James' view | What is business travel for?: Collaboration, creativity and empowerment

By James Parkhouse, CEO, Capita Travel and Events

What is business travel for?

Last week I published my second blog in a short series of articles exploring the question of ‘what is business travel for?’, where I focussed on the role it plays in social capital and connections. I hope that exploring this question will bring us a little closer to overcoming the typical stereotypes of a business traveller that many of us have pictured in our heads. Here, in my third and final piece of this series, I will look a little more at the role it plays in collaboration, creativity and empowerment.

The importance of in-person connections: Collaboration, creativity and empowerment

Successful team building depends on the energy and trust from social interactions. These connections help us, through collaboration, to achieve our goals - with better communication and collaboration shown to increase productivity by 25 - 35%.[1]

One of the challenges of remote working and virtual interaction is that it denies us the opportunity for those spontaneous, ‘water-cooler conversations’, which play an important part in driving creativity and engagement. So, the real challenge lies in maintaining social connections while working remotely.

Received wisdom says creative work needs to be face-to-face. Although social interactions can occur via email, social media, texts, video and audio calls – face-to-face interactions remain the fundamental way in which people connect.[2]

Creativity and productivity

Although some may feel that creativity has little to do with their business, this isn’t true. ‘Creativity is not defined purely by job function; creative problem solving is part of most roles and there is always room for innovation in any business. Smarter business connections enable and widen conversations between stakeholders to help get things done in a dynamic, collaborative and progressive way.

Creative performance is greatly reduced when there is no in-person communication because creative tension — the disagreements that drive innovation — is primarily possible during face-to-face interactions.[3] Creative tension closes the gap between vision and solution, but remote work reduces that process to an individual and internal struggle which can stunt creative and company growth.

Humans have numerous advantages over robots but at the time of writing and for the purposes of my argument, I’ll choose three of the most distinct:

We have the ability to come up with ideas, be creative or have a sense of purpose.

We can talk, write, listen or read, in highly sophisticated ways.

We can also process a huge amount of information instantly and respond appropriately, creatively and emotionally to it. [4]

As social primates, we need in-person cues. It’s harder to remain fully attentive throughout virtual. We may have gotten used to virtual meetings but connecting can still feel inauthentic and removed. Creativity, collaboration and critical thinking are where face-to-face comes into its own and make up a compelling argument for travelling on business.

Choice and empowerment

Choice and empowerment are key factors in assessing the relative merits of face-to-face and remote working. Productivity gains are realised when employees have the choice to work flexibly and decide where they do their work. There is a big difference between wanting to work remotely and being forced to do so.

Highlighting the impact of choice and empowerment on productivity places the emphasis on how smarter business connections can mean people travelling less but more intentionally – and so more effectively. Having decided that choice matters, if an employer is giving workers the remote option, they should not deny revenue earners the choice to travel or call a physical meeting if they wish.

Motivation, engagement and performance cannot be commoditised. Teams and the individuals within them differ in terms of industry sector, job function, seniority and personality. Employers who want the full benefits of remote working need to prioritise choice, autonomy and flexibility.

This mini-series was a means to explore what business travel is by understanding its drivers and value. I’ve explored how it builds; culture, employee experience, social capital and connections - and in this piece - its effectiveness in driving collaboration, creativity, choice and empowerment. It is evident that the common value is the unscripted, spontaneous interaction that sparks life into individuals, teams and businesses. Connecting in person for business is the arena for the expression of ideas, shared experiences and social fulfilment.

To understand what business travel is for, we should look at those that travel for business – they are all around us. Not just those wearing suites but some wearing hardhats, medical scrubs or any work gear. Their purpose for travel can be as varied as their professions - and the power of connecting in person vital to their collaboration and their industries, sectors and cultures.

[1] Gartner

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36116-6

[3] https://www.raconteur.net/business-strategy/productivity/innovation-remote-productivity/

[4] Brynjolfsson and McAfee (The Second Machine Age)