Business Travel in a Changed Environment: The Tools and Tips to Make it Work

By: Brenda de Borja

Oh, how times have changed! The onset of the pandemic remarkably reduced in-person workplace interactions and on-site meetings with clients. Even as business travel has slowly picked up, travelers now have to deal with flight cancellations and unacceptable passenger behavior while in the air. More than ever, companies should prioritize their organizational culture and implement relationship-building practices to ensure connections do not wane. Mindful of the importance of healthy relations, Yellow Brick continues to work with its client partners using a combination of video conferencing and on-site meetings. At Yellow Brick, the well-being of employees is a top priority. With team members working remotely and distributed in different cities and states, daily morning touch base calls and regularly scheduled retreats provide a healthy dose of camaraderie and learning by enabling coworkers to share information and support each other’s projects.

Travel activity has awoken from the involuntary hiatus brought about by the pandemic, and business travelers, including our own, have once again been boarding planes with some nervous anticipation and an arsenal of safety accessories and disinfectants. Many companies have had to modify business travel policies and practices to conform to the changing times, in addition to restructuring workplace protocols to ensure employee safety.

As a travel coordinator, ensuring my team safely gets from Point A to Point B without missing a step and keeping the company culture alive and well are two of my primary responsibilities. Below are some of our go-to tools and some tips we’ve learned along the way:

Develop a Business Traveler Profile Sheet

A Traveler Profile Sheet is an essential reference tool when booking your group of travelers. It captures each traveler’s information and preferences, including the traveler’s name as it appears on their government-issued ID, cell phone number, email, and mailing address. Known Traveler Numbers (TSA or Global Entry), travel rewards accounts, seat preferences (aisle or window), and emergency contact information are also stored on this document.

Checklists Keep you Organized

Checklists are incredibly helpful! It is easy to miss a step or two in the booking process. Arranging travel for two to four people is manageable; booking for 10 or more is another story. A checklist itemizes each step and provides a checkbox to mark completed tasks, so no ball is ever dropped. Yellow Brick maintains a travel checklist on Smartsheet for flights, hotels, and car rental for each project, covering pre-booking prep, booking, and post-booking.

Communication is a Must

Clear communication is vital. Email a request to the project lead at least six weeks in advance of travel to confirm the list of personnel traveling for the on-site project event, including dates and ideal travel times. When the travel coordinator receives these details, she then sends an email to the traveling team to confirm their availabilities. Those who are available but may need alternate arrangements will contact the travel coordinator directly. When travel is booked, each team member receives a Gmail invite for each travel reservation (flight/hotel/car rental) and confirmation number. This ensures that these details are on their calendar and are readily accessible from their electronic devices. Confirmed travel information for flights, room, and car rental are recorded on a Project Event Travel Planning Worksheet.

The travel coordinator generates a Rideshare Schedule from the Project Event Travel Planning Worksheet and sends it to the team. The Rideshare Schedule displays traveler groupings for Uber/Lyft/taxi to the hotel or healthcare facility based on arrival terminals and times to the destination city.

Track Your Purchases

The Flight Billing Tracker is another Smartsheet log that tracks booked flights to ensure that travel credits and refunds are updated regularly and accurately. The tracker includes airline used, record locators, ticket numbers, and ticket values. With flight cancellations becoming commonplace, the Flight Billing Tracker is a beneficial tool for organizing this information in one place. Knowing the difference between flight credit and travel credit (e-certificate) and how they are used can maximize their benefits to pay for future travel. Note that seat purchases are non-refundable for some airlines and refundable for others, but always separate from the cost of the airfare.

A helpful tip led us to Alaska Airlines’ wallet. The wallet is the company’s repository for flight and travel credits from canceled business travel. Once in the wallet, the credits are no longer exclusively for the use of the person whose name appears on the ticket. It becomes a common fund to cover future company travel.

Yellow Brick Travel Tips and Tricks

Keeping the Company Culture Alive

Organizations with teams traveling regularly realize the importance of treating their team members well. It requires a special kind of person to take to the skies regularly for meetings with clients across the country. The same is true for Project Specialists who join our core team on milestone events like Dress Rehearsal or Move. They are on the first flight out of their home city and arrive at their destination in a different time zone. While acclimating to the time change, one foot is already out the door, ready to help prep for the event. They follow the same routine on the day of the event, waking up early, facilitating scenarios with their groups, or coordinating patient moves. By day’s end, they get ready for the trek back to the airport for the flight back home. It is an exciting, yet exhausting, routine.

At Yellow Brick, being thankful and showing appreciation for our team is essential to our company culture. We prepare welcome bags for our traveling team containing a thank you note, bottled water, oatmeal cup, energy bars, fruit, mints, and chocolate. These small acknowledgments of appreciation are waiting for our team members upon their hotel check-in.

Yellow Brick typically hosts a team dinner the night before an event. For the team’s convenience, we usually hold the dinner at the hotel where the team is staying, if banquet facilities are available. The dinner is a thank you to our traveling team for participating in our event. It is also an opportune time to catch up with people who have become good friends and are a part of the Yellow Brick family. As much as we value our team, we cannot overlook the excellent hotel staff we have met in every city where we have traveled. A warm welcome from a front desk associate makes all the difference when far from home. When our project concludes, we give the hotel staff a thank you card and a token of our gratitude and appreciation. A box of chocolates brings surprise and smiles, as does Yellow Brick swag.

Kindness can only be contagious if we keep paying it forward.