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Business Travel: How Has it Changed?

By Caroline Walmsley, AXA Global Healthcare’s Global Head of HR

As restrictions ease globally, we’re beginning to look at the ways we can reconnect. International working will always be influenced by current events and trends, for example issues relating to security and the climate crisis will play a large role. But as we venture back out, it’s questions surrounding how COVID-19 has impacted business travel that are at the front of everyone’s mind. 

Technology has allowed us to continue working during the pandemic, but now we can reflect on what works online and what cannot be replicated. So, whilst remote working will remain part of our lives, is business travel going to look a little different? Here at AXA, we researched the challenges and opportunities facing international working, from the perspective of both HR decision makers and assignees.

Will business travel increase? 

Whilst the nature of international assignments may change, those in HR decision making roles are still predicting an increase in travel over the next five years. For short-term contracts in particular, 67% are expecting an increase, with long-term contracts close behind at 61%. 

However, some have suggested that the need for business travel, such as for meetings or conferences, may come into question, given that technology allows global businesses to remain connected through remote servers and video conferencing. In fact, 72% of HR decision makers agree communication technology is reducing international commuting.

Yet for many industries, the need for flexibility and for workers to move across the globe is still important for their success. As one global mobility and immigration manager for an IT firm reminded us, technology cannot totally replace the need to have an employee on the ground: 

‘There is a difference in going and doing something face to face and doing it via technology, and there is a reason why people have kept travelling. Technology has been in place, Covid did not just invent video conferencing, we’ve had it for years. It’s just there are some organisations that may not have embraced it as much and that have to do so now, but the technology has been there for years and has been effective for years.’ 

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Choosing the right candidate 

Businesses may instead be more selective with the when and who, when deciding on international placements. With that in mind, assignments might be shorter, with a greater focus on choosing the candidate most suited to deliver value in the near term.  

Considering the benefits which assignees most value, such as those which support their family, before the assignment begins could go a long way towards making sure the assignment has a successful outcome. We found that family considerations are the next biggest reason after culture shock as to why assignments fail. Can you offer family support group services to better prepare the assignee and their family

The environmental factor 

We may also see the climate crisis having an impact on business travel, with our research showing that working for an environmentally responsible company is now important to three in four (75%) employees. In fact, 72% of international workers say they are taking active steps to reduce their carbon footprint. 

However, only half of international workers agree that their employer has a low carbon footprint. With this in mind, businesses could actively look to do more to reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, organisations may shift from having many frequent short-term travellers to longer term placements.

With so many workers now accustomed to communicating virtually with colleagues and friends, it’s hard to deny that there are many benefits to experiencing face to face interactions, on the ground. In fact, innovation is often borne out of first-hand experience of different cultures, and not through technology alone. That’s why, whilst domestic travel may be reduced, a degree of international travel may remain where it matters most. 

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