Business of Engineering

Tips for post-pandemic business travel

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they examine changes to business travel post-pandemic.

By Morrissey Goodale May 24, 2021
High-rise commercial buildings in Chicago, along the Chicago River. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Morrissey Goodale is providing A/E leaders with news and perspective on COVID-19 and its impact on the industry. This week, they examine changes to business travel post-pandemic.

Old habits, meet new realities: Before the pandemic, every business traveler had a pre-trip routine. It was critical for time and stress management. You knew exactly what you would need to bring for your trip and how you would pack for it. You knew precisely how long it would take you get from home to the airport to your gate. Word to the wise, be prepared to adjust your routine.

The “COVID-19:” That business uniform that you were rockin’ 14 months ago may not fit exactly like it did on your last trip. And it’s not that it shrank hanging in your closet unused for over a year – (but if believing that makes you feel better then go with it). So, you might want to take some time to refresh your wardrobe or hit the treadmill before you head to the airport. I had conversations with multiple folks this week who were practically giddy that they were able to fit into their business outfits after a year plus of sweats.

Time warp: If it took you 60 minutes to drive to the airport pre-pandemic, you may want to figure on shaving 15 minutes off that trip time now. While highway traffic is back, the volumes still favor the post-pandemic business traveler’s schedule. Plus finding parking at the airport is a positive joy right these days – empty spots galore. And, if you are TSA Pre or Clear you can practically sashay through security. So, this is a golden era for your “doorstep to departure gate” trip leg. Who knows how long the travel gods will allow you this reprieve, but you should definitely bank on a shorter commute time to the airport.

Hats off to Uber: They’ve used the past 14 months to supercharge their app. One of the best improvements for the business traveler is that you can now schedule a ride in advance rather than just summon one and be at the mercy of whether there are any drivers nearby. This is huge for when you have multiple meetings in different locations in a non-transit friendly city. Just time your scheduled rides to coincide with when your meetings end, and you minimize down time. Bam!

Sticker shock: Supply chain shortages (drivers, gasoline, vehicles) have driven ground transportation costs way up for the business traveler. Rental car rates are sky high compared to pre-pandemic and Uber and Lyft rides will cost you more too. So be prepared when accounting asks about increased spending getting around town.

Airport identity crisis 1: The airports are packed – and not in a good way. The ratio of leisure travelers (referred to in the business traveler community as “amateurs” or “civilians”) is frustratingly high. Frustrating because those civilians meander slowly through terminals and are at best erratic (“Oh look Cinnabon!”) in their pre-departure activities. They also don’t know that standing at the front of the boarding line when they are in Group 7 still is not a good look.

Airport identity crisis 2: Though passenger volume is up, it’s curious (actually makes no sense at all) that many eateries and stores remain closed. So don’t rely on your regular Starbucks or Panera being open when you get through security. Plus, airports are still limiting terminal access points (to save on TSA personnel costs I figure) so plan on walking a little longer to get to your Uber or bag claim when you deplane. One piece of good news – airports have invested a ton in cleaning and sanitizing. Terminals are spotless compared to pre-pandemic.

The gang’s not all here: USMCA? NAFTA? It doesn’t matter what you call the Trade Agreement the U.S. has with Canada and Mexico – because it ain’t working right now for A/E professionals. Cross-border business travel is not practical due to quarantine restrictions going into (or returning to) Canada. So, companies that have operations north and south of the border still need to embrace the hybrid in-person/virtual meeting model.

If you ever wanted to dance in a hotel lobby…: Then this is your time. Hotels are super busy on the weekends (families getting out of the house, couples getting away from the kids, singles doing what singles do I guess). But business travel is still slow. So, Mondays through Fridays hotels are still relatively empty, and the hotel lobby scene is a wasteland. This makes it perfect for recreating the classic Christopher Walken dance routine for Fat Boy Slim’s Weapon of Choice. (If you like just one thing in this week’s email, I hope it’s this video.)

You’ve made your bed you’d better lie in it: Hotels have had a horrible year.  They’ve missed business travelers and they’ve decided to welcome us back by…..being mean to us. If you are staying multiple nights in a hotel, COVID cleaning protocols may mean you don’t get any housekeeping. So be prepared to make your own bed and reuse towels – you know, just as if you had stayed at home and done a Teams meeting instead. Also, you can expect seriously curtailed restaurant service and business services at hotels. But similar to airports, hotels are spotless with seemingly continuous 24-hour cleaning taking place.

28 days later: Urban and suburban offices and office parks are still eerily empty. People’s desire to reconnect socially is clear– restaurants and bars are buzzing. But corporate spaces not so much.

Left brain: After a year plus of efficient (if at times overdone) Teams meetings, the sheer waste of time (packing, waiting – for planes, taxis, others–, delays) and expense (all the travel fees— both hidden and unhidden) associated with business travel are now more obvious than ever. The pandemic experience should call into question company policies related to internal travel. I have no doubt that most non-client-related, non-team building business travel can be effectively replaced by video calls or VR/AR.

Left brain to the max: The most common push back on the virtual meeting/business model is some variation of “I really need to see someone’s body language before I make that hire” or “For me, it’s important to be able to have a beer with the other CEO to really get to know him” or “It’s important that we all get together to collaborate and build social capital to be a stronger team.” I disagree. In my 30-plus years’ experience of running strategy and leadership meetings for clients and M&A meetings between buyers and sellers, I figure maybe 10% of meetings need to take place in person.

Why such a low percentage? As an industry we are lousy at getting to the truth quickly and confronting the things that need to be addressed in our own firms or in M&A discussions – you know the things that we spend the time and money to travel to meetings to actually accomplish.  95% of meetings are a blend of rote discussion, speaking in generalities and conversation about anything and everything other than what’s on the agenda. It’s not just the A/E industry though. Patrick Lencioni has made a career out of the fact that most meetings are a waste of time.  If they are, then it’s better to do them over Teams (or even better not at all).

Increase your business travel ROI: Soon, your team will start traveling from across the state or region or nation to get together. It will be joyful and wonderful to reconnect. It also has the potential to be wasteful – of company time and expense. So, make sure your meetings are intentionally designed and facilitated to allow everyone in them focus 100% on the goals of the meeting. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we can’t afford to waste any more time.

The worst thing about business travel? The time sink of filing an expense report. The 14-month love affair with accounting is over.

This article originally appeared on Morrissey Goodale’s websiteMorrissey Goodale is a CFE Media content partner.


Morrissey Goodale