The travel industry tends to portray remote work with Instagram-friendly images of people working on their laptops by beaches or pools, but politicians warn of psychological and social risks, gender inequality, and falling salaries. The hunt for the middle ground has begun.
Future of Work
As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. Read Skift’s ongoing coverage of this shift in business travel behavior through the lens of both brands and consumers.
European politicians renewed debate on new remote work guardrails for companies and their employees — and WeWork and Zoom are trying to shape new legislation.
They’ll have their work cut out, however, as Europe’s lawmakers appear to be focusing on the negative aspects of virtual offices.
“There’s a dark side,” said European Parliament member Sara Mattheiu. “In short, the increased use of digital resources for work purposes has resulted in an always-on culture.”
Speaking at last week’s second European Union roundtable, “In Search of a New Work-Life Balance,” she described how muscle strain, as well as cognitive and emotional overload, were also part of excess remote work. “It has a negative impact on fundamental rights and working conditions, including remuneration and safety at work,” she added.
The “right to disconnect” was a prominent theme during the two-hour debate. This is seen as the employer’s duty to not contact employees outside of work hours unless it’s an emergency or an issue that can’t be delayed.
Mattheiu said it was an indispensable right in the digital era, but noted it was not explicitly regulated in European Union law. “There are some member states that have adapted this in a national arrangement, some by legal frameworks or social agreements,” she said. “It differs between states, which creates a legal loophole. We need to anchor it to union law.”
Portugal is one country that is embedding the “right to disconnect” rule, and Miguel Cabrita, Portugal’s deputy minister of labor and vocational training, said at the roundtable that the country was trying to take the advantages that telework can have — “but also prevent the dark side as it also brings significant risks for workers, and also society at large.”
Many remote work pundits are hailing Lisbon as the new Berlin, and Cabrita outlined other initiatives: “There’s also a disposition in the law that asks employers to contact workers at least every two months to guarantee that isolation is not total, and at the same time trade unions have been awarded the right to contact workers via the mailing lists or (company) intranet,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cabrita said people with children up to eight years old can opt to telework without the agreement of employers when their professions are suited, excluding small companies. “And it must be shared between men and women,” he added. “We don’t want telework to be a new source of inequality between men and women.”
The Portuguese government is also preparing a Green Paper on the Future of Work in Portugal “to turn uncertainties into opportunities.”
The Zoom and WeWork Riposte
After a considerable bashing, Zoom’s UK and Ireland government relations manager weighed in on the work it was doing to address the “dark side.”
“Zoom has built tools within our platform to enable users to not be accessible or contactable outside work hours,” said Drew Smith. “You can set your parameters and notifications are automatically shut off. So there’s a role for technology, along with management culture and leadership to get this right and prevent work-life blending,” he added.
Smith, who has previously advised UK cabinet ministers on issues ranging from local public services and immigration to Brexit and the environment, also pointed out Zoom was now helping the Irish government build its National Hub Network scheme — coworking spaces that are being built across the country’s rural regions, as Skift first reported in July last year.
Zoom is powering 200 of these hubs, Smith said. “It’s a policy we’re proud of. It’s about avoiding blending.”
Also speaking was WeWork’s general manager for Germany and Central Europe, who pressed the point that her company was operating in 38 countries, and so well-placed to share its experiences. The future is flexible, argued Katharina von Schacky.
“We have quite a portfolio, and a wide way of looking and learning from across the world,” she said.
Companies today want to be flexible with regards to terms, space and location. “We see that because we are so close to so many corporates, we have 63 percent of all Fortune 100 companies,” von Schackyh said. “That shows where flexible work is going. We try and stay close to the corporates and find answers.”
These findings also helped shape its new flexible memberships, which can include hourly bookings. “A big corporate may take a few floors or a building, but we also wanted to go out there and offer something highly flexible. You can work from anywhere, with a membership agreement. You can access any building around the world, because we do see there is a real drive towards that, especially among the younger generations. Second, at the height of the pandemic, we wanted to offer a product where you weren’t tied to a membership, a pay as you go on-demand product.”
Cabrita revealed Portugal was now building networks of co-working spaces, which he said was a way of limiting the problems of fully fledged remote work, and creating possibilities for hybrid models. “We’re doing it especially in territories outside the cities, as a means to improve the territories outside the more dynamic urban spaces,” he added.
Another speaker, Andrea Glorioso, policy officer at the European Commission, offered a more balanced diagnosis: “When we look at telework, it’s a fact that a lot of reflections are triggered by the last two years,” he said. “At the same time, we should be extremely carful we don’t assume that what happened over the past two years is a model that we should take as a point of reference.”
This year is shaping up to be the year of the “companion” app. Corporate travel specialists and other technology players are gearing up for the return of business trips, which in this first quarter have started to bounce back in one form or another.
Their booking tools are very much in focus. Why? Because they’re important companions for employees, and a big number are tentatively booking their first trips in a long time. As well as using them for booking, these tools also accompany them throughout the journey. Well, the good ones do at least.
Amadeus’s Cytric platform is one example, and with perfect post-Covid timing, Amadeus last week unveiled Cytric Easy, which plugs into Microsoft’s 365 suite of platforms.
Popular app Roadmap, which was snapped up by Emburse last year, has also undergone a transformation in time for a busy year. It’s used by the likes of Nike, Microsoft and Merck, but now expense platform Emburse has developed a new platform called Emburse Go for smaller companies, that’s based on Emburse Go Premier (which was formerly Roadmap). It includes standard flight and hotel itinerary information, but goes further with city guides, local transport tips, tipping recommendations, risk and safety information, and local music and points of interest.
Deem has also been tweaking its products, and from the start of the month switched off its mobile business travel software Work Fource in favor of its new Etta app. This app is used by dozens of corporate travel agencies. Launched in Feb. 2021, its Etta business travel software is a “trip booking and management companion.” It has Travel SafetyCheck and accessibility attributes, and later this summer is integrating Uber for Business.
“Once completed this summer, business travelers will be able to hail an Uber for Business ride directly in the Etta app, streamlining the booking experience and capturing important mobility data for companies,” the company said.
Speaking of Uber, the ride-hailing app this week announced it’s adding trains, flights and hotels in the UK. Uber for Business hasn’t yet commented on how that could work for its corporate users, but this particular app is already a companion for most people. Pilots begin this year, and if it gets this right, it could be a game changer.
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Grapevine Adds Partnership With U.S.-based National Travel
Remarketing specialist Grapevine has secured a new partnership with U.S.-based corporate travel agency National Travel. Grapevine will supply National Travel, its first U.S.-based client, with technology that proactively retargets travellers with hotel and other ancillary recommendations via email, text and Whatsapp after the initial flight or rail booking has been made. The resulting increase in attachment rates helps National Travel increase revenue per trip, and ensures traveler bookings remain on-platform and in-policy, the company said.
CORRECTION: An early version of this article described Katharina von Schacky as WeWork’s head of strategy and real estate, Germany and Northern Europe.
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