David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
NOT Traveling Blog, 4th Week Of May
In 2014 I was voted by USA Today readers as one of the top ten business travel bloggers in the USA. Now mind you, I turned out to be number ten on the list of ten, but I did make it on (with my thanks to all those who voted.) Now that we’re all stuck at home and not traveling, I had to think about what to do with my blogs. I could stop writing them entirely – waiting till we all get through the current COVID19 pandemic / crisis. I could wax nostalgic and/or complain about past trips. Or, I could focus all of my efforts on my day job – growing the use of collaboration technologies – especially in light of how many people are now forced to use those tools for the first time. In reflecting upon those choices, what I decided to do is compile an ongoing list of observations during the crisis. Some of these may amuse, some may inform, some may sadden and others may help. My goal will be for you to have seen something in a different light than you did before you stopped to read the blog. I was going to apologize for how disjointed these thoughts may seem when put together, but then it dawned on me that feeling disjointed is our new normal – at least for a little while.
So, in no particular order:
· By my count and as I write this, we’ve just passed sixty days of staying at home. I’ve taken the occasional trip to the store or walked around a park, but that’s it. For a frequent traveler like me that’s almost unheard-of. I had to do things I never did before, like unpack medicine I carry with me as I travel so that it doesn’t expire, and actually put my luggage away. It looks like most of the US is beginning to open-up (probably too early for my comfort) but I can’t imagine business travel returning to pre-pandemic levels for a long, long time. My read on businesses I deal with and hear about is that 2020 is essentially cancelled. The next conference on the bubble is CES 2021 in January, and it is also very much in doubt.
· I genuinely feel bad for the travel industry. Surely they were as the grasshopper in the Aesop fable, fiddling away the good times with profiteering and poor treatment of their customers, and storing nothing for the ‘winter’ we’re living through. However, in addition to that, they’ve actually yet to realize the extent of animus that their customers have built-up from years of abuse. Every day we either experience personally or see in the news that these firms are considering their customers to be like best-buddies that would let them get away with BS with merely a wink. I mentioned the empty middle seat lies last week (hey passenger, you don’t mind if we break our promise about distancing, right) and this week I was personally confronted with the ‘it’s OK with you, right’ line multiple times. The hotel I no longer need to stay at in June for a cancelled conference emailed me and said ‘the property you booked is not open for the dates you selected so we’re going to move your reservation to this other property nowhere near where your event was being held. That’s OK with you, right?’ Um, no, that’s not OK for two reasons. Firstly, I pick properties I want to stay at for real reasons, and avoid others for real reasons, so no – I don’t want a watermelon if I asked for a banana. Secondly, the freaking conference was cancelled months ago – I don’t need to stay anywhere that time at all anymore. I had the same experience with the airlines. My non-stop to a city was amongst the cancelled flights, so I was rerouted automatically to a two-stop itinerary. When I called for a refund, United said ‘we’re getting you there within six hours so you’re not entitled to a refund.’ Um, no, for multiple reasons. The terms were two hours when I bought the ticket, so I couldn’t give a damn that you’ve bait and switched them to six hours now, but the larger reason of course is you’re flying me to a different city than I booked! No, travel industry, you’re not my buddy. You’ve been treating me like garbage for years despite all the legitimate complaints. I don’t give a damn what your issues are now. Go to your happy investors and make them your friends, as your recent treatment of customers has alienated all loyalty. We don’t have any waivers or favors for you.
· Early on after the stay-at-home orders I chatted with technology managers at some of the world’s prominent enterprises and heard that remote working was actually working well – just like we always said it would. I thought it would be a good idea to reconvene as many of the managers as were available about a month and a half later to see how they were doing. That webcast is available here. The group concluded that remote working is here to stay, as it continues to be a preferred model for knowledge workers. What they did mention was a problem were some elements of company culture. The top-down decrees and town halls were working, but the water-cooler moments of personal contact – how are your kids…where have you traveled…what’s up with your pets…etc. – are not coming through in the new model. As we get better at the Smarter Working model we’ll have to come up with some virtual replacements for this camaraderie. These may include photo galleries or contests, general chat platforms and other structured activities to foster the unstructured collaboration that happens from peer-to-peer at the endangered traditional offices.
· I’ve had to prepare a handful of presentations that I’ll be giving to industry groups on video over the next few weeks. I had realized a lot of the societal changes that we’d be seeing into the future as the result of the pandemic, but when I actually put them onto PowerPoint slides it was sort of shocking to see them all together. Here are a few of the very likely predictions. I’ve classified these into “the new normal” - meaning where we are now without a COVID-19 vaccine or effective and available treatment, and “the next normal” for the period of time after a vaccine/treatment is available.
· The New Normal – before vaccine / treatment
· People will be afraid to get on elevators – staggered hours will help with crowding, but most people just won’t go back to large city office towers in this phase.
· Those recent concepts of The Open Office, Hoteling/Hot Desks and The Huddle Room are dead. No one wants to share workspaces or be close to other employees anymore.
· All those things we touch – AV systems in rooms, public map/information kiosks, interactive retail signs – they’re all dead too. Expect to see a combination of voice control, gesture control and personal device pairing/control take over from the need to touch things.
· The Next Normal – after vaccine / treatment
· Now that we’ve proven that remote working works (for the majority of knowledge worker cases) the nature of the office will drastically change
o Workers will flip from 10%-15% remote to 10%-15% in office. Offices will become smaller and more dispersed
o Many offices towers will empty out and/or become used for housing.
o As people realize they can work remotely we’ll see an exodus from big cities as knowledge workers move to less dense suburban areas. (This is already happening.)
o Residences will have home workspaces included as a design feature (…2 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 workstation apartment…)
o Conference rooms in the offices will all be equipped with video capabilities to communicate with the much larger remote workforce.
o People will still travel for business – but only when needed (client and/or site visits, business conferences, firm cultural events, etc.) The daily commute will be identified as the unnecessary strain on people and the environment that it always was.
As always, please feel free to write to me with comments or items I should add to a future Not Traveling blog (or if you just need someone to write to.) Stay safe, be well, hug those you’re sheltering with (but no one else) and do your best to stay positive. We’re going to be in this for a long while.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.