Travelling for business – locally and globally – is starting to pick up rapidly again in the wake of the pandemic, as companies once more start dispatching employees to the in-person conferences, events and meetings that were the normal order of business pre-2020.
However business travel and its impact on the traveller have changed from the way things were before, and anyone embarking on a business trip for the first time in years should take heed of changed circumstances and impacting factors so as not to get caught short, a leadership expert says.
“Most business travellers can attest to a little bit of shock to the system during their first couple of trips and in-person events, and that it is not just a case of getting on the bicycle again with muscle memory making the ride a smooth one,” says Advaita Naidoo, Africa MD at Jack Hammer Global, Africa’s largest executive search firm.
She says companies and individuals travelling would do well to consider the changed playing field before resuming business travel full-throttle, as it can mean the difference between a successful mission or a waste of time and money.
“The approach to post pandemic business travel should be as considered as the time and effort invested in return-to-office strategies. We are still in the try-out phase of best practice in terms of hybrid working, and now business travel is also being thrown into the mix.
“The factors that impacted the return to the office also come into play when making decisions about business travel. Take, for instance, the personal ecosystems and logistics of the business traveller. Previously, frequent-traveller working parents for the most part would have had a smooth-running machine back home to ensure children were taken care of while they were away. Chances are, circumstances have changed, and support systems may no longer be there, or of the same quality they were before.”
The cardinal rule of getting back in the business travel swing of things, is to allow more time than before – from planning to execution, says Naidoo.
She says the following considerations should be taken into account by companies and employees: 1) Travel logistics 2) Personal ecosystem of the traveller and 3) Rebuilding networking muscle.
Planning a successful trip is harder than before. Internationally, regulations have become more onerous, while across the board the lay of the land can change at the drop of a hat. Flights may be cancelled without warning, airport staffing may be inadequate, delays may mean connecting flights are missed, and rules and regulations for entry to a country may change regularly.
So plenty of time should be allowed to plan a trip in detail, while allowing more time for the actual travel should challenges arise. Additionally, having a dedicated and always-on travel agent is advisable in today’s volatile travel market.
Companies must be sensitive to the current circumstances of their ambassadors. It is not fair to assume that a previous star representative may be as happy as before to spend days and weeks away from home, or can be sent abroad with only days’ notice. It is important to get input from people before they receive travel assignments, to consider what support they may require to ensure a successful trip.
REBUILDING NETWORKING MUSCLE
Seasoned business travellers previously were able to effortlessly catch that early morning flight, land at their destination, catch the necessary transport to their meeting or conference and proceed to shoot the lights out networking or presenting to among tens, hundreds or thousands of people on behalf of their company.
It is ludicrous to assume the same level of efficiency and performance at this stage, not only because the trip itself is likely to be much more onerous, but also because in-person networking is a muscle that has lost its strength as a result of 2.5 years of Zooming and Teamsing.
Allowing additional time for transitioning from the travel leg to the networking leg is helpful if possible, and also, just the understanding beforehand that the experience might be exhausting and challenging is helpful to put the attendee in a better and more realistic frame of mind.
“Just like we have recognised that seeing our colleagues in-person for particular activities has benefits which can’t be replicated if we all just work remotely forever, so it is important that we again meet our peers and business partners outside our computer screens for conferences and meetings. Sure, transactions can be concluded on screen, but relationships most definitely are built in person.
“Getting back to business travel is however a matter that requires more than just the booking of a plane ticket and registration for the event at this stage. But knowing what you’re up against, planning more carefully than before, and cutting yourself some slack when navigating the first few trips as a company and as a traveller, will help smooth the path towards normalcy again.”