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Shift happens: Why travel and expense policies need an upgrade for the modern workplace

3rd May 2023

     

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How we work affects how we travel, and with the workplace undergoing revolutionary shifts, the policies that support business travel and manage expenses need to adapt to keep pace. This is the view of Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM Travel.

“Traditional corporate travel and expense policies were designed for a time when most employees worked in a central office location and had predictable travel needs. Employees’ expectations have also changed as a result of having grown used to the use of digital tools both in their private lives and at work. Relooking travel and expense (T&E) policies and processes is critical to keep a competitive advantage,” says Smith.

The anywhere office is here to stay

Employers worldwide are increasingly adopting flexible schedules and remote work. According to a BrandMapp study, only 40% of middle-class South Africans have returned to the office after the pandemic-induced work-from-home trend. This swing to WFH models has made it more challenging to organise travel arrangements – for both employees and travel managers.

It is frustrating for employees to deal with outdated, manual processes like paper forms and receipts, and it can lead to delays in reimbursements and errors. With so many different channels of communication and collaboration, it can also be challenging for companies to maintain a centralised view of all travel and expense activities.

“Your travel management company (TMC) should have tools like dashboards that track expenses and help ensure policy compliance. Dashboards identify trends, while policies set guidelines for travellers. Travel needs vary for remote workers. Flexible policies lead to better compliance and responsible decisions benefiting the company," says Smith.

Business travellers are getting younger

According to a new report by Morning Consult, business travel is getting a youthful makeover! With more baby boomers retiring, younger employees are stepping up and taking charge. Fifty-five per cent of frequent business travellers are Gen Zers and Millennials, says the report.

Generation Y (or Millennials), in particular, is inclined towards the sharing economy, opting for ride-sharing services like Uber over chauffeured transport. Rather than prioritising preferred seating or lounge access, they want fitness centres or spas at their hotels. Additionally, they are comfortable using travel apps to make reservations and often choose to fly in economy class.

“Younger business travellers are known for being tech-savvy, socially conscious, and value-oriented, and they want travel experiences customised to their unique tastes and requirements. To meet this demand, a TMC like FCM can use data analysis to gain insights into individual travellers' travel habits and preferences. This way, they can provide personalised travel solutions that suit their client's needs,” says Smith.

Counting the cost of change

According to Smith, failing to update T&E policies and procedures can lead to employee dissatisfaction, improper handling of expenses, and expense mismanagement. A new study from Forrester Consulting shines a light on these issues, revealing that a third of survey respondents struggle with managing compliance for travel, including visas and work permits, as well as privacy and security concerns. Similarly, another third argued that manual processes are putting a real strain on employee productivity.

The study also found that only 8% of finance leaders have fully digitised expense reports. That's not great news. And to make matters worse, 59% of finance and travel management decision-makers admitted to auditing less than half of all expense claims. That leaves over half of claims open to fraud, human error, and compliance concerns.

Thankfully, the study points out that over two-thirds of respondents believe that improving the integration between T&E technologies and other enterprise systems is the top priority. So, there's hope for the future!

The changing workplace presents businesses with new challenges, but also opportunities, says Smith. “As the workplace continues to evolve, implementing flexible policies reflective of emerging trends will give your organisation a competitive advantage. Updating corporate travel and expense policies is critical to ensure cost efficiency, compliance and employee wellbeing,” she says.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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