It’s #BacktoBlueSkies. Over the past few months, more and more colleagues at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) have been hitting the road for work-related trips, proving we can safely resume business travel in some parts of the world.
We spoke to Mark McSpadden, vice president of global product, who recently traveled from Dallas to New York to attend a product review meeting in GBT’s new office space in Midtown Manhattan. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – he was also able to join a meeting to work on a commercial bid he was involved in that coincidentally took place on the same day and in the same location.
Q. How did you get “travel ready” for this meeting and trip? What did you do to prepare?
A. First, I was vaccinated and waited to travel until it was two weeks after the second shot. Second, I researched what the travel requirements were for the State of New York. I saw on Travel Vitals™ that New York had just eased up on what the expectations were for people from out of state.
Then I had to figure out my wardrobe – I couldn’t wear basketball shorts, which is a change. So from laptop bag to wardrobe, I had to ask myself, “What do I need to bring on this thing?”
Q. Did you have any issues with the trip – with booking it or anything else?
A. For the most part, the travel logistics were the most straightforward piece of the whole trip. Since I live in a major hub city and going to a major city, it’s not hard to get a flight.
My hotel didn’t have all its amenities, such as room service and the fitness center, open. So that was a little bit of an adjustment.
Q. Why did your team decide to do an in-person meeting rather than a virtual one?
A. For our products, there’s a lot of discussion that goes into what we should prioritize across our product suite. We do the best we can on Zoom, but the discussions we have when we’re in the same room are so much richer. We’re able to go back and forth and hear multiple points of view very quickly, as well as include more voices in the conversation. Someone can chime in and say one thing instead of having to unmute themselves or raise their hand. So, we thought it was important to have that kind of creative process in person.
Q. What was it like to see your colleagues in person again?
A. It was exciting – and a little physically awkward at first. You’re trying to decide: “Are we doing handshakes or fist bumps?” But really, everybody just wants to hug since these are people you care about a ton. We’ve had a rough run over the last year, and when you go through something with people, you’re connected to them.
After getting over the initial awkwardness, we were able to quickly talk about the objectives in front of us and catch up on a personal level, which is much harder to do through a screen.
Q. What was the dynamic among everyone like?
A. The in-person dynamic is much more inclusive. What I found on Zoom is there is a strict hierarchy of who’s presenting and who comments. Of course, those things do exist in the physical world, but in person it’s just easier for everybody to contribute, ask a question, or make a point. That was a piece of the dynamic I didn’t even realize was missing – just the ease of communication meant there were more voices at the table.
I would also say a lot more jokes landed in person than they do on Zoom.
Q. What did you realize you miss most about meeting in person?
A. The velocity of ideas, decision-making, and progress. It just happens at a much quicker pace in person. The meeting moved, and it was a lot of fun to feel back into a flow of work with the team.
Q. What was the feedback from the team after they got back home?
A. The folks that got to travel talked about how good the experience was, which made the people who were joining by phone want to go and experience the same thing. They wanted to know: “When is our day? How do we make this happen?”
Q. You’ve taken a few other business trips recently as well. How has it been getting back into the travel groove?
A. I’ve personally been surprised how easy old habits of travel are to slide into. I’m actually having to be super conscious about it since the physical aspect of traveling can take its toll. I have to remind myself: “Mark, you didn’t like taking the last flight out or the first flight in the morning, so for at least one of the legs of this trip, pick something that’s more sustainable for you, that’s more wellness-focused, instead of just ‘how do I get there?’”
Q. Any other thoughts about in-person meetings versus virtual?
A. While on another trip attending a big hybrid meeting, I realized that context switching from virtual to in-person and hybrid in a single day is actually very difficult. For instance, you may start your day with a Zoom call, then do an in-person meeting one-on-one before going to a hybrid meeting where you’ve got people in the room and on the phone. So, it’s an interesting challenge and new adaptation to manage three different modes of meetings in a single day.
Most of the time pre-pandemic, when you arrived somewhere, you were there and that was your focus, so you could really focus in. I’m already orienting my upcoming trips to have fewer digital components and concentrate on optimizing my time in a place with people face-to-face.