It’s June, spring is in full swing, and as businesses emerge from the pandemic’s grip, professionals across the logistics industry are preparing for the return of an age-old custom: business travel. As I write, business groups and trade associations that were forced to move their annual meetings and conferences online this past year are gearing up for in-person events around the country, protocols in place and up-to-the-minute guidance in hand.
Although the return to business travel is likely a welcome event for many, it will be accompanied by a fair bit of anxiety about just what to expect after more than a year of virtual meetings, prerecorded presentations, and livestreamed panel discussions. Concerns will linger over health and safety. Frustrations may run high regarding rules and regulations. And there is likely to be legitimate confusion over shifting guidance and advice, especially if your travel schedule takes you to multiple meetings in myriad states. No doubt that trade show in Florida will have different protocols in place than the regional meeting you’re scheduled to attend in Chicago.
If you find yourself conflicted over whether or not to get back on the road again, rest assured you’re not alone. A mid-March study by technology firm Envoy found that 66% of employees don’t want to return to a post-Covid workplace, citing health and safety concerns. But even more than that, the simple truth seems to be that the work-from-home lifestyle has become comfortable for many people. They don’t miss their long commute or their hectic travel schedule, and they don’t mind virtual meetings and online presentations. They’ve mastered Zoom. Only time will tell how that will work out, as more companies ease their employees back to a somewhat “normal” schedule. But the steadily improving outlook should provide some comfort. As I write, Covid-19 cases are slowing nationwide, and hospitalizations and deaths are down considerably. The economy continues to improve. Companies are desperately seeking workers.
And as time moves on, optimism is taking over. A Gartner study from March revealed that there is far less uncertainty and more optimism among business leaders when it comes to travel and in-person events as 2021 unfolds. Gartner polled human resources (HR) leaders about the issue and found that nearly 40% said they expected their companies to restart normal business travel over the next three to nine months, compared with just 23% who felt that way in December. What’s more, only 35% of HR leaders said they didn’t know when their companies would resume business travel, down from more than 60% who said so in December. When asked about resuming other in-person activities, including client meetings and conferences, the results were similar: In March, 43% of HR leaders said their firms would be resuming those activities over the next three to nine months, compared with just 19% who said so in December. Uncertainty waned as well: 31% maintained in March that they didn’t know when their companies would resume in-person activities, down from 48% in December.
No matter where you fall on the pandemic spectrum—regarding the science, economics, and politics of it all—one thing seems clear: We know a lot more now than we did a year ago. Schools and businesses have been up and running in many places, successfully. Vaccination levels are rising. The logistics industry has been on the front lines since the beginning, and many readers may not have had the luxury of staying home and still collecting a paycheck. For the rest of us, it’s time to think about getting back out there.