How Business Travel Will Be Different After Covid-19

The grand experiment in ‘work from home’ has gone better than expected for many companies. Employees all over the world are learning how to do it successfully.

Remote Works Is Here To Stay

Previously it was incumbent on the remote workers to figure out their tech and other support needs, and conform to the in-office standard. But then everyone was remote, and companies pivoted to try to figure out how to support that. Everyone became conversant in Zoom, Google’s Hangouts Chat, and other tools – they incurred the one-time costs to figure out how to work remotely that made it easier for everyone to do so.

Now companies are striving to figure out what that’s going to mean even after Covid. Many companies are considering staying remote for quite some time, and using their offices differently. The pandemic could be what saves WeWork. And offices could effectively become WeWorks for when people come together in one place, or for those who are local to choose to work from office either regularly or on occasion.

How Business Travel Will Change

That’s going to make some business travel harder: without people regularly in their offices, how do you go visit clients? But it’s going to make other business trips more common.

I believe that short-term work from home works well because companies can live off of the social capital and shared cultures they’ve built. But how is that maintained over time? How are new employees onboarded and taught their employer’s way of doing things, of thinking? How are junior employees mentored, when normally they’d watch their senior colleagues to learn how to become successsful.

And so many companies will be bringing workers back into the office (in a post-Covid world) for regular team retreats. They’ll need their 100, 500, or 10,000 employees all in the same place, perhaps for a week at a time or in rotating groups.

Facebook’s offices are closed until at least October but it’s this sort of business that citizenM hotels is betting on building a project across from the Facebook campus. They’re betting on Boston, Seattle and San Francisco as cities where tech companies will bring employees regularly to campus in a new world of work from anywhere.

One thing to consider about the future of work though is once employment is location-independent, and you can work anywhere, the work can be done from anywhere and you’re competing against people everywhere. That’s good for improving world living standards, not so good for less productive people here in the U.S.

This is bad for big cities, good for growth of beach towns. And since we’ll no longer socialize at work (zoom socials notwithstanding) we’ll look to communities more for in-person socializing. That’s probably good for churches and religion.

Our New Normal Starts Next Year

I’ve said for a long time that business travel will not be back in 2020 and some portion of it won’t return at all. Yet I’ve also believed for some time that Covid-19 in the United States will be less than an 18 month event, in that normal life will return by mid-2021.

While an authorized vaccine for emergency use on highest risk individuals isn’t likely before the election it’s reasonably likely this year, with large scale access by mid-next year, according to government officials in charge of the nation’s biomedical response (and lest you think that’s political, this is coming from people who aren’t necessarily “supportive of this administration”). So far it appears that all of the major vaccine candidates in phase II trials or beyond are safe enough to justify expedited use if they appear effective.

This isn’t going to eradicate Covid but is likely to be enough, combined with continued best practices and the number of people who have already had the virus recently, to keep things under control and return to normal. And that’s just a first-generation vaccine, “There will be the first vaccines approved, then the second wave, then the improvements on those, until we have (with luck, hard work, skill, and lots of money) tossed this virus out of the human population and back to the bats, pangolins, or whoever had it in the first place.”

We’ll be able to return to work, but Covid-19 will have changed what that means. There will be business travel in the future, but it will be different. And meetings will play a large role, even if large meetings will be what’s last to return.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “ we’ll look to communities more for in-person socializing. That’s probably good for churches and religion.”

    Nah, communities are a no go for me. I’m very successful in my career. Most people are not. They are beneath me. I only socialize with my peers in my industry and my university alumni network.

  2. @Jason
    Do you mean the alumni from the community college?
    You don’t really sound like a successful individual, more like the village idiot everybody already thinks you are

  3. “Remote work is here to stay”.

    Hard to say, really. I see these collaboration tools as *augmenting* how I work with other people, not a permanent replacement. I’m a computer programmer, and let’s just say if there’s one job that can be done permanently as a teleworker, it’s that — I certainly don’t have to go to my office to write code. But here’s why I don’t think the wholesale push to “work from home” is a foregone conclusion:

    1. I live alone in a one bedroom apartment. My dining room table has been converted to my work space. It works for a “temporary” basis, but it isn’t a long term solution. If I’m going to regularly work from home until I retire (another 20 years or so) I really need a dedicated work space. That’s going to cost me more money to obtain that bigger space. Do I move further out into suburbia (where I don’t really care to live) so I can get that bigger space without going broke? But then if I am supposed to have an office presence at least once per week, my commute is going to suck on the days I have to go in. Maybe I should just keep my place and commute into the office 5 days a week like I used to…

    2. As mentioned, I can code from home just fine. But coding is only a portion of my job. Interaction with my senior colleagues and higher ups is important, and I don’t get that at home. You touch on some other things where in-person contact is important.

    I think smaller companies can pull off “full remote” work much better than larger companies can. The question for the big companies is whether they go to a true full-remote environment, which I see as less likely, or if they go to a part-time office, part-time WFH arrangement. I see the later is more likely, but for me, “part time” is a PITA, and if given the option, I’ll probably just go back to full-time office work.

  4. I agree with @Doug, but also understand that what @Jason needs to do is to crawl outta his momma’s bed, dry off his rather modest member, and sweep out the trailer.

  5. While the nature of offices and work may be permanently changed by the shove into greater use of communications technology, I have been wondering for some time if, after a year or so (as with your mid-2021 prediction), travel will return to normal. I base that on what happened after 9/11. In fact, given the ability to work remotely, leisure travel could expand given the ability to keep working half-days seamlessly anywhere.

    Come to think of it, in NYC and DC, people and companies were also talking a lot after 9/11 about leaving those downtowns to avoid terrorism. Did that happen?

  6. @Doug @Ralph @Jason
    LOL. Jason is a troll who is very much at home in this new reality of nastiness promulgated by our Commander in Thief. Try not to get riled up because that is what (s)he is after.

    As to the point of the article, no one knows for sure, but every blogger has to have an opinion. IMHO, things will slowly return to the old normal with some adjustments. We are a social people, all races and cultures need the proximity of others. The days of the brilliant individual coming up with a great discovery are over. All great things these days come through collaboration.

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