Not surprisingly, the pandemic has forced companies to up their empathy game. More than ever, leaders and travel managers are listening to and caring for their employees, whether they’re working in the office, working remotely, or on a business trip. This major shift is shining a spotlight on travel managers and giving them a more central role within their companies.

One upshot is that travel managers will need to pivot from focusing exclusively on costs and risks to a more holistic approach centered on employee well-being, says Bruce McIndoe, President of McIndoe Risk Advisory LLC. To be successful now, says McIndoe, companies with traveling employees must have everything from flexible policies to cutting-edge technology. A BTN Group white paper, How Business Travel is Changing the Future of Work, sheds light on how companies need to adjust in this “new” new normal.

When to Travel

Travel for some companies has never stopped, while employees at other organizations are just beginning to dust off their carry-ons. In light of recent health and safety concerns, many organizations are also giving their employees the option of opting in or out of travel. That dynamic is just one of the many evolving factors that new travel policies need to consider.

The ubiquity of video conferencing also plays a role. “Companies have discovered just how well video conferencing can work for get-togethers people used to travel for, such as an annual shareholder meeting,” says Caroline Strachan, Managing Partner at Festive Road consultancy, in the BTN Group report.

For some businesses, keeping some meetings virtual makes sense. But a growing number of studies, including one by Stanford researchers, highlight the mental health, well-being, and employee burnout concerns brought about by videoconferencing fatigue.

The Value of Face-to-Face Meetings

Of course, the intent behind travel has also changed—another factor that travel policy now has to consider. While people are still traveling to close deals and build new client relationships, the hybrid workforce has pushed more companies to discover the value of face-to-face team building and collaboration.

While these activities can be handled remotely, the virtual world just doesn’t pack the same punch. Whether it’s working in the same office or a company offsite, gathering team members together creates opportunities for conversations—even just spontaneous interactions in the hallway—that can lead to new ideas and unique solutions.

And this is exactly why “smart companies are still willing to invest in travel, provided its value and purpose are clear,” says the BTN Group report.

More Remote Work Doesn’t Mean Less Office Time

Finding the right balance of virtual and in-person encounters with co-workers, business partners, and customers is a top priority for companies across all industries. How they are handling these scenarios is covered extensively in the BTN Group report.

Real estate firm CBRE, for example, “forecasts a rise in remote work,” says the report, “but also notes that the physical office still has a role to play. Companies will rethink the role of a single HQ in favor of a broader ecosystem of worksites,” which may include regional offices, co-working spaces, and employee homes.

In addition, CBRE believes there will be a much greater demand for a gathering space to accommodate work focused around teams, events, and activities. Whether that’s a company office, hotel, or conference facility is the $64,000 question.

The Key to Travel Policy Success

As companies try to figure out the best solutions for their particular needs, flexible travel policies—and travel managers—are essential.

Manually dealing with business traveler expectations and concerns on one-off approvals is fine for travel managers when volume is low. But as more employees expect to hit the road in the coming months, flexibility around decisions like allowing travelers to rent a car and drive to a meeting or take a nonstop instead of connecting flight is paramount.

Travel managers will also have to handle the growing number of team meetings with remote workers and figure out where to meet, how many people should join, and what protocols should be around testing and vaccinations.

How can travel managers ensure flexibility in their policies to handle the evolving questions around who travels—and where they go? Integrating policy into an automated system is now essential in order to make the quick pivots that have become routine in today’s business travel landscape.

Download the full BTN Group report to read more about adaptable policies, as well as other factors that influence travel and the hybrid workplace.