If 2020 (and the early days of 2021, for that matter) have reminded us of anything, it’s that the world is a predictably unpredictable place. As we began to shelter in place during March of last year, for example, few would have foreseen we’d be staring down the prospect of a similar work arrangement in March of 2021.
Even as the coronavirus vaccine distribution begins around the world, it’s difficult to predict when we’ll return to business as usual. But broadly speaking, it‘s beginning to look like there may be a slow, but steady return to offices and even more work-related travel at some point in 2021.
Given the uncertainty ahead, we offer our four predictions for corporate spend in 2021:
Travel Will Return Slowly in the Wake of Vaccine
Until concern for the spread of pandemic subsides, businesses will cautiously permit work-related travel.
With that being said, certain elements of business travel may still lag behind others. For example, because they often require larger scale planning, it’s conceivable that conferences and sales meetings may continue through technology-enabled participation.
But other parts of the travel equation are more of a triangulation of value and risk.
Many companies have discussed rolling out travel in phases, moving first from a total
travel moratorium to a policy of allowing limited permissible travel, analyzing the people going, their reason why, the destination, the office safety protocols among other considerations. It’s a new kind of calculus to determine the value-add of travel against the disruptive risk potential for things, such as travel quarantine, flight cancellations, and COVID outbreaks.
Flexible Working Arrangements are Here to Stay
Do you remember being the only virtual participant to dial into an in-person meeting prior to March of last year? You were a digital outlier in an in-person world. In the future, that won’t be the case.
Pre-pandemic, roughly less than 10% of all employees were remote workers. Today, estimates are as high as 50% of all employees are working remotely. Studies have also indicated that perhaps as much as one-third or more of all employees will stay remote in some form when the urgency of social distancing subsides.
Flexible work arrangements are here to stay. More and more organizations have determined they can survive with a mix of on-premise and remote employees, which potentially means that fixed expenses like workspace are up for negotiation.
Spend is Shifting but Risk isn’t Going Away
Look no further than the gift card in 2020 as an example of this principle. In January of 2020, corporate travel dollars spent on gift cards would’ve been an absolute red flag. Gift cards are notoriously hard to track, easy to lose and were a big no-no at the onset of last year.
By May of last year, though, as sales teams worldwide began asking themselves how to “take a prospective client to lunch” in a socially distanced world, the idea of a Zoom meeting paired with an Uber Eats gift card became at least a temporary replacement. By September of 2021, who knows? Gift card policies and purchasing methods could change yet again.
2021 Will Be a Time for New Policy
Here’s your first new policy of the year: many policies are up for debate in 2021. The very nature of business shifted last year, and with that shift came major changes to the operational risk profiles. As such, some policies were adapted, and others were created. But 2021 is a year that promises the unexpected, including perhaps a return to the risk profiles of years prior.
Therefore, company policy is worth a second thought this year. In fact, here’s a sampling of potential questions that may surface within your organization in the near future: do we really need to allow home office spending as an expense, or should we offer an annual stipend for flexible employees? How much office space is needed given the new nature of our workforce? Are gift cards only acceptable for client entertainment, and if so, how do we refine policy to mitigate risk?
Additionally, expect all manners of nuanced consideration in travel. Is it better to opt for direct, higher-fare flights or multi-stop flights with the lowest fare possible? What is the definition of permissible travel? Do the COVID numbers in a given community, or the safety measures enacted at our destination impact our willingness to travel to and from such locations?
As business operations shift, it’s critical to build policies that match.
The world requires more flexibility than ever before. Nowhere is that more acutely felt than in risk mitigation. But the good news is this: With AI-powered tools that continuously monitor the fluid situation in your enterprise, it’s far easier to detect and act on risk in near real-time and to build a corporate spend policy with enough flex to match today’s unpredictable marketplace.