At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, the business community – to a large extent – embraced the mantra of “results, not hours”. By accepting that the workforce was not only providing business KPIs but also educating children and caring for the most vulnerable in society, the labor practices that had existed since the Industrial Revolution were discarded. If the job gets done, does it really matter whether it’s completed in the early hours of the morning, late at night, or between 9am and 5:30pm?
As the pandemic shuts down, thankfully, it drifts into memory, old work attitudes and behaviors creep back in. One of the most worrying of these is the approach to business travel. Long before the pandemic made each of us a prisoner of our homes, transportation and travel, and especially aviation, were known to be a major cause of climate change – one of the greatest threats facing humanity. It enables organizations to continue to function and communicate during lockdowns, and face-to-face collaboration is important, but technology is also the way to ensure that our personal interactions are meaningful and with the least possible impact on our precious planet.
Aviation contributes nearly 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions; For example, a return trip from a European capital to tech industry conference favorite San Francisco emits 5.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person, more than twice the emissions of a family car — itself a heavily used, highly polluting mode of travel. Short flights are no better. Business trips between Berlin and London, for example, emit 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide. Some point to improvements in jet fuel efficiency, but between 2013 and 2018, emissions from aviation increased 32% as efficiencies were unable to offset the increasing number of flights.
Not only is flying short distances unsustainable in many cases, but productivity is also poor. In the past few weeks, the airline industry has been disrupted by a shortage of air traffic controllers, and many airlines are struggling with staffing challenges. Even without these events grounding your teammates, short flights can reduce travel time but also legroom, and therefore, the ability to do anything productive. In contrast, I recently had two job opportunities in Paris and Zurich; Both flights provided an excellent productive time, with an average of four business results generated during the flight between Surrey Hills (near Gatwick Airport) and Zurich and on the return trip.
None of us want to go back to the denials of lockdowns against the pandemic, but the strength of communication provided by CEOs and chief executives, along with the ease of collaboration via Microsoft Teams or Zoom, has proven that travel should be meaningful. Face-to-face work is important, especially to pass on skills and ideas to the next generation within our organizations; Co-creation and problem solving in the same room is exciting, and undoubtedly the most effective. However, in the rush to put the pandemic behind us, we have to ensure that travel yields real results. With fuel costs soaring (the diesel tank of my incredibly lackluster and regular VW Touran is 50% more expensive), the impact is not only environmental, but hurting the bottom line for business and employee pockets.
Plus, at a time when the airline industry struggles to recruit and retain talent, nearly every CIO I’ve spoken to is concerned about hiring. In the employee market, purpose is of increasing importance. The pandemic has raised awareness of the dangerous state of the planet; Organizations and leaders who are seen as prodigious carbon dioxide users are unlikely to attract those technicians who want to make a difference.
CEOs and CIOs are well positioned to help their organizations stay connected while also traveling ethically and reaping the benefits. Just as hiring challenges are not driven by a major resignation but a major rethink as employees reconsider who they want to work for and why they want to work with them, so too must a rethink of company operations. Travel is long overdue a rethink. The technology sector is already leading the way; The growing adoption and interest in mobility as a service (MaaS) tools enable multimodal transport, which often reduces the impact of travel on the environment. While corporate travel management companies are among the companies that have embraced data science, allowing travel, productivity, costs, and growing environmental impact to be put under the microscope.
Travel, as with every element of business, needs more analysis and use of data and thus a rethink of how and when to travel. Technology enables this.