The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of travel and expense. Creative collaboration has worked during the global pandemic, but the not-too-distant fond memory of in-person meetings, events, and workplaces leaves many longing for a return to some form of in-person meet-ups. While pre-approvals for travel and expense spending may be the secret sauce to an innovative hybrid program, how are organizations sifting through the mire and building an agile program that truly meets both their employee and organization’s needs? Tune in to our podcast to find out!
We asked our experts, Marchelle Klippenstein, Vice President of the Value Experience Group at SAP Concur solutions and Katheryn Nolfo, Consulting Director at Huron, to weigh in on this topic in our podcast, SAP Concur Conversations.
Communication is Key
While many of us are hard at work to build post-pandemic travel and expense programs, of equal importance is letting employees know about the changes and that their feedback is fundamental to its success. “There is definitely understanding how this new world is going to impact the employee. Ensuring that there is good and solid consistent communication to the employee-base to have them understand:
- What are their travel requirements?
- What do they need?
- If they're doing international travel, what are the requirements from a vaccination perspective?
There's definitely the desire piece, but then there's still definitely that, how do we now manage this world of travel?” shares Nolfo.
Prioritizing Employee Safety
Duty of care took on a whole new meaning in this global pandemic. While a few verticals carefully watched the safety scores of business travel locations before the global crisis, safety of travel evaluation has now become a central element of approving travel and communicating to traveling employees before, during, and after business trips. Nolfo shares that organizations are “looking at:
- How do we really better manage these programs? Not solely from compliance, how much money you're spending?
- How are we ensuring that our employees are safe?
- How are we ensuring that they have all of the information they need when they're traveling, even domestically?
- How do we continue the communication and feedback from our travelers to ensure our programs are successful for them?
Every aspect of busines continuity was impacted by duty of care during the global pandemic. Leveraging the pandemic data collected, so that organizations aren’t drastically impacted by the next obligation, is the ultimate obligation. “You have to have that contingency plan in place. We are working with our clients around, here's what you're doing today. Here's a successful project, program. Everything is great. Clap for yourself.
- But what's going to happen if this changes tomorrow?
- How do we adapt quickly? That's where we started developing contingency plans around outcomes.
- If there is a disruption, what is the desired outcome?
- How do we put a plan in place to get to the desired outcome?
We kind of were working at both ends in order to come up with the plan that works best for the client. We have to understand that desired outcome is the goal. How do we get to that goal?” shares Nolfo.
Innovation as a contingency: pre-approvals are the secret sauce
When there is a series of if-then scenarios, it’s a no-brainer when the manager is going to say ‘yes’ to an expense or trip. So why clog their email, text threads, notification feeds, or conference call queue to approve it? “We've seen such a shift of not only new industries wanting these pre-trip authorizations for travel, but also wanting to use Concur Request for a lot of other areas. It just makes sense. You don't have to go buy another system now to manage the workflow approval for education or for scheduling office space and things like that. It's all being done within one system,” shares Nolfo. Creative usage of existing tools for new purposes has expedited the evolution of many things amidst this global pandemic. When it comes to post-pandemic travel and expense spend, pre-approvals with existing tools are one of those scrappy results.
How does that make you feel?
Employee engagement and sentiment scoring is fundamental to adoption of the evolved travel and hybrid workforce model emerging today. Klippenstein asks, “When people do get out and about and they're going to make a decision to go, the business is going to look at this and say,
- Is this a healthy return for us?
- Is this decision a go or no go?
It goes into the risk, the duty of care contingency plan. It goes into where they're going and all of that. And of course, the cost of sale if it's a sales event or something like that. Is it worth traveling/at the end of the day, is it worth it? I think a lot of our customers, correct me if I'm wrong or give me some more insight here Kathy, but I think return on travel, ROI or ROT, is going to actually be a thing.” Assessing the business value of travel and human life altogether has taken a whole new level of meaning for organizations, so collecting both objective and subjective data is fundamental to a modern travel and expense program. On this, Nolfo shares new goals for ranking programs such as:
- “Did we represent our brand correctly?
- Are we doing the right thing in the world?
- Are people looking at us as an organization that takes care of their employees?
- While yes, they traveled, were they taken care of?
There's definitely a different sentiment.” While rushing to make more with less, to catch up for losses attributed to the global pandemic, this pause is not only a great leap in evolution for travel and expense programs but also the chance for organizations to demonstrate their value placed on human life – starting with their employees and vendors. “We've gone through it together,” Nolfo shares. “There's empathy for each other and we all know that we're going to have hiccups and it's okay. We're just figuring it out, and we're bringing the best possible information to you through our research, through [SAP] Concur [solution] research, our research. Through our experience with our clients during this time period. But there is just such a unity that we've actually gone through this together.”
While most of us are cautiously optimistic about the return to business travel, we all agree that it needs to be done thoughtfully. Contact us on how we can help your organization – in collaboration with Huron – to build an empathetic, resilient, travel and expense program today.