Skift Take

Business travel by remote and hybrid workers has presented new complexities for corporate travel managers, and costs are just one issue.

Corporations have largely maneuvered out of the workplace upheavals inflicted by the global pandemic. One issue continues to vex managers: How to handle business travel for newly remote employees.

Nearly half of companies have revised policies to address travel by remote or hybrid employees, according to a January survey by the Global Business Travel Association. 

More than a quarter of companies — 27% — said they’ve changed their travel policies since the pandemic and another 21% are formulating new guidelines. Another 40% of the survey’s 707 respondents said they are not altering travel programs for remote/hybrid employees.

“If you are kind of being pushed into the office, it may have been a client trip before and now it’s a trip to your head office,” said Andrew Wimpenny, a director at Amex GBT Global Business Consulting. “And are you staying a little bit longer?”

The top issues companies are working through: 

  • Which types of meetings are allowed for travel? (40%)
  • How often can the employee travel to an office? (32%)
  • What types of transportation are reimbursable? (26%)
  • How much is allowed for per diems (22%) and accommodation? (20%)

Notably, 27% said travel costs are “significantly or somewhat higher” to accommodate hybrid/remote workers, while 37% reported no change in the costs.

Shifting Workers, Different Travel Costs

When a valued employee relocates to Colorado but is needed periodically in Seattle or Los Angeles or Chicago, who pays?

“The real answer is: It depends,” Wimpenny said.

Some companies — most notably the large financial services firms and technology behemoths like Apple and Google — have imposed in-office mandates of three or four days per week. In those scenarios, the financial burden of commuting likely rests with the employee. In other cases, where a team member is required in an office only quarterly or monthly, the travel is mostly funded by the employer, Wimpenny said.

However, this issue isn’t widespread. “We’re not seeing it in large numbers,” Wimpenny said of data collected from travel buyers, suppliers and others in the corporate travel ecosystem.

“I think the expectation at the beginning of the pandemic was everyone moving out of large, expensive cities.”

The notion of a mass American migration from large, high-cost cities to Sunbelt suburbs throughout the pandemic was overblown. Moves spiked in 2020 and in early 2021. But domestic migration resumed its long-term decline by the end of 2021 and throughout 2022, according to Census Bureau and U.S. Postal Service data compiled by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

California and New York lost more than 300,000 residents in 2020 and 2021 while Illinois lost more than 100,000, according to the center’s 2023 report on pandemic-era migration.

“When people did move during the pandemic, their location decisions largely reflected pre-pandemic preferences, though the movement away from large urban areas seemed to accelerate, benefitting suburbs of these areas as well as smaller metropolitan and rural areas,” said Riordan Frost, a senior research analyst at the center.

The Effect of Blended Leisure and Business Travel

The rise of blended leisure and business travel is another factor for remote/hybrid workers and is prompting policy reviews, said GBTA Research Director Chris Ely. A pure “work trip” can easily merge into personal holidays, especially when the airfare would cost the same to extend a trip.

More than 40% of corporate travelers said they had added some personal days onto a business trip, the association found in its 2023 survey of 4,300 business travelers. And half said they had worked away from the office full-time for more than two weeks the prior year.

“On the whole, we expect more hybrid and remote work arrangements than existed prior to the pandemic,” Ely said. “These will undoubtedly increase demand for internal meetings.”

The need for more internal gatherings and periodic forums that replace office meetings for some companies has also surged in part due to remote and hybrid work. Internal meetings were expected to show the strongest growth in 2024 among all meeting types, according to Amex GBT’s annual Meetings & Events Global Forecast.

Virtual meetings and collaboration tools “can lead to employees feeling disengaged and unproductive,” Darren Toohey, CWT’s head of Global Sales, said.

“It’s therefore unsurprising that we have seen a rise in travel for small meetings, as organizations want to ensure their employees have some regular in-person face time to foster greater creativity and collaboration.”

Amex GBT and CWT, which are planning to merge, both have specific tools in their platforms to help coordinate team travel for internal meetings. 

Hybrid and remote work models are permanent workplace features as most employees today expect at least some degree of flexibility, Toohey believes.

“On the one hand, it can be a great perk that helps attract and retain talent. In some cases, businesses may also be able to reduce their office footprint and save on operational costs,” he said.

“But it does raise its own set of challenges and considerations, and it is prompting companies to rethink how they manage their corporate travel programs.”


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Tags: amex gbt, bleisure, corporate travel, cwt, digital nomads, gbta

Photo credit: A group of people co-working Helena Lopes / Unsplash

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