What Happens to Business Travel in the New Normal?

What Happens to Business Travel in the New Normal?

In this post, we’ll take a look at changes in the business travel sector in the age of Covid-19 restrictions, what the “New Normal” for business travel means, and the advantages of the digital workspace, now and in the future.

On the road every week, meeting with customers and colleagues onsite to plan projects and ratify contracts? Before Covid-19, that was business as usual for many executives. Today, however, work trips – if they happen at all – are only permitted under certain conditions, and the circumstances can change daily. In these times, the health of all employees is the highest priority.

And one fact is becoming ever clearer: All those business trips? They weren’t necessary in the first place; perhaps their goals could have been achieved with an email or even a telephone conversation. Covid-19 has presented our entire society with unprecedented challenges, and now more than ever, it’s important to set the course for the “New Normal” – for working life in the time of the novel coronavirus, and beyond.

Out on the first flight of the morning to the meeting; back in the afternoon; hoping the entire time to avoid delays that throw the entire day’s schedule off – business travel has always been stressful, whether domestic or international. According to the Chefsache “Business Travel 2019” study, a full 77 percent of business travelers described their mood during business trips as “tense,” and 23 percent as “very to extremely tense.” It’s no wonder: Business travelers rarely see much of their destination beyond the negotiating table, and they’re far away from family and friends. All this not only costs valuable work time, but also valuable life time – and the environmental costs are severe as well.

Nevertheless, before the coronavirus pandemic, business travel hit record levels: According to the VDR Business Travel Analysis, 195 million business trips were reported in 2019, the highest annual figure on record in a decade. Of these, 60 percent were day trips. The reasons for them?

  • Certain subjects, such as signing important contracts, conflict resolution or the termination of a business relationship, should ideally be discussed face to face.
  • A haptic product presentation, or the survey of a project, requires a direct impression of the location.
  • Small talk is always more difficult virtually. Going to lunch together, experiencing the hobbies of other team members, cultivating contacts — all this has decisive effects on a successful business relationship.

And yet, as long as Covid-19 travel restrictions are in place, “non-essential travel” remains heavily restricted or outright forbidden in many countries, in order to reduce physical contact and thereby minimize the risk of infection. It is therefore at the management’s discretion to decide which business trips are necessary in a given situation. The duty of care applies as before: Employees must be protected as much as possible. For this “new normal,” we must develop a new framework for successful digital collaboration on all sides.

Viewing Digitalization as an Opportunity

The solution? Thanks to video conferencing services, digital communication has become simpler than ever. Indeed, digitalization has already been an integral part of working life for years, and video-based communication already offers numerous advantages, including: 

  • more flexibility with respect to work hours and workspace
  • less stress for employees
  • working productively without distractions
  • working internationally
  • better work/life balance

After the pandemic, all these topics will only become more current, for the present situation is not the trigger for the digital transformation of business, but rather its accelerant. Any business that has not switched to a flexible workplace, including a functioning home office equipped with its own hardware and software, will be left behind.

Employees have long expressed the wish for more flexibility and autonomy on the job – and thanks to the omission of unnecessary business travel, this can become a reality. Numerous studies confirm what many have long assumed: Working from home, and the possibility of digital communication, amount to less stress and more productivity for employees. 

Indeed, the new digital advantages are manifold:

  • Discussions follow a protocol, making it more difficult to talk over one another or interrupt
  • Presentations can be made particularly clear through screen sharing, and are easy to give from the home-office desk
  • The entire application process can now take place over video conference, from consulting higher-ups and decision-makers in other locations, to onboarding right in the home office

Seeing mobile collaboration as an opportunity; making use of its advantages and making the best of the situation – that’s what it’s all about right now. But what do the long-term strategies for the “new normal” look like?

And how can the social component of business trips be integrated digitally, in the absence of personal meetings in the future? Whether working at home or in the office, regular work hours are a must. Weekly online Zoom meetings with partners abroad, or get-to-know-you conversations with international business partners, both strengthen digital collaboration. In order to remain in contact with colleagues in other locations with whom one would normally be undertaking business trips, a common Slack channel is ideal. Further, participation in virtual workshop conferences offers companies the opportunity to present themselves to other firms, just like at a trade fair. At the same time, a virtual video tour of a company can offer guests an exclusive inside look. Yes, this all requires creativity, but the possibilities really are endless. And best of all? This saves not only time, but also money. Above and beyond that, less time on the road means more time for professional development. What about taking a digital language course instead? Or a virtual workshop? One thing is for sure: Digital communication will be key for the future-oriented workplace.

Digital Communication: Key Issue of the Future

What Covid-19 made a necessity will remain indispensable in the next few years: The value of working from home must stay a matter of course, now and in the future. For as the climate crisis continues, international as well as domestic air travel will also have to be reduced to a minimum. A study by the environmental protection organization WWF, together with the European Telecommunication Network Operators Associations (ETNO) shows the effects of business travel on the environment: If a mere 20 percent of business trips in Europe alone were replaced by virtual meetings, 22 million tons of CO2 would be saved every year – roughly the same as the CO2 emissions of 11.7 million compact cars.

How can this goal be attained? Even last year, about half of the responding companies told the 2019 Chefsache survey that they took environmental concerns into consideration when booking business travel. One such example is the grouping of meetings per business trip in order to get the most out of the on-site meetings. According to a Fraunhofer Institute study of 500 companies, 90 percent of respondents planned to examine business trips more critically as part of the “New Normal.” Corporate values such as social responsibility, sustainability and family friendliness are more relevant than ever before — and digital communication is an important step in a new, future-facing working world.

It’s always best to consult your country’s latest web updates regarding travel pandemic restrictions (for example, in Germany, the UK or the US), and further detailed information for the EU can be found on Germany’s “Travel Safely” app (link in German).

If you are interested in digital work for your company and your team, then Babbel for Business may be the right choice for you: from simple language learning in video tutorial or group class, to practical tips and tricks for tricky situations in video conferencing. Simply contact our team.

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