A Bloomberg article this week spelled doom and gloom for business travel but it’s wrong and here’s why.
“CEOs Are Dooming Business Travel – Maybe For Good”
The latest in a long line of articles about business travel in a post-pandemic world comes to us from Bloomberg, ‘Forever Changed’: CEOs Are Dooming Business Travel — Maybe for Good. In the latest breathless piece, Bloomberg surveyed 45 companies and 84% said they “plan to spend less” on travel going forward.
A CEO for a paint manufacturer in Europe said this,
“Trips to drum up business could drop by a third, and internal meetings by even more,” he said in an interview. “It’s a good thing for our wallets and helps our sustainability targets. Our customers have had a year of training, so it’s not a social no-no anymore to just reach out by video… There’s an enormous efficiency element.”
The same article found this:
“A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. A majority of the respondents cutting travel budgets see reductions of between 20% and 40%, with about two in three slashing both internal and external in-person meetings. The ease and efficiency of virtual software, cost savings and lower carbon emissions were the primary reasons cited for the cutbacks. According to the Global Business Travel Association, spending on corporate trips could slide to as low as $1.24 trillion by 2024 from a pre-pandemic peak in 2019 of $1.43 trillion.”
To suggest that business travel won’t be back or will never be the same using those same numbers only means a reduction of 13% of pre-pandemic levels. That’s hardly a radical shift in corporate travel.
People Are Over Zoom
It’s true that Zoom meetings are more cost-effective and efficient than in-person meetings. However, the wear and tear on traveling businesspeople crisscrossing the globe gave way to a new type of fatigue: Zoom fatigue. Stanford began studying the issue and found additional issues, “There’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively,” Bailenson said. Even Zoom’s Chief Executive Officer is over Zoom meetings.
One example in the Bloomberg piece was an employee examining plants across the globe which can now be done virtually. Anyone who has inspected another location knows that there are an awful lot of aspects that are only seen when you visit face-to-face. You don’t notice the stack of rejected products behind the building because no one walks the camera to the trash bins. You can’t see the despondency of employees when they walk around the facility, it doesn’t come through in a 40-minute webcam exchange.
Personal Connection Matters
When I’m on business trips, especially a sales meeting, there are other factors that accompany the meeting. For example, I almost exclusively schedule meetings close to a mealtime so there’s a natural continuation in an alternative setting. In a high-rise conference room, it might be all about the metrics, numbers, and deliverables but when we go for lunch and there’s one breadbasket, we have to share in a more meaningful way.
You need the non-business side to let others see you as a person with kids that struggle in tee-ball (not my kid, she’s a champ – this is a general statement.) Customers, vendors, and partners need to see the human aspect. That doesn’t get covered during Zoom meetings.
I have yet to be in a virtual meeting where someone has revealed something truly personal. We need to see and exchange with people to truly relate. The nuances of someone sitting back with their arms folded doesn’t come across in a Zoom call because they don’t do that, but it doesn’t mean everyone is pleased or is expressing their point-of-view.
Virtual Is All Business, Annoying When It’s Not
When I visit a customer on the road, that time is completely devoted to them. But when I’m on Zoom at home or even in an office, that’s not the same. This is an hour block where the rest of my life surrounds me. There are distractions that include family, or co-workers, or my next meeting that occupy my mind. I’m not really engaged in the same capacity.
Some have tried to carry on the small talk that starts most in-person meetings but that is infinitely more difficult in a Zoom without feeling contrived. Personally, I also feel like I want to dedicate as little time as possible to those meetings. I don’t want to catch up on how my community is dealing with COVID or the hurricane or the ball game when I can instead get back to other pressing work.
Some companies have incorporated happy hours into their end-of-the-day Zoom calls. It all feels so disingenuous when compared with in-person alternatives and those get a pass from me.
What do you think? Is business travel changing drastically within the United States or globally? Or is this all much ado about nothing?