Remote working practices are set to remain commonplace: the majority see it unlikely to impact business travel, but one in three feel there will be less travel in the future

23 June, 2021

One key way the coronavirus pandemic has been managed has been the shift from office to remote working, in most cases employees turning their dining rooms and bedrooms into working spaces. This shift in working rules will remain in place permanently for some, will move to a flexible hybrid model for the majority, while others will happily return to an office environment.

The work for anywhere phenomenon – as it has become known – is not new and the most trusting of employers coupled with enhanced technology and digital connectivity had seen a small move away from office work for some. In fact there was a growing argument that employees do not need to be an office full-time. The pandemic has really tipped the scales on this one.

Without question, the work from anywhere model offers notable benefits to companies and their employees. However, obvious concerns persist regarding how its affects staff communication, but as a paper published in the Havard Business Journal late last year highlighted “the COVID-19 crisis has opened senior leaders’ minds to the idea of adopting work from anywhere for all or part of their workforces”.

The article ‘Our Work-from-Anywhere Future’ highlights the rise of the remote working option and how a large-scale transition from traditional, co-located work to remote work began with the adoption of work from home policies in the 1970s, as soaring gasoline prices caused by the 1973 OPEC oil embargo made commuting more expensive. Thanks to the advent of personal computers, the internet, email, broadband connectivity, laptops, cell phones, cloud computing, and videotelephony, the adoption of working from home increased in the 2000s.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly pushed this transition further and the Havard Business Journal article reasons that with the right strategy, organisational processes, technologies, and – most important – leadership, “many more companies, teams, and functions than one might have thought could go all or mostly remote”.

But from a corporate travel perspective will this have implications on travel? The latest COVID-19 poll assessing how members of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) are managing the return to business travel, post pandemic seems to suggest it may only have a minor impact.

The Jun-2021, 20th edition of its members research found that among respondents who expect their company will allow more flexibility to work from home, two-thirds (65%) expect the change will not affect business travel. One-third though (30%) expect increased flexibility will lead to less business travel while 5% expect it will actually lead to more business.

The latest findings from the GBTA poll suggest that businesses are starting to re-open their office space, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a return to previous working practices.

Two in five GBTA members and contacts (43%) said their company’s office reopening plan has already happened in the country where they are based. Almost half said their company has decided on or announced a date (24%) to reopen the office or are working to finalise a date (21%), while less than one in 10 said their company is waiting to see what happens (8%) or were not sure (4%).

Eight in ten respondents to the GBTA poll (79%) said that even once offices are opened they still expected employees at their company will have more flexibility to work from home in the future than they had prior to the pandemic. One in five (17%) expected employees will have the same flexibility to work from home as they did before the pandemic, and just 5% expected employees will have less flexibility to work from home post.

The GBTA Jun-2021 poll revealed a continuation of the positive momentum of companies implementing or finalising plans to resume domestic business travel. But while domestic business travel “nears a return,” the outlook for international business travel “remains murky,” it says.

Positively, three in four (77%) GBTA buyer and procurement members felt their employees are ‘somewhat willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment. This is 12 percentage points higher than in the previous month’s poll.

Business travel professionals expect sales/account management trips and blue-collar service trips will lead the recovery. More than half expected the number of these trips will return to the pre-pandemic level within a year. However, expectations regarding other types of trips – such as internal collaboration and education/professional development trips – will take longer to recover. One-fifth (19%) said they expected the number of internal collaboration trips will never recover to the pre-pandemic level.

Most travel buyers also reported an increase in business travel spend with six in ten (60%) reporting their company’s spending increased ‘somewhat’ to ‘a lot,’ versus the previous month. Respondents based in the United States (68%) were found more likely than those based in Europe (54%) to say their company’s travel spend had increased from the previous month.

The poll indicated that companies are making plans to resume domestic business with two in five respondents (40%) saying their company’s plan to resume non-essential domestic business travel has “already happened.” However, many companies are taking a wait-and-see approach with international business travel with only one in 10 respondents (12%) saying their company’s plan to resume international business travel has “already happened.”