The modern workforce increasingly expects the same kind of personalised, user-friendly, tech-driven experience in the office as in their personal lives. One area where there is a significant clash between the old and new way of doing things is in business travel and expense. Until recently, employees were typically expected to follow the corporate expense policy to the letter. Policies were created with cost-control as the number one priority, and traveller satisfaction often a distant second.
However, in the modern era of bleisure travel, ride-sharing and electric scooters, these expense policy expectations sound positively archaic. Any finance or corporate travel leader who expects their team members to always follow the policy down to the letter will likely be met with eye rolling and mutterings of “OK Boomer.”
That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that corporate travel and expense policies are there for a reason. In fact, several, very valid, reasons. Organisations need to provide clear boundaries for class of travel, permissible amounts to spend on food and lodging, and maintain spend volumes with preferred vendors, to keep negotiated discounts. Mandating bookings through official corporate channels also enables travellers’ itineraries to be accessed easily, so that they can be more readily contacted in an emergency situation.
While all of these reasons are all incredibly valid, they may sometimes clash with the realities that business travellers face when planning their trips. Maybe some city pairs’ flight schedules with the preferred airline are very inconvenient for certain members of your team, or a preferred hotel chain is a long way from a customer site. Perhaps your number one sales executive has reached million-mile status with different airline to the one you have secured preferential rates with. Do you simply force them to stick to the policy? To what extent is the short-term financial benefit of forcing travellers to adhere to your policy worth alienating some of your most valuable employees?
There may never be a resolution that completely satisfies the needs of both financial controllers and business travellers, but organisations should still strive to find a solution which provides an effective compromise for all parties. There are several ways that this can be achieved:
- Make the policy creation process a collaborative one, and seek out the input of your organisation’s most frequent travellers. For many organisations, 80% or more of all travel spend is concentrated among just 20% of all travellers, so empowering this group to be in compliance can be a major cost-saver.
- Educate and put trust in your travellers, to help them understand why the policy is in place. Most travellers think they are doing the organisation a favour if they can find a cheaper hotel than the corporate rate, on a booking discount site. Explain the rationale, and then make self-regulation more of an emphasis than top-down enforcement.
- Allow tolerance in the policy, so if certain elements genuinely don’t work for certain travellers, they aren’t penalised. This can be mitigated to an extent by making the policy creation/revision process collaborative, as mentioned above, so potential issues are eliminated during the planning process.
- Use technology solutions that helps guide travellers can also reduce friction between travellers and teams. This can take many different forms, from deploying travel booking and expense management tools which automatically incorporate travel and expense policies, through to providing corporate payment cards with pre-set spend parameters (from daily limits as far as merchant category code and vendor-specific restrictions.
Organisations that make it easy for individuals to stay in compliance and understand the human element of business travel – particularly given the rapidly changing demographic mix in the workplace – will find that the long-term financial benefits will outweigh any short-term impact. Employees will be more motivated, leading to increased productivity, lower staff churn, and potentially even reduced expense fraud.
For more information about how your organisation can help bridge the gap between the CFO and business travellers, download our latest guide, Managing Cost Control While Maintaining Employee Happiness.
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Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care.
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic.