By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO
This week, I joined a Zoom with about ten people from all over the country. As part of the pre-meeting chit chat, someone mentioned quarantine is the longest they have gone in 20 years without getting on a plane. Another attendee was joining a local softball league, now that he’s not traveling. Another joked that his partner and kids were itching for him to get back out on the road again.
For the past 10 years, I have been a road warrior, spending two to three days a week for conferences, speaking engagements, sales, and customer visits. Ironically, my travel to support companies in their work to be sustainable and healthy isn’t actually sustainable or healthy—for me or the planet. I should be thrilled business is able to get done without me leaving the house. It is the ultimate in sustainability. It is way more time-efficient. It enables me to take part in more family dinners and bedtime stories.
Truthfully? I really miss conducting business in person. Quarantine is a deep reminder that I am a hardcore extrovert. I gain energy from people, even complete strangers. I miss striking up interesting conversations in elevators, bars, rideshares, and conference rooms that give me insights on how different people think and feel.
I miss our customers, prospective customers, and industry colleagues who I count on as friends. I miss how we challenge and cheer each other on, introduce each other to people they should know, solve problems together, and learn from each other over lunch, a coffee, or a glass of wine. I recently attended a virtual summit with many of these people. It was great to say hi, but it arguably made me miss them even more.
I believe in in-person visits. An Oxford Economics study found that every $1 invested in business travel delivered $12.50 in return. It is not required for every business, of course, as scores of successful companies don’t do in-person sales calls or customer visits. As a small company that sells and supports primarily giant corporations, we find in-person makes all the difference.
Before COVID-19, nearly 445 million business trips took place each year. While I do plan to be back on the road at some point soon, I hope we are entering a new era of more mindful business travel.
How can we do that?
Conference organizers can start by working to make virtual conferences even better and offer virtual attendance alongside the in-person experience. For example, I tried out the “networking roulette” feature at the virtual summit I recently attended. You clicked a button and it matched you with another attendee for three minutes. It was way less stressful than walking alone into a room of strangers, and I really liked the people I connected with. Giving people the option between in-person and virtual, and having both experiences be fulfilling and valuable, enables people to pick and choose which is best for them, for their budget, and for their life.
Companies can start by modifying procurement processes, so there is no need for a vendor to come in for a one-hour pitch meeting in the early stage. Save the in-person until you narrow it down to the finalists. They should also never require, or want, their consulting teams to be on-site four days a week. It is expensive, and it is no longer necessary to deliver good work. Moreover, it puts a heavy burden on the families of consultants, often making it challenging for their spouse to work. In fact, WeSpire’s research with a major consulting firm found that having a non-working spouse was a key driver of success at the senior levels, which negatively affected women and underrepresented minorities’ progression.
I am so looking forward to my first mindful trip. But I am grateful that we have all had a chance to learn that there is no need to go back to business travel as usual.
Quote of the Week: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller
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