Updated: Sep 21, 2021
By LaShaune R. Littlejohn
Global travel is picking back up in the United States, which remains the world’s largest national consulting market and accounts for about half of the global consultancy demand. But progress has been much slower in other countries, particularly those with fewer people vaccinated against COVID-19. And with advancements in technology bringing our world into a more digital age, it is difficult to say that consultants will ever see a return to the frequency of pre-pandemic business travel life. Not only are businesses seeing that their projects and priorities can be completed just as well remotely as in-person, but they are also saving millions of dollars in funds previously spent on business travel – and reducing carbon emissions in the process. Though many will argue that remote work and meetings can never be as effective as face-to-face interactions (particularly when cultivating client relationships) innovations in technology have proven this wrong and leave us questioning just how necessary business travel is now or will be in the future.
According to a Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies across the U.S., Europe and Asia, 84% of respondents expressed their intention to spend less on business travel post-pandemic. Of the reasons for this drastic change, the primary ones were the “ease and efficiency of virtual software, cost savings and lower carbon emissions” that would result from their reducing business travel. Global consulting firms have projected they will save almost $1 billion dollars by reducing business travel or cutting it altogether. Some are developing new policies that require more justification for travel than previously needed, particularly if there has been a large investment in digitalization that has allowed operations to be maintained and even grow in spite of the pandemic. Technology-focused consulting firm Capgemini, for example, is considering having “a travel cap,” which would cause the firm to adopt a “zero-based budget approach,” and require them to question the need and ROI of every single trip beginning as early as 2022. Though this is certainly a change in culture for a lot of companies, these new practices would save firms like Capgemini millions of dollars that were previously spent on travel fees pre-pandemic.
Many companies were exploring the benefits of allowing more remote work and flex schedules even before the pandemic began. But, with 60% of global firms having seen significant increases in productivity levels during the 2020 lockdown while their employees were mostly working from home, there is even more incentive to consider these changes that would keep employees happy and maintain the momentum needed to continue this surge in productivity even beyond 2021. Allowing employees to work remotely and on a flex schedule would also remove the geographical limitations typically found within candidate searches, and would thus increase the opportunity to hire more top talent. How necessary is it to send an employee to meet with a client whose business is in Dubai, if you begin to hire people who live in or nearer to Dubai?
We are seeing the world come into a new era, and not everyone is ready for change. But some companies are finding the growth of digitalization and the scale of change have been more of a problem for them than actual COVID-19. The pandemic certainly accelerated things, but these challenges have been present on a global scale for some time long before 2020.
Is this change in business travel here to stay? Or do you think we'll see it pick up again? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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