Outcomes, not flights - it's time to rethink corporate travel

Outcomes, not flights - it's time to rethink corporate travel

Technology can ensure that our in-person interactions are meaningful and with as little impact on our precious planet as possible

Credit: Dreamstime

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, the business community -- largely -- embraced the mantra of 'outcomes, not hours'.

Accepting that the workforce was not only delivering business key performance indicators (KPI) but also educating children and caring for the most vulnerable in society, the working practices that had been in place since the industrial revolution were swept aside.

If the job was done, did it really matter whether it was completed in the early hours of the morning, late at night or between 9am and 5pm?

As the pandemic lockdowns, thankfully, drift into memory, old working attitudes and behaviours are creeping back. One of the most concerning of these is the approach to business travel.

Long before the pandemic made each and every one of us a prisoner of our homes, it was known that transportation and travel, in particular flying, is a major cause of climate change -- one of the greatest threats mankind faces. 

Technology enabled organisations to remain operational and in contact during the lockdowns, face-to-face collaboration is important, but technology is also the way to ensure that our in-person interactions are meaningful and with as little impact on our precious planet as possible.

Aviation contributes almost three per cent of global CO2 emissions; for example, a return flight from a European capital to tech industry conference favourite San Francisco emits 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person, over twice the emissions of a family car -- itself an overused and high polluting way to travel. 

Shorter journeys in the air are no better; business flights between Berlin and London, for example, emit 0.6 tonnes of CO2. Some point to aircraft fuel efficiency improvements, but between 2013 and 2018, emissions from flying increased 32 per cent as efficiencies were unable to offset the increased number of flights.

Not only is short haul flying unsustainable in many cases, but the productivity is also poor. In the last few weeks, the airline industry has been disrupted by shortages of air traffic controllers, and numerous airlines are struggling with staffing challenges. 

Even without these events grounding your team members, short-haul flights may slash travel time but also leg room and, therefore, the ability to do anything productive. 

In contrast, I recently had two opportunities to work in Paris and Zurich; both journeys afforded excellent productivity time, with an average of four business outcomes being created on the journey between the Surrey Hills (ironically close to Gatwick Airport) and Zurich and on the return journey.

None of us wants a return to the privations of the pandemic lockdowns, but the power of the connectivity that CIOs and CTOs delivered, coupled with the ease of collaboration via Microsoft Teams or Zoom, has demonstrated that travel has to be meaningful. 

Working face-to-face is important, especially for passing skills and insights on to the next generation within our organisations; co-creation and problem-solving in the same room is exciting and, without doubt, the most effective. However, in the rush to put the pandemic behind us, we have to ensure travel is going to deliver real outcomes. 

With fuel costs rising (a tank of diesel for my unbelievably dull and ordinary VW Touran is now 50 per cent more expensive) the impact is not only environmental but is hitting the bottom line of the business and the pockets of employees. 

In addition, just as the airline industry is struggling to recruit and retain talent, almost every CIO I speak to is concerned about staffing. In an employee's market, purpose is of increasing importance. The pandemic has heightened awareness of the planet's perilous state; organisations and leaders that are seen as profligate with CO2 are unlikely to appeal to those technologists that want to make a difference.

CIOs and CTOs are well placed to help their organisations remain connected yet also travel ethically and reap the benefits. Just as the staffing challenges are being driven not by a great resignation but a great rethink as employees reconsider who and why they wish to work with, so too must the processes of the business be rethought. Travel is long overdue a rethink. 

The technology sector is already leading the way; the growing adoption and interest in mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) tools enable multi-modal transport, which can often lower the impact travel has on the environment. Whilst corporate travel management companies are amongst those that have embraced data science, which allows travel, productivity, costs and increasingly the environmental impact to be placed under a microscope.

Travel, as with every element of business, is in need of greater analysis, use of data and therefore, a rethink into how and when we travel. Technology enables this. 

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