At least mum’s impressed…
I recently achieved a significant milestone in the career of a consultant – I am now a fully-fledged Silver member of British Airway’s executive club. Now that I can retire smug with the satisfaction that I can book my seat a little bit earlier than everyone else, it seems a natural time to reflect on what I have become: a business traveller.
While my mother is impressed (“you’re a real jetsetter aren’t you”, I smile wistfully, knowing that purgatory is something like 3 hours in Rotterdam airport), the early novelty of business travel has given way and I now regard travel as a somewhat hum-drum element of my job.
Business travel is on the up
I am not alone. Business travel is an increasingly popular form of cross border movement, with 33% of organisations experiencing an increase in business travel in the past year and 40% expecting an increase in the upcoming year (compared with a 35% decrease in long-term home-based assignments in the previous year and a 21% decrease expected in the year to come).
Whereas international assignees often receive gold-plated packages, business travellers are frequently left to fend for themselves, with even the most advanced organisations primarily focussing efforts on the corporate compliance aspects of business travel.
But the impact that business travel can have on an employee can be as extensive as longer-term mobility.
Whereas the strain and stress of say a permanent transfer is mainly front-loaded, business travel presents regular challenges to the employee and their families, which don’t subside or become easier with time.
In my experience, business travel has sometimes meant having to forsake my cherished flexible working, and coming from a dual-career family, it has frequently placed a strain on my long-suffering wife who has to shoulder more of the childcare while trying to manage her own business.
It’s all about the experience
Nearly all of the conversations I have with clients on business travel are focussed on managing compliance and risk. While this is often a sensible place to start, I always try to bring the conversation around to employee experience. I challenge clients to consider:
- How do we ensure business travellers don’t get burned out?
- How can we minimise disruption to the employee and their personal/family life?
- How can we use technology to enhance the overall experience of our business travellers?
It is vital that organisations get this right. Business travel is often the gateway experience for longer-term international moves. If employees and their families have had negative business travel experiences, this may impact on the overall brand of international mobility and present a barrier to future, more structured global mobility.
Where to start?
Of course, the desire to support business travellers must be balanced against the commercial realities. The volume of business travellers means that, for the vast majority of organisations, a high-touch ‘white-glove’ service approach for all business travellers would not be workable. I would therefore encourage organisations to:
- Identify segments of business travellers by the frequency of travel in a given period, say the last year.
- Take the pulse of the business traveller segments. How are they experiencing business travel? What are their unmet needs?
- Set thresholds which trigger different levels of service i.e. <5 days, 5-10 days, 10-15 days etc.
- Develop a service delivery model tailored to each segment, i.e. light-touch for infrequent travellers versus higher-touch for more frequent travellers.
- Regularly check-in with business travellers to see what is working and what needs iterating.
With the balance of power increasingly tilting away from employers and toward the most highly-skilled employees, it is imperative that, as the boom in business travel continues, organisations pay greater attention to the experience of their cross-border workers. Otherwise, you may experience your employees travelling to other businesses…
 AIRINC 2018 Mobility Outlook Survey