What Remote Work Means for Corporate Travel in 2021

Realistically, we knew that leaving 2020 behind didn’t mean a reset on the challenges that year brought. Still, for many of us, anticipating the new year feels like a fresh start, and it can be jarring to face the same uncertainty over when we’ll return to “business as usual.”

>> Related: The Post-Pandemic Business Travel Landscape <<

At TravelBank, we’re fascinated by the conversations companies are having over evolving into hybrid or even fully remote work environments for the long term. The swiftly changing business landscape in 2020 pushed businesses to take risks and make innovative leaps in order to survive and thrive. We’re cheering on the businesses that found creative, flexible solutions to succeed in 2020, and we believe 2021 will bring new innovations to the world of business travel.

Make the Office a Destination

Businesses that may not have been used to a remote work environment learned to connect virtually in 2020. We can all relate to some growing pains, finding ways to balance non-work responsibilities and distractions, or learning new technology to ensure quick communication. But some employees may prefer to remain in a remote or hybrid working model for the long term.

As more businesses resume travel plans responsibly, there may be an uptick in a surprising new destination — company HQ. If a large portion of your workforce is remote, there may be value to flying everyone in for an annual “onsite retreat.” Working together for a week, especially collaborating on high-value activities for goals and projects, can strengthen teamwork and provide opportunities to share a vision for the upcoming year.

Committing to a permanently remote workforce can also be an opportunity to consider new (and cheaper) physical office spaces. If you don’t need to provide working space for all employees in a high-cost metropolitan area, you may be able to downsize and consider campuses in more inexpensive real estate markets.

Turn More Workers Into Business Travelers

Companies equipped to manage a remote workforce may gain the advantage of a geographically diverse team. Expanding the field of people you work with can offer new perspectives and insights you may not capture as easily with one local pool.

You may also find that it’s more convenient for some employees to become occasional business travelers. If employees relocate due to increased remote flexibility, you may be able to seize that opportunity to extend your reach. Consider asking relocated workers to attend conferences, trade shows, or other events in their new area. You may be able to set up in-person meetings or site inspections at a lower travel cost if qualified employees live nearby. Training more employees in the skills they’d need to conduct business travel assignments may be an area of continuing education to expand in 2021.

Invest in Remote Work Skills

Successful business travel isn’t just about catching the plane on time. Business travel top performers are adept at working in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, using specialized technology effectively, and continuously developing leadership skills. Investing in critical skills is essential for both business travelers and remote workers to thrive.

Improve technological skills

Road warriors and remote workers need to use software for tasks like travel booking, expense management, and security measures. They need to understand how to use automation effectively to streamline tasks and boost compliance.

Develop stronger communication

Set clear lines of communication between employees and supervisors, and clarify preferred communication tools so messages don’t get lost in a forgotten inbox.

Collaborate effectively

You don’t want to overschedule meetings, especially with an asynchronous workforce, but offering some regular meetings and low-pressure, collaborative “work-in” sessions can encourage people to bounce ideas around the way they might in an office.

Invest in leadership skills

Communicating effectively in multiple ways (email, video, in person), understanding and articulating company mission and goals, client relationship management, and strong problem solving skills are part of being an effective leader. They’re also increasingly important skills for people working remotely. Dedicating time and resources to cultivate these skills with your team can help you keep a more connected, cohesive workforce.

Offer time management training and flexibility initiatives

Working on the road or sometimes even in a distraction-laden home can make time management challenging. There are benefits to implementing a remote or hybrid work model, but only if you recognize the challenges and make a proactive plan to meet them. A time management and productivity seminar can make a big difference for some employees. So can mapping out a strategy so workers across time zones can hand off work that colleagues need without long delays.

In 2021, businesses that were pushed into remote work situations have opportunities to refine their processes and invest in making flexible work more effective. As you plan a safe return to business travel and explore the work models that fit your company, take time to consider which tech skills and “soft skills” your team will need to succeed. The right tools and employee support can improve the work experience at all levels of your business.