I have been reflecting on the much-debated issue of home working and the relative merits and challenges that have been shared from many viewpoints. Corporations have accelerated and embraced technology as a means to continue business as usual in these unprecedented times. Many will have seen the cost line of travel and meetings expense dwindle to nothing and will have banked the benefits in light of reduced revenues from the stop-start impact these past months. And they will have asked themselves how they can continue to hold onto this new way of working without returning to historic ways and practices that previously accrued significant costs from business travel and attending meetings.
But I feel compelled to echo the sentiment of Clive Wratten, CEO of the BTA, Pat McDonagh, CEO of Clarity and James Parkhouse, CEO of Capita Travel & Events: that suppressed business travel has significant consequences on organisational performance – sales, customer relationships, team creativity, and project delivery speed. As a start-up leader, I can see first-hand the immediate impact on my business P&L. Yes, for sure the travel line item is on the floor and so business costs reduced healthily. However, this has been at the expense of the speed of growth which has been truly stifled. Implementations are slower, closing those contracts has become more time-consuming as a result of the lack of face to face reading of situations and the hidden body language through Zoom calls.
Additionally, product development accuracy sometimes can be off message, as that creative face to face design work results in a protracted to and fro. The lost opportunity cost can only be magnified within larger organisations where layers of management will take many months to uncover the hidden cost of underperformance that is building up because of reduced / aborted business travel and meetings.
So, beware – not only do we have a corrosive Zoom and Teams melt down feeling within organisations, coupled with the stresses of home working/schooling and parenting, but we have the danger of stifling the UK business bounce back. If organisations regard travel and meeting savings from the enforced people grounding as good cost management, and do not realise that the travel and meeting spend line should be viewed sensibly as income value generation investment, then our recovery will be further delayed.
Being at the coalface as a CEO, product team leader, sales team manager, so typical of start- ups and SMEs, I can see the challenges first-hand very quickly and urge C-suite decision makers to actively encourage the deployment of travel and meetings to kick start getting their businesses connected again, internally and externally, at a pace that is comfortable to all. That will need good communication, confidence factors that you have the backs of your teams to travel and meet safely, and clear empowerment to give department heads, team leaders and team members the common sense-decision framework to make the right choices to meet and travel for the good of the organisation.
Interesting times ahead that need companies to take conscious steps to ensure they are prepared to encourage employees to meet face to face and travel where that generates value.