The modern workforce increasingly expects the same kind of personalized, user-friendly, tech-driven experience in the office as in their personal lives. One area where there is a significant clash between the old and new way of doing things is in business travel and expense. Until recently, employees were typically expected to follow the corporate expense policy to the letter. Policies were created with cost-control as the number one priority, and traveler satisfaction often a distant second.
However, in the modern era of bleisure travel, ride-sharing and electric scooters, these expense policy expectations sound positively archaic. Any finance or corporate travel leader who expects their team members to always follow the policy down to the letter will likely be met with eye rolling and mutterings of “OK Boomer.”
Related: Companies with a Strong Travel Culture Deliver Better Business Results
That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that corporate travel and expense policies are there for a reason. In fact, several, very valid, reasons. Organizations need to provide clear boundaries for class of travel, permissible amounts to spend on food and lodging, and maintain spend volumes with preferred vendors, to keep negotiated discounts. Mandating bookings through official corporate channels also enables travelers’ itineraries to be accessed easily, so that they can be more readily contacted in an emergency situation.
Related: Is Your Travel and Expense Policy Keeping Up with the Times?
While all of these reasons are all incredibly valid, they may sometimes clash with the realities that business travelers face when planning their trips. Maybe some city pairs’ flight schedules with the preferred airline are very inconvenient for certain members of your team, or a preferred hotel chain is a long way from a customer site. Perhaps your number one sales executive has reached million-mile status with different airline to the one you have secured preferential rates with. Do you simply force them to stick to the policy? To what extent is the short-term financial benefit of forcing travelers to adhere to your policy worth alienating some of your most valuable employees?
There may never be a resolution that completely satisfies the needs of both financial controllers and business travelers, but organizations should still strive to find a solution which provides an effective compromise for all parties. There are several ways that this can be achieved:
- Make the policy creation process a collaborative one, and seek out the input of your organization’s most frequent travelers. For many organizations, 80% or more of all travel spend is concentrated among just 20% of all travelers, so empowering this group to be in compliance can be a major cost-saver.
- Educate and put trust in your travelers, to help them understand why the policy is in place. Most travelers think they are doing the organization a favor if they can find a cheaper hotel than the corporate rate, on a booking discount site. Explain the rationale, and then make self-regulation more of an emphasis than top-down enforcement.
- Allow tolerance in the policy, so if certain elements genuinely don’t work for certain travelers, they aren’t penalized. This can be mitigated to an extent by making the policy creation/revision process collaborative, as mentioned above, so potential issues are eliminated during the planning process.
- Use technology solutions that helps guide travelers can also reduce friction between travelers and teams. This can take many different forms, from deploying travel booking and expense management tools which automatically incorporate travel and expense policies, through to providing corporate payment cards with pre-set spend parameters (from daily limits as far as merchant category code and vendor-specific restrictions.
Organizations that make it easy for individuals to stay in compliance and understand the human element of business travel – particularly given the rapidly changing demographic mix in the workplace – will find that the long-term financial benefits will outweigh any short-term impact. Employees will be more motivated, leading to increased productivity, lower staff churn, and potentially even reduced expense fraud.
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