor your policy to provide a more flexible solution. One example of this could be adding more tolerance into air ticket cost over the lowest logical fare, if it enables travellers to accumulate air miles on their preferred carrier. While this could slightly increase costs and lower the amount of revenue that contributes to an organisation’s negotiated rate with a carrier (which needs to hit a pre-agreed threshold over the course of the year to maintain the discount), in the long term it could save big bucks if it means retaining top performers.
Business class (or premium economy) air tickets are also an area that can dramatically improve the traveller experience. Not only does it give employees a sense of being valued, but it also can improve productivity. Getting a decent night’s sleep on a long-haul flight will certainly make travellers more effective the first couple of days of a trip – and frankly, if your travellers are only operating at 75 percent while on the road because they’re so tired, what’s the point in them even going? Providing more space than a standard seat also affords the opportunity to be more productive on the plane. Enabling your team to be productive on an 11-hour Europe-to-West-Coast flight could almost pay for the additional ticket cost in itself. On the other hand, anyone who has tried opening a laptop and typing on it in economy, will know that the only thing it will achieve is annoyed stares from your row-mates.
While business class tickets are certainly expensive and not feasible for all organisations, given that just one-in-six U.S. companies permits international business class travel as part of their policy, offering this could be a major differentiator for your organisation to attract and retain top staff.
Give them the tools to make business travel easier
While all travellers would love to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria and fly in seat 1A on every trip, there are several other ways that companies can make travel more pleasant for their team, often at a much lower cost. Whether this is paying for your travellers to apply for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry – speeding up their time to get through security and immigration – or buying lounge passes to make airport waiting times more productive, it’s possible to improve one of the most hated parts of the traveller experience at relatively little cost.
Another area that has traditionally been a major bone of contention is submitting expenses. The last thing that your road warriors want to do at the end of a week away is sit down with a pile of receipts and a blank Excel spreadsheet, and spend two hours trying to remember who they took out for each meal.
Investing in modern expense management software, which can both streamline expense submission and speed up the reimbursement process can take a lot of the headache out of expenses. For example, instead of having to hang onto receipts, travelers can simply take a picture of it as soon as soon as the purchase is made, email it into their expense system, and then let intelligent OCR extract and categorize the data. When it comes time to submit expenses, it can be done in a couple of minutes by simply dragging receipt images into a report and then pressing “send.” For many frequent travellers, the biggest luxury is time, so giving family time back them instead of forcing them to spend hours on dull admin tasks can have a huge impact.
Focus on eliminating waste, not cost
Many organisations have arrived at the point where there isn’t a huge amount of slack that can be cut from business travel programs without seriously impacting the traveller experience. So how can organisations rein in spend without alienating their travellers? One suggestion – which may seem obvious but is not necessarily easy to do in practice – is to reduce unnecessary spend.
Does a trip really need to be taken? Can two trips be combined into one? Do some people habitually book travel less than two weeks beforehand, thereby incurring additional fees, or circumvent other areas of the policy without good reason? This is where the ability for companies to use analytics to mine travel and expense data becomes critical. Instead of having to make guesses based on hunches and anecdotal evidence, if finance departments and business analysts can use expense management solutions’ in-built analytical capabilities, their ability to make educated, data-based decisions is vastly improved.
By enabling cost savings to be achieved by making smarter decisions and cutting unnecessary spend, organisations can afford to give their travellers more leeway and improve their overall experience, without eating further into precious budgets. This keeps travellers happy, makes life easier for the HR team, and also keeps everyone on the right side of the CFO.
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