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December 23, 2020

TripActions CEO on the Future of Work & Business Travel

TripActions co-founder and CEO Ariel Cohen is excited about the future of work.

In a recent conversation with TripActions’ Head of DEI Shaka Senghor, Ariel talked about his vision for hybrid work, the role of the office, and why business travel remains an important part of driving connections, sparking new ideas, and building businesses.

It’s something that Ariel has spent a lot of time thinking about since a global pause in business travel disrupted TripActions in March 2020. Earlier this fall, Shaka and Ariel were part of a similar conversation with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan on the private chat room app ClubHouse. It was a fascinating conversation as Eric and Ariel seemingly represent two different positions on the future of work: One in which we can work from home forever through video-conference, and the other which believes that meeting in-person is integral to business success. But their views are actually quite similar: They both believe in the power of a hybrid model moving forward.

Where Tech Differs from Other Parts of Society

“I didn't come from money or a family that had money. My mother was a travel agent and worked in an office,” says Ariel.

“I always remember that while I work in tech, not every industry is tech and not everybody can do their job using video conferencing or have space at home for an office. We all need to remember this for society’s sake. [We should be] careful to [not] promote a way of work that probably 10% of the population can really enjoy, knowing there is 90% of the population that can’t work remote. While I work in technology, it’s still painful for me because I know there are store clerks, stage lighting technicians, and so many people with jobs that can’t be done over video conferencing.”

“I’m very passionate about finding the balance here. Can we work in a hybrid environment in tech companies? Can tech companies afford to have employees distributed worldwide and remote, and therefore be more efficient? Can you meet every three months, every two months, every month? Yes, of course. We learned that the tech industry can do these things, but other industries can not afford that. If you work in a factory, you’d be unemployed under that model so we need to be very careful,” said Ariel.

Shaka shared his concern and insights into how his network of friends and family living in Detroit found smart ways to get back to work outside of the house.

“Many of my friends and family back home have doubled their cautionary measures, by limiting the amount of customers in their store, or by creating a hybrid model that includes remote work so they can continue to provide for their families,” explained Shaka.

Ariel also discussed concerns about the impact that all-remote work has on the progress made in the past 5–10 years around gender equality. There are more women in positions of power today than there were a decade ago, but if everyone is working from home — and children are staying home from school — it’s been shown that women take more responsibility for the home while men stay at work.

“We could get to a position where we’re walking back years of advancement. I’ve cared about this from day one. My staff is 50% women. I can see how things can break apart. There are benefits to remote, video-driven work, but we need to be mindful,” said Ariel.

A New Way Forward: In-Person Collaboration Complemented by Virtual Connections

Shaka and Ariel recently and safely met at TripActions headquarters. The chance to meet in person not only strengthened their relationship and alignment as leaders, but made their subsequent video calls more personal and productive.

“My video meetings with colleagues that I haven’t seen since March feel completely different from those that I have with colleagues I’ve been able to see more recently,” remarked Ariel. “Our level of trust is higher, our relationship is stronger, and this video meeting is significantly better than it was a week ago before we spent time together.”

While it is no longer necessary to catch a plane for a conversation or meeting, the opportunity to meet face-to-face clearly changed the tenor, depth, and effectiveness of the video meetings in the near term. In this one specific instance, it becomes clear how a combination of remote work, video conferencing, and in-person meetings can come together to form a new way of working.

A key part of that, however, will be transforming offices into places for collaboration and community versus heads-down desk work that many employees now prefer to do at home.

“I don’t personally believe in desks,” says Ariel. “I believe the office should have an environment that’s closer to a coffee shop. Think about how you see students working in a coffee place. They sit in a huddle. Some of them know each other. Others of them do not. But there is music, the smell of coffee, and an energy inside. For me, it’s the best way to work.” (TripActions HQ has a stellar on-site barista recreating this exact environment.)

“There are things that can happen in an environment like that. Can you do white boarding over Zoom? Technically yes. Will we really have a great product coming out of it? Probably less likely.”

The Future of Work

“The future of work in my mind is office spaces that are designed for people to huddle, socialize, develop a community, and work on specific tasks together. Then, if you spend two, three, four days a week at your home, it's great. You'll have quiet time. You can focus on doing your work. But then you're coming back to your community to work together, then you can meet them again on Zoom on a different day,” says Ariel, describing his vision for the future.

“I really believe in this hybrid approach. We have a collaborative space like this in our offices and COVID might give me the opportunity to design the entire space like that. It works in tech, but you can not run a factory or restaurant like that. This is the future of work in tech.”

Meetings will require getting on planes, something that Ariel and Shaka have both done safely for several months now. The rest of the world is starting to follow their lead and with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as increased availability of COVID tests (now being required or provided by airlines), travel bookings are quickly increasing.

Working in the travel industry, Ariel was confident that airlines were doing their due diligence to keep air travel safe. In fact, fewer than 50 cases of COVID can be traced to air travel out of one billion travelers.

“We’re human beings. We are social creatures. We want to meet and be together,” concludes Ariel.

TripActions is supporting the industry in getting back to business safely. To learn more about how modern T&E management can help your organization get back to building connections in the safest way possible, get in touch today at www.tripactions.com.

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