In a recent Atlas article about employees’ changing attitudes toward work, we highlighted research from the Work Reimagined Employee Survey from Ernst & Young (EY) in which more than 16,000 employees from 16 countries were asked about their experiences working through the pandemic and what comes next.
One interesting finding that arose from this study: Despite the rapid adoption of virtual meeting technology and employees’ strong desire to continue working from home, 67% of respondents would like to travel for business moderately to extensively after the COVID-19 pandemic – up from 49% in the previous survey carried out in 2020.
We are not surprised by this business trip finding. It aligns with the results of the Back to Blue Skies study we conducted with American Express, in which 86% of the 1,000+ business travelers polled said they are looking forward to getting back to business travel when it is safe to do so.
Clearly, employees continue to recognize the benefits of business travel and flights, including to foreign countries. But after more than a year of video meetings replacing in-person ones, some employers may think differently, questioning its worth and seeing virtual technology as an opportunity to reduce travel and flight costs.
While we appreciate this sentiment, the value of business travel cannot be fully reflected in a profit and loss statement. As evidenced by a myriad of studies proving how business travel is critical to a company’s success, including our Back to Blue Skies report, corporate trips are an essential driver in building in-person connections, a company’s culture, an employee’s career development, and increased profits and revenue.
Here are some top takeaways from the Back to Blue Skies research for company leaders to mull over as they evaluate the true value of their business travel investments.
- Business travel fuels business growth. More than four in five US decision-makers surveyed said corporate travel leads to higher profit (85%) and revenue (85%). It makes sense. Who do you think will clinch the deal? Competitor A who uses Zoom to pitch its product, request, or idea or Competitor B who invested time and money to do so in person with vital travel to a foreign country? Client relationships are built on face-to-face interactions.
- It’s perceived as a top job benefit. According to the survey results, 85% of business travelers say when they’re exploring new job opportunities, the ability to travel for work and visit different locations is important. Similarly, decision-makers agreed that business travel is crucial for attracting (84%) and retaining (83%) top talent. Despite the obstacles of the past year, business travel is a sought-after job perk.
- It builds company culture. Nearly all respondents cited business travel as benefiting company culture (87% of decision-makers and 88% of business travelers). As JPMorgan CEO Jaime Dimon, who’s urging employees to return to the office, said, “Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world … Over time, this drawback [of virtual meetings] could dramatically undermine the character and culture [of a company].”
- It helps to build employees’ character and soft skills. Business travelers said corporate trips increase their leadership skills (88%), engagement (88%), productivity (84%), problem-solving skills (86%), and make them more empathetic individuals (82%). Nurturing such traits in employees during vital travel and business trips can ultimately result in better business performance and employees.
- It can boost employees’ creativity and innovation. Eighty-eight percent of business travelers cited business travel as a way to fuel creativity and innovation. Being immersed in a new culture in a different country (a reason cultural intelligence in business should be taught to employees) can expose employees to new concepts they would never have sitting in front of a computer screen in their home office. These ideas then may translate into a lucrative product or better solution for your business.
- It can support your diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Eighty-eight percent of decision-makers and business travelers agree business travel broadens cultural understanding, while 89% of decision-makers say it provides employees access to leadership. As Mark McSpadden, vice president of global product at American Express Global Business Travel, noted: “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.”
- It’s key for reuniting work teams who’ve become disconnected. With the telework trend holding steady, there are fewer opportunities for colleagues who used to see each other daily to connect. Internal meetings and corporate retreats, which are on the rise, can bring together small groups and foster much-needed team bonding and building, as well as create positive travel moments.