The main stage Thursday morning at the Global Business
Travel Association featured future-of-work strategist Heather McGowan who
turned the structure of work sideways and offered new perspectives on how a culturally,
racially, gender and geo-diverse workforce would redefine the position of their
jobs within the context of their lives. The most immediate evidence of that
future and arguably the most impactful for business travel managers is the vast
scope of the remote workforce and the complexities—and as well as
opportunities—that will come with it.
A panel discussion with corporate travel heavy hitters—BCD
Travel CEO John Snyder, ARC CEO Lauri Reishus and Deem president David
Grace—followed McGowan’s presentation to discuss the implications of several of
her themes for the future of business travel. The panel was moderated by Envoy
founder and CEO Scott Wayne. The following are edited excerpts from that
Scott Wayne: Who are your employees today? Where are
they and who are they? How are you measuring them?
Lauri Reishus: They are all over, but mostly at home.
We never closed our offices [but] we have grown our remote workforce in the
U.S. and we have been doing really well from a business resilience perspective.
However, the pandemic hit us in the middle of a five-year transformation
effort… re-platforming of our products and new tech stack. That has created
challenges for us working remotely effectively.
We traditionally were an employer who has three locations
and wanted people to be close to those locations. Now we have opened up our
search across the nation and have found that to be working very well for us. We’re
finding talent that we wouldn’t have attracted if we insisted on that
close-to-physical-plant approach. We are still working on what that looks like
when we do return to the office.
In terms of measurements, they are the same. We have
employees providing operational support, service level agreements—you can easily
see how people contribute to the achievement of those or not. But most employees
are working on product developments and new programs and it’s really about [whether
we] are we hitting milestones. That hasn’t changed. But honestly, we’ve
struggled; we’re working on the digital transformation of our business. [There
has been] a variety of [contributing] factors, but one is our inability to get
together to collaborate. It’s difficult to envision major business process re-engineering
when you can’t get together and draw it out together. It’s proven to us that
being together is really valuable. But it won’t be five days a week, it will be
situational… but we need to get that collaboration going again.
Wayne: And what about maintaining the culture of an
organization? How do you do that in a remote work environment?
John Snyder: Culture drives everything. We are
blessed at BCD to have a positive culture. That was a key concern of mine and
our entire leadership team going into the pandemic. We had to go back to basics.
We built everything on trust and respect; let’s do the same thing.
We went to regular communication to entire global staff. We were
very transparent about what was going on. It wasn’t easy. There was the good,
bad and ugly in those communications. It went out on a weekly basis. It was
received incredibly well. Ten years ago we opened an ‘Ask John’ forum for our
employees to ask me questions or give me advice on how to run the company … and
that’s been fun for me. During the pandemic, the platform [traffic] for Ask
John went up 5,000 percent. Mostly [employees] were thankful we were so open
honest with the communications, but there were some tough messages that I had
to respond to. But [all that activity] gave me a clear indication that we were
hitting home with our employees and keeping the culture strong.
We [also] rejiggered our global intranet. We had a huge
virtual workforce before [the pandemic], but it went overnight to 100 percent. We
realized a big part of our culture was our people being able to interact with
their colleagues on a daily basis. And they no longer had that. So we made our
intranet a digital entry point as a social water cooler. So employees could
come together, share what’s going on with their job, what’s going on at home,
praise each other… that went over very well.
Wayne: As the CEO of Deem, you are focused on
personalization of travel, creating the travel experience. What are the ramifications
of the “Great Reflection” on how we organize our lives with work…what
are the ramifications in terms of business travelers?
David Grace: It’s a massive opportunity. As an
industry we’ve talked for a long time about personalization. And putting the
traveler at the center of what we do. I’m not sure as an industry we’ve done
that well. John and Lauri just talked about… personalizing the work experience in
the office, not in the office, where they work, in their community. That’s driving
all kinds of new traveler needs.
You have to meet the needs of your employees; [they] are the
most important asset we have. Its’ not always what’s the most economical, but
rather, what does that person need to do? You need to offer that personalization
within a context that it fits the program and fits the policy, but [the
employees] don’t even [have to] know it’s there. And it’s not about Covid all
the time. We have to drive for overall safety and personalization for the
workforce. We have to make [travel] easy and … make personalization the center
of that. We have to do this. It’s done in the consumer world, and we have to do
it here as well. A lot of what we’ve done in the corporate travel industry has
been about command and control. What we need to do is delight and enable. If
you can do that, [travelers] will drive more to your policy, drive more your
program and you’ll have greater visibility around duty of care.
Wayne: Let’s talk about volumes and reduced travel
footprint with sustainability and in an era when we digitize everything.
Reishus: I don’t think any of us know what the impact
of work from home will be. But as we look at hiring more remote employees,
don’t we also need to understand if we can afford to fly them in? It might be
once a month, it might be a couple times a year. For overall forecasts… we
expect to see air travel end this year about 30 percent below 2019. And a fairly
modest forecast for the end of 2022, we see it about 20 percent below 2019. But
honestly, this is a forecast in November 2021. It’s a guess based on the best
information we can glean from the industry. Time will tell.
Snyder: Every time I’ve predicted what will happen
the last 18 months, I’ve been wrong. So I’ve retired my crystal ball. But I
think we’ll settle into something 15 to 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels.
But Lauri hit on it… With all our employees virtual and in remote cities all
around the globe, there will be a resurgence of collaboration travel. where
employees who never traveled before are now working [remotely] but they need to
go to an office to collaborate with their customers and their colleagues. That
could potentially make up half the gap that we may lose coming out of the
pandemic. Those remote employees will have to interact with their colleagues.
Wayne: Is sustainability going to stick?
Grace: It always seems to be tied to how the economy is
doing… but it’s different this time. The look/feel/engagement around sustainability
is, for lack of a better term, sustained. But [the travel industry] has to get
to the point where the consumer can digest carbon emissions information and [we] also need to give that reporting to the corporate so they can make decisions about
how engaged they’re going to be. Because a lot of that will be working with
their suppliers to help them manage it. [Deem has] to work together to give
visibility as a technology platform, but we don’t have control over the airplane
or car or hotel does as far as their [carbon] footprint. But [the booking
platform] can give that visibility and help travelers make the right decision.
And the bigger question is what premium is that company willing to buy or pay
for to make that right decision. And every company will be different on that.
Snyder: [Sustainability] is here to stay. We ran a
survey having travel buyers rank what is most important to them coming out of
the pandemic. In the pandemic, duty of care shot to number one. Now, we are
seeing sustainability ramp up aggressively. In the past year, we haven’t seen a
single request for proposal that didn’t have a sustainability checklist. I
applaud people for doing that. … But we need to take it beyond the checklist.
We need to sit down as partners—the TMC the buyer and any other suppliers that need
to be a part of that—but use your TMC as a helping board to build your program,
set rules and help you drive and track those goals. We’re at a point where we
need to get beyond the checklist and put formal plans in place. I realize
there’s investment in that—some companies are ready, some aren’t.