Today’s millennials are tomorrow’s business leaders and are fast becoming the world’s most frequent business travellers. By 2020, they will account for almost half of global business travel spending, and around 60 per cent of them will likely live in Asia. This age group — people born from 1980 to 2000 — will make up three-fourths of the world’s workforce by 2025.
For business managers and admins, this requires a shift in their companies’ travel policies. Yesterday’s workforce, after all, have different travel priorities from modern business travellers. The modern business traveller belongs to a generation known for its digital savviness and preference for experience rather than prestige.
But why must a company adjust its corporate travel policy to meet employees’ expectations?
There are several benefits to meeting employees halfway:
- Compliance. A study of 2,565 business travellers in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore revealed that at least 35 per cent of those who are subjected to company travel policies don’t always adhere to them. Tailoring a corporate travel policy to employees’ needs and offering more flexibility may increase compliance.
- Employee satisfaction. Compared to employers in other regions, those in Asia experience more difficulty in attracting and retaining talent, according to a study by WillisTowersWatson. One way to keep employees satisfied is to show that you hear their business travel concerns and are willing to address them — within reason, of course.
- Improved performance. Business travellers represent your company abroad, so they must be at their best performance during the trip. Adequate preparation, rest, and motivation affect employee performance and productivity during business trips. Giving business travellers the chance to choose a hotel near a convention venue, for example, can help them maximise their time at the event and even meet with potential clients in the evening without draining their energy.
Whether you’re part of an SME or an MNC, there’s a chance your corporate travel policy has been crafted for old-school business travellers. It’s time to adapt it to today’s workforce and tomorrow’s leaders.
On the other hand, you may not have created a policy yet, and aren’t sure how to create a corporate travel policy for modern business travellers.
Either way, the following guidelines will help you write a corporate travel policy for the modern employee.
Guidelines for creating a modern corporate travel policy
1. Assess your company’s current business travel practices.
How often do you send employees overseas, how much do you spend per trip, and what do these travels achieve?
More importantly — what problems and complaints do your employees often have when they travel for business? Here’s one: you may find it difficult to keep track of the traveller’s whereabouts during the trip. Or perhaps you can improve coordination between the office and the traveller when flights are delayed. Maybe your transportation expenses keep exceeding the budget because you’re always booking refundable tickets, even though only a tiny percentage of your trips gets re-scheduled or cancelled.
To find out, you’ll need to gather your company’s business travel data and identify trends. Assess practices that work and those that don’t.
2. Identify your company’s business travel goals.
What do you seek to accomplish with each trip? Do the results justify the time and cost of travelling?
As you write or revise your corporate travel policy, make sure it helps you achieve your company’s goals. It’s a good idea to talk to employees — especially newer and younger ones — to find out whether they grasp the bigger picture of how their business trips contribute to the company.
Identify what you most want to achieve by crafting the policy, too. For instance, is your top priority to save money? Is it to offer employees more flexibility when they travel? Let priorities — those of the company and the travellers — guide your policy.
3. Determine how flexible you want to be.
How much leeway will you give employees? For example, you might give them the freedom to choose flights and accommodation as long as they stay within your budget. You might specify partner airlines and hotels, and let employees choose among those.
Keep in mind that Asian business travellers are twice as likely as their European counterparts to include weekends when they book travel dates, according to McKinsey. This trend is called ‘bleisure’ travel, or extending business trips for leisure. If you allow this — which you probably should if you’re writing a corporate travel policy for modern travellers — you can use the policy to draw a clear line between the company’s and the employee’s area of responsibility.
4. Gauge alternatives.
If your travel practices currently limit employees to hotels, consider alternatives like Airbnb. That said, you’ll need to gauge the pros and cons of using shared services. These include cost, convenience, and security.
If you have employees who prefer to use shared services when they travel for business, ask them about their experiences — both the positive and negative aspects.
5. Decide how you’ll enforce the policy.
Will business trips be managed by an external agency or by your own administrative team? If the former, check whether you have enough budget, as external travel management packages typically benefit large corporations more than SMEs. If the latter, find out how much bandwidth your admin or HR team has to handle travel arrangements.
On the other hand, more companies today are using digital tools to auto-enforce their policies — so you can check if that works for you, too. This is usually done by uploading the policies to an app or management system, which also handles bookings and other travel arrangements and implements control for policy compliance. Digital tools also work well for small companies, which typically trust their employees to book their own flights and accommodation.
Test the ease or complexity of enforcing the policy, too. Don’t make it too complicated if you want employees to comply.
6. Think of your audience when writing and formatting the policy.
It doesn’t have to be a text-only document written in a very formal language. Your aim, after all, is for employees to read and understand the policy. Who wants to read a document with no white space and that doesn’t sound like it was written for humans?
Make your corporate travel policy easy to remember by keeping it short and simple. For best results, use clear, straightforward, and specific language. Use photos, diagrams, and charts if needed. Make sure sub-headers are clearly formatted so it will be easy for employees to refer to them when needed.
Once you’ve followed the guidelines above, it’s time to write (or revise) your policy.
What to include in a corporate travel policy for modern travellers
- How business travel adds value to your company (e.g., it brings in X percent of deals or generates X number of leads in a year)
- What you want to achieve with the new travel policy (e.g., reduce travel costs or increase convenience during travel)
- What the policy contains (provide a table of contents, too)
These will depend on whether your travel arrangements are managed externally or internally, or auto-enforced through an online platform.
- Who will book flights and accommodation
- Latest booking period (e.g., at least two weeks before the trip)
- Any preferred airlines and hotels
Explain the travel budget, as well as the reimbursement procedure. Identify the types of expenses that qualify for refunds, and the types that don’t.
- What categories of expenses are claimable?
- What’s the budget for dining with potential clients during the trip?
- Should employees book flights and accommodation using the company’s card, or their own?
- If their own, when will they be reimbursed?
- Who should approve the expenses? (Ideally, this should be a simple process assigned to a single approver, like a department head)
Explain what your travel insurance policy does and doesn’t cover. Let business travellers know what medical coverage and assistance they can expect in case of sickness or an accident. Explain what they need to do in case of an emergency.
Explain what the company, as well as the employee, holds responsibility and accountability for. This will help clarify potential gray areas, especially in situations like:
- When an employee extends the trip for leisure
- If the business traveller misses a flight through his/her own fault
What’s the minimum amount that requires a receipt? Do employees need to hand over every single receipt when they return, or can they upload their receipts via an app or online platform?If you’re creating a corporate travel policy for modern travellers — i.e., millennials — digital reporting is the best way to go. Some countries, like Singapore, even encourage keeping source documents in electronic form.
Back to the bigger picture
Even as you delve into the details of your company’s travel policy, remember to keep the big picture in mind. That includes your overarching business goals and your employees’ long-term job satisfaction.
Know your audience, do your research, and create a corporate travel policy that benefits business travellers. After all, a happy, productive business traveller makes a good company ambassador.