Digital technology enables companies to look at travel in new ways. As corporate initiatives related to environmental sustainability, productivity, work/life balance and facilities reduction move to the forefront, many leaders are examining the advantages of virtual collaboration as an effective tool to help employees connect more effectively, reduce time on the road and rein in travel spend. Many companies seek to make smarter use of their budget by using travel to focus on more productive opportunities, such as sales and customer service, and using more virtual meetings to reduce travel for internal purposes. Doing so requires executive buy-in to change travel and collaboration culture and set the proper tone throughout the organisation.
One approach to this emerging need is to integrate the use of travel with a new generation of virtual collaboration technologies such as audio conferencing, immersive telepresence, video conferencing and unified communications. Yet because this involves an integrated effort across business functions, it impacts the culture of a company and works best with the support of key stakeholders. I've already examined how total collaboration management (TCM) impacts travel and procurement; here's how travel managers must work closely with human resources, facilities/corporate real estate, IT and finance to effectively transform the travel culture.
Stakeholder: human resources (HR)
Talent is a company's competitive advantage. HR is tasked with recruiting global talent and creating a culture of change, learning and growth to retain and maintain a productive workforce. This compels HR to offer more flexible work options to engage its workforce, as well as wellness programmes to attract top talent and encourage healthier lifestyles. It also requires HR to leverage the growing and blended workforce of employees, freelancers and agency workers as more companies hire people on-demand who work remotely to cut costs, be more responsive to market fluctuations and avoid lengthy hiring practices. This is pivotal because, in the US and EU-15, contingent workers already represent 20-30% of the labour force (McKinsey Global Institute). By 2020, these freelancers could comprise up to 43% of the workforce (Intuit).
A collaborative approach represents the ways people work with others to accomplish projects and tasks. The manner in which people collaborate to achieve goals is part of the corporate culture and will impact how people feel about their company, team and work.
It offers a virtual option for screening and interviewing candidates for positions. By delivering a combination of collaboration options to support a remote workforce, companies can recruit the best talent - not just those based locally or willing to relocate. And it ensures the proper skill diversity in teams and candidates to foster collaboration.
This approach also supports workforce engagement and the business' need for global communications, instant access and connectivity. It enables cross-functional teams to connect, collaborate and share files, data and expertise in real time anywhere in the world. Collaborative tools help people work smarter, more efficiently and in real-time. They empower employees to choose how best to collaborate with colleagues, customers and partners based on a pre-determined set of company-defined conditions. This encourages people to strategically think about their contribution to company goals, how best to provide customer service and create a work/life balance.
TCM is also vital for workforce retention. Employees (millennials, specifically) rank opportunities for growth as a high priority and look to HR to help with skill building. This approach supports the digital learner and provides a vehicle to deliver experiential learning programmes and micro training to sharpen or reskill people to advance their career and value for the company. And, as workforce demographics change, TCM offers virtual collaboration options to support a shift in employee benefits that emphasise life balance and flexible work schedules over compensation.
Impact on travel management
By employing a new approach to travel, HR can reduce travel costs associated with recruiting, training and career development. In addition, remote workers will need to travel less, further reducing spend. Because up to one-third of employees at large corporations now work remotely, this can have an enormous impact on the budgets where, historically and collectively, these workers are on the road quite a bit.
Stakeholder: facilities/corporate real estate
The modern workplace is evolving dramatically as new generations of talent regard desktops as relics, working remotely becomes more popular and companies are more reliant on global teams. In fact, 71% of office workers now choose to work from various locations instead of travelling to the office every day. This pace will continue with 56% of senior leaders in large global firms expecting global teams to increase in the next 1-3 years (Cisco). In response, office design is shifting from maximising available space to responding to the individual people inside it. Divided departments and cubicles are being replaced by open plan spaces, breakout areas, flexible work arrangements, remote work options and hot desking to support a company's changing real estate footprint. Collaborative technologies are at the heart of this transformation by creating dynamic work environments for remote teams to communicate and work effectively anytime, anywhere.
TCM supports how corporations manage and use their real estate and the ways in which people live and work. It aligns with facilities' need to re-scale its corporate footprint to include both physical and digital workplaces and design the optimal mix of office and remote meeting spaces. It offers options to co-locate or connect staff workers across departments, offices and continents and fosters the collaboration that 80% of firms say they need but struggle to achieve in a virtual environment (IBM).
Impact on travel management
Facilities/corporate real estate plays an essential role in determining the extent TCM may have on travel management. The proper types and numbers of meeting rooms must be available in the right locations where employees are trying to decide "should I stay or should I go?" Other considerations that factor into the decision include easy and convenient scheduling, and cost, as some companies "charge" departments that utilise premium collaboration facilities.
Companies that successfully deploy this approach tend to have a variety of collaboration spaces in multiple locations. This requires working closely with travel managers to closely study and understand needs throughout the company. By creating the right resources, facilities management can ensure the success of a virtual collaborate programme that saves a company millions of dollars.
CIOs are expected to be not only digital strategists, but transformative leaders too. IT is charged with modernising the company's infrastructure with digital technology to engage a new generation of workers and find creative ways to fill skills gaps created by the digital economy. It is also tasked with advancing the digital literacy across the organisation and challenging leaders to reimagine business processes that leverage mobile, cloud, social media and connected devices for a flexible and remote workforce.
IT and HR can collaboratively drive a cultural shift across the workplace to meet changing expectations for work/life integration. It supports a more collective approach to decision-making by having the tools for people to collaborate and capture the wisdom of crowds. And, TCM fulfills the CIOs need for a geographically distributed infrastructure that maximises productivity and offers another channel of service for global customers and employees.
Impact on travel management
By putting the right equipment in place and making it easy to use, IT also plays a crucial role in the success of a virtual programme and the ability to transform a corporate travel culture. Success goes far beyond purchasing shiny new stuff; it involves enhancing accessibility, usability, training and change management. Another essential element: keeping up with current technology, software, connectivity and trends.
Sometimes the need to maintain security, also important, derails the ability to offer the latest and most sophisticated options. These factors should be balanced. The ROI for virtual collaboration can be significant and it almost always quickly pays for itself by replacing a variable cost for travel with a fixed cost in equipment. This enables companies to reallocate dollars saved on a small percentage of internal travel to more essential, revenue-producing trips. The more people use collaborative technology, the stronger the ROI.
Finance's role is evolving from the delivery of data and results to the interpretation of information and contributing to expedited decision-making. It is tasked with marrying financial analysis with the ability to see opportunities and risk through different lenses and explains why two-thirds of CFOs prioritise their need to partner with the rest of the organisation (EY "The DNA of the CFO: Do you define your CFO role? Or does it define you?"). Finance also is looking for ways to make teams and processes more efficient while increasing revenue and profitability.
Collaboration is key to delivering on business strategy and supporting company innovation. It embeds an optimal process to assess the best way for a traveler to collaborate with colleagues in a tool employees already use. TCM offers your company another collaboration option when projects, budget or time don't allow for travel. It also enables remote teams to work together, expedites decisions and engages disenfranchised employees that cost companies billions of dollars in lost productivity each year. And because it amortises the company's investment in unified communications, it delivers the potential long-term value and ROI that finance seeks.
Impact on travel management
Collaboration will reduce or eliminate the need for travel freezes, especially as the budget year winds to a close because travel is managed more effectively throughout the year. It also places a priority on essential, revenue-producing travel, ensuring that travel spend is focused on activities that generate or protect income. Many organisations save millions and operate an effective programme by simply reducing non-essential travel for internal purposes by only 10%. For example, a department might replace one quarterly in-person meeting with a virtual collaboration session. Multiplied throughout an organisation, the savings add up.
The future of work lies in the cloud to offer geographically distributed workforces more ways to collaborate and communicate than ever before. As a result, collaborating has emerged as more than just a cost-savings strategy. It also serves as a method to extend operational and financial efficiency, supply chain effectiveness, employee engagement and productivity and duty of care to all stakeholders across the organisation.