Steve Black, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Topia
Perhaps it’s no surprise airline, hotel chain and industry body CEOs have all said they expect to see business travel return. Clearly, without it the aviation, hotel and hospitality sectors around the world will take a big hit, but as we emerge from the pandemic companies are waking up to an even bigger challenge – climate change. Some, like Microsoft, have been making big statements about reducing their carbon emissions and are coming under pressure from campaigners to lead the way in reducing business travel. It is a positive step that businesses recognise and are preparing to act on their responsibilities with regards the climate, but it will impact how companies approach business travel. Increasingly, senior executives will have to decide which business trips to prioritise. So, what does the future look like?
A new type of business traveller
The optimists suggest we’ll pretty much return to previous levels of business travel by 2022 – 2023…pandemic permitting. Domestic travel is moving quicker in the US, but Europe is also seeing improvements in the volume of travel.
The sceptics suggest that business travel won’t return to the same level – perhaps only reaching two-thirds of the current level.
At Topia we are seeing a new type of traveller emerging – not so much the traditional business road warrior, but the emerging class of remote workers who use travel to combine several purposes. They are looking to connect and collaborate with internal teams, engage customers and prospects and increasingly combine holiday with business travel…which is a thing apparently: “bleisure”
This will lead to more extended stays, but perhaps not happening as frequently as the weekly multi-country tours of old. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have made such intense travel unnecessary, which frankly is a good thing not just for the climate, but also employee work life balance.
However, this can bring with it a new type of complexity as HR has to manage an already dispersed workforce and keep track of where they are located. Why is this important? Compliance and employment law. For example, if you are a UK citizen travelling in the Schengen area you are subject to the 90 day rule, meaning you can’t be in the region more than 90 days in any one 180 day period.
If your UK employee is indulging in “bleisure” then it will be critical for HR to know how many days that individual has been in mainland Europe to avoid fines. This can be easily addressed, though, with the right talent mobility strategy. Organisations can overcome this complexity and make good decisions about which business trips are necessary and which are not
Business Travel Checklist
A key start point is to develop what we would call a business travel checklist, so that HR teams can simplify and explain company policy on prioritising business travel. These new travel policies should empower employees with guidance to properly evaluate the importance of travelling and should focus on the following areas:
- Safety: Is your employee going to be protected from exposure to the virus travelling to another country? Is your employee healthy so that they do not infect colleagues?
- Purpose (win a deal, training to close a skills gap): Is it an operational or a strategic meeting? Will everyone be sitting around a table looking at a spreadsheet, which they could do easily from the comfort of their own desks? Is the person travelling going to train local staff to fill a skills gap?
- Is in-person necessary? For example, are our competitors pitching in person? Is it required culturally? Is it a large volume of meetings and workshops that won’t be done as effectively over Zoom?
- Is it compliant? Particularly for the UK post-Brexit the Schengen rules affect how much UK employees can travel in Europe in a given period so it is crucial to be aware of (and compliant with) local immigration and employment law regulation.
- Is it risky? Connected to the previous point does it create corporate or personal tax risk that will have lasting impacts – like creating a taxable presence for the company in a new country?
Right-sizing your business travel policy
Using these evaluation criteria may not appear to lead directly to a reduction in business travel and its impact on the climate, but more sophisticated talent mobility strategies will drive more efficient and intelligent use of business travel, which in turn could be one part of an overall strategy to reduce an organisation’s environmental impact. Done well, it will allow companies to explore much more nuanced approaches than simply expecting the senior execs from the US to tour around Europe for two-weeks every month. Someone taking the Eurostar from London to Paris will have a smaller impact than a big boss flying in from Chicago.
Your talent mobility strategy needs to be much more than how you are moving your workforce around the world. It should be integral to why you are moving people are around the world, i.e. because it delivers competitive advantage, because it offers employees career development opportunities and because it helps your customers.
Ultimately, this should enable organisations to “right-size” their business travel requirements and be more inventive about their approach. Technology has taken up the “slack” for some meetings, but equally companies that know where their talent is within the organisation can map them against requirements. Above all it requires planning ahead, and constant reviews which are only possible if the talent mobility and HR teams are integrated with the senior leadership team in decision making processes.
About Steve Black, co-founder and chief strategy officer
Since co-founding Topia in 2011, Steve has been there to see the company grow from a small London-based startup to an award-winning Global Talent Mobility platform supporting organizations around the world. At Topia, Steve leads strategic initiatives leveraging deep industry and customer insight. An expatriate himself, Steve understands the challenges of moving abroad, and is dedicated to ensuring that everything we do at Topia is in the best interest of our customers.
Originally from the great state of Illinois, Steve has worked and lived across the US, Switzerland and New Zealand before planting his feet in London. Steve was previously an Associate Partner at Oliver Wyman, where he lead consulting engagements across North America and EMEA. His work spanned aviation, retail, insurance and energy, focusing on helping clients turn data into actionable insights and operational improvements. Representing his Midwestern roots, Steve holds a BsC in Industrial Engineering and Economics from Northwestern University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Topia is the leader in Global Talent Mobility. We empower companies to deploy, manage and engage employees anywhere in the world. The Topia platform enables organizations to deliver mobility as part of a broader talent strategy encompassing all types of employee movement – remote and distributed workforces, business travel, and more traditional relocations and assignments. This drives enhanced employee experiences and competitive advantage by ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time, while staying compliant no matter where they are. The Topia platform automates the entire global talent mobility process, including scenario-based planning, expat payroll, tax and immigration compliance, reporting and more. Topia powers global talent mobility programs for world-renowned brands such as Schneider Electric, Dell, Veolia, Equinor and AXA. Topia has raised over $100M from NewView Capital (formerly New Enterprise Associates), Notion Capital and others, and is a global company with offices throughout the Americas and EMEA.