Has business travel changed forever?
With travel no longer taken for granted, justifying the value of in-person relationships has never been more critical. While this certainly means thinking twice before hopping on a cross-country plane for a half-hour meeting, it also means remembering just why we meet in the first place. The digital aspect of relationship-building should lie at the heart of your plans for recovery.
That's precisely what the Forbes Technology Council has explored in a recent op-ed. Michael Litt, CEO and co-founder of business analytics platform Vidyard, interprets the latest findings and forecasts and reflects on his own business trips, past and future.
The pandemic has changed the very nature of work, including our concept of business travel.[I]
Once upon a time, in the not-too-distant past...
Litt tells a story that sounds eerily familiar to many of us. "Shortly before the Covid-19 outbreak forced widespread lockdowns, I flew to New York to attend a business meeting." He describes waking up at 3:00 a.m. to catch his flight and not getting home until the early hours of the following day.
"All for the sake of a single meeting that lasted all of 90 minutes."
Nothing about that was unusual. He'd done it countless times before and had no reason to imagine it any other way. "That was how business got done."
Indeed, prior to the pandemic, millions of businesspeople around the world crisscrossed continents every day — to meet clients, investors, and potential customers — to establish, build, and nurture relationships.
All that has now been called into question.
While many of us are still holding out for a return to business as usual, its becoming clearer and clearer that that time will never come. We may have thought we were merely battening down the hatches till the storm has passed, but in the meantime something deeper has changed.
A recent survey from the GBTA found that while most companies had established travel recovery plans, timetables were ambiguous. In fact, this ambiguity is being built into the plan itself.
The latest forecasts have encouraged businesses to largely abandon hopes of reinstating their existing travel models, and to place more emphasis on redesigning and rethinking how and why the company travels at all.
Becoming digital natives
It's hardly surprising that companies led by younger generations have shown significantly more resilience to the shocks of travel restrictions. The shift to digital, dynamic travel solutions is naturally being pioneered by those better able to imagine widespread adaptions to new communications technologies and to conducting more company business digitally.
Non digital natives will do well to resist the reflex to wait out the challenge and return to old ways. A recent EY study lays out the advantages digital companies have over those less willing to adapt.
- The more agile your structures, the better poised to succeed. Digital companies tend to have flatter hierarchies than traditional ones, helping them approach challenges with more flexibility and innovation.
- Speaking of innovation, digital companies see thinking ahead not as the responsibility of a particular team or executive but as part of everyone's role. In the post-pandemic economy, innovation will go hand in hand with sustainability. What worked in the past can't be assumed to work in the future.
- Similarly to their approach to innovation, digital organizations tend to treat customer service not as a department but a general approach all along the value chain. The customer experience is paramount, which lends itself to learning more openly and honestly from mistakes and disappointments. The pandemic has been a shock for us all, and our resilience is defined by how well we pick ourselves up and learn from it.
Resilience and flexibility — two lessons from the pandemic — may be the primary ingredients in the sustainable, innovative business travel programs of the future.[ii]
The end of the business trip?
Unlikely. If anything, this unprecedented challenge has forced us to consider more fundamentally why business relationships are important, and precisely what aspects are best fostered in person.
"The global pandemic has permanently transformed not only the nature of work but also our calculus of considerations around business travel," reflects Litt.
It's time to rethink the business relationship from the digital perspective. Not to do away with travel but to redefine precisely when its valuable.
[i] Photo by Manny Pantoja on Unsplash
[ii] Photo by Karim Manjra on Unsplash