Transitioning back into business travel after the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t as simple as buying a plane ticket. Individuals are having to remember how to pack efficiently, adjust to time zone changes, and modify their meeting schedules — and that’s on top of monitoring differences in travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and Covid risk levels throughout the world.
Use these strategies to transition back into work travel. First, evaluate the benefit. Think carefully about where you believe travel would add the greatest benefit versus working remotely. Second, right size the investment. Even as you’re able to fold more business travel into your schedule, question whether all the travel you used to do really needs to be added back in. Third, pace yourself by starting small, and then building up after you see how you feel. Finally, leave margin. If you’ve got important business travel, give yourself more flexibility than you used to do, and make sure you have access to everything you need, like food and car rentals.
In 2020, with the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions, travel dramatically dropped domestically and internationally, with business travel down by 90% at the lowest point in the year. Now, as more and more individuals are returning to the office, work travel is coming back. But it’s not all clear skies. As a time management coach, I’ve seen that returning to business travel can be almost as disorienting after a two-year hiatus as the sudden lurch into fully remote work was. My clients are having to remember how to pack efficiently, adjust to time zone changes, and modify their meeting schedules when they’re now on the road for work.
Thankfully, there are strategies that you can use to ease this transition back into business trips, including using the wisdom you’ve gleaned while working remotely. Here are four ways to leverage your time and energy as you’re planning business travel again.
Evaluate the Benefit
When you’re reintegrating travel back into your work schedule, think carefully about where you believe it would add the greatest benefit: Where did you feel you got diminished results working remotely that could be enhanced by face-to-face interaction? Among my clients, some of the areas where they’ve seen benefit in returning to travel include:
- Team retreats to craft strategy
- Visits to international work sites to facilitate communication across cultural and language barriers
- Sales negotiations to land deals
- Conferences to network
Based on your particular role and responsibilities, think about where you believe travel will add the highest value. Be sure to also consider the level of restrictions in place where you’re considering traveling, too. If meeting face-to-face would be beneficial, it may make more sense for your colleagues or client to come to you because of drastic differences in travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and Covid risk levels throughout the world.
Right Size the Investment
Even as you’re able to fold more business travel into your recipe for professional success, question whether all the travel you used to do before 2020 needs to be added back in. For example, maybe you historically visited clients in-person quarterly. Maybe now you could take a hybrid approach of making two visits in person and doing two virtually each year. In making this decision, think back over the past year and a half: Did you have more issues or reduced sales because of not meeting in person with certain clients? Those are ones where you might want to invest more face time. But then ask yourself, did any client relationships stay the same or even thrive with virtual interaction? In those cases, you could consider doing more of the visits as virtual.
You can also take a similar approach to evaluating the conferences or networking events to attend. If you noticed that you had reduced sales leads or missed out on other important connections from certain events being virtual or not happening at all, then prioritize attending those once they’re in person once more. But if you observed that you saw no difference in your professional results from the lack of other in-person events, consider continuing to attend virtually or completely dropping them from your calendar.
Every trip you reduce from your schedule offers a massive time savings both professionally and personally.
One observation that many of my coaching clients have made is that travel tires them out much more than it used to. Similar to how individuals lost their ability to commute into the office with ease, people have also lost their conditioning when it comes to prepping for and actually being on a trip. My clients have reported having to recall how to pack efficiently, finding jet lag harder, getting re-accustomed to sleeping in hotels, and needing to think carefully about how to fit in personal errands when they’re home much less than before.
In light of that, pace yourself as much as possible. If you used to travel multiple times a month, start with just one trip every 30 days and see how you feel. If you’re feeling OK in terms of time and energy, then you can add in more. I’ve had multiple clients who discovered that going back to their pre-covid levels of travel too quickly left them feeling burnt out. Ease back into trips gradually to avoid this issue.
Explain to your boss why it is you want to ramp up travel over time, rather than jumping in at full capacity immediately. Compare it to the hybrid approach that many companies are taking in the return to the office: Just like many organizations are beginning with two to three days back before ramping up to a fully in-person work environment, you would like to begin with a reduced travel schedule to start. Also, since many organizations still have a large part of their staff working remotely, you can share any clients or contacts that you may not be able to visit in person, even if your boss thought it would be preferable.
Leave Margin — and Double Check Everything
Given the dramatic fluctuations in travel restrictions over the past two years, the travel industry — and in particular airlines — have had issues with their staffing and operations. If you’ve got important business travel, give yourself more margin than you used to do. For example, schedule your flight for the night before an important meeting, rather than taking an early morning flight, in case of last-minute cancellations. Or consider alternative modes of transportation, including bus or train travel.
Finally, similar to how you need to double check what is or is not open and available to you when you returned to the office, do the same when it comes to travel. In airports, more and more restaurants and lounges are open, but some still remain shuttered. And when it comes to rideshare options, you may find it more difficult or expensive to find an Uber or other options than it was in the past. Although travel demand continues to rise, labor shortages could make these limitations an ongoing issue. The microchip shortage has also made car rental more difficult — I know a couple who arrived at an airport and not a single rental car was available on the premises. Given these changes from our expected norms, bring some food with you, make reservations in advance, and plan to be flexible. You’ll also need to be aware of any Covid-specific travel requirements for your destination or with your company. Do you need to do a Covid test, show information on your vaccination status, quarantine a certain number of days, or follow any other protocols? Also reach out to HR to find out your specific organization’s rules.
Business travel still has enormous benefits in terms of building new connections, negotiating deals, and creating strong teams. But as the world reopens, there are some additional items to consider as you evaluate the time and energy investment it requires. Enjoy the journey and invest your time in travel wisely.