Travel policies can be the backbone of a successful corporate travel program. Unfortunately, many companies simply create one and move on. They do not spend the necessary time regularly updating them, despite having spent tremendous resources on building the policy to begin with.
When that happens, you might impose penalties. In most cases, though, it makes much more sense to look at the actual root of the problem. And more often than not, that problem is more closely connected to your corporate culture.
The Core Concept of Corporate Culture
You probably already know about the general concept of corporate culture. In today's business environment, it's difficult to perform a managerial role without that basic understanding. But do you know how it actually applies to your business, organization, or operational unit?
Corporate culture, according to most common definitions, refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.
In other words, it describes the intangible values, beliefs, and behaviors that most members of an organization share. Think of it as an answer to the question: what's it like to work at your company?
That answer, of course, is more complicated than it appears at first. And yet, it's absolutely crucial to understanding exactly how to set policies and guide your teams as they work to achieve a common goal. Above all, your travel policy needs to fit your corporate culture.
Your travel policy standardizes the ways in which your employees conduct business trips. Your corporate culture dictates how they act and behave as they plan, go on, and reconcile their business trips. Both need to be closely connected to help you achieve each of their goals. To achieve alignment between your travel policy and culture, consider taking these 8 steps.
1) Understand Your Culture
First, the basics: to align your travel policy with your corporate culture, you actually have to understand the latter. That can be a complicated process, and you probably already have a general idea. Still, a corporate culture audit may make sense to help you develop a fuller understanding of the values, behaviors, and beliefs that will play into creating the policy.
In the process, you will learn a number of details that will be helpful far beyond your travel policy. Done right, an audit can teach you your employees' expectations around both daily management practice and long-term strategic vision.
2) Determine the Level of Detail
How detailed should your travel policy be? The answer to that question is directly related to your corporate culture. Small teams with a significant degree of flexibility and responsibility may only need general guidelines that structure how they travel. A large enterprise with multiple business units, on the other hand, will need detailed instructions related to various types of travel, reimbursements, and more.
Of course, even that is not a definite statement. The level of detail expected in the policy may not line up with the level of detail required to stay above board legally and ethically. Understand how your employees prefer to book their travel, and how they manage other expenses, then line that up with your core requirements to find a compromise that doesn't go against the explicit and implicit cultural standards set previously.
3) Take a Look at Bleisure Components
Bleisure, or the combination of business trips with leisure travel, has become increasingly important across industries. Almost 20 percent of professionals now add a pleasure component to their business travel, and that number rises drastically the younger your employees get. Perhaps most importantly, this trend will only intensify in the near future.
Does your travel policy account for these combinations? And does your corporate culture suggest a greater or lower need for bleisure? Both can actually be possible.
A financial corporation with tight deadlines and seasoned travel professionals may not be receptive of their younger counterparts extending business trips. Conversely, a technology startup that emphasizes a healthy work-life balance could induce unhappiness in the face of stringent, business-only corporate travel rules. Line up your bleisure options with cultural expectations to prevent either extreme.
4) Consider All Types of Expenses
What actually constitutes 'travel expenses'? It might just be plane tickets, hotel, and a daily per diem. Or you could include the cost of a rental car, itemized costs for individual meals, and other details. In your travel policy, it makes sense to outline exactly what type of expense is eligible for corporate pay or reimbursement, and why.
That includes details such as what size of car is appropriate to rent, whether and when a business class flight is eligible for reimbursement, the possibility of purchasing non-refundable hotels, and more.
The reason is not just functional. Your company's culture may lead your teams to expect detailed information on even tangentially-related items in the form of a policy. If that is the case, you need to make sure that you don't limit the information you provide to the major items. Instead, consider all types of expenses, especially those that your employees have deemed valuable from a personal and professional standpoint.
5) Be Clear About Potential Consequences
Any travel policy has to include a specific outline of what happens when someone violates it. As with any regulations, specific consequences of failure make sure that fewer people actually fail. But just what those consequences are, and how they relate to your teams' daily work life, can depend entirely on the culture you are building and representing.
For instance, a major punishment for minor per diem overcharge can work in a company that has seen previous ethical violation related to travel or other benefits. In a more relaxed culture with more transparency between individual business units, a 'regulated honors system' may make more sense. Either way, be clear about what happens after a violation and be sure that consequence matches up with your employees' values and expectations.
6) Match Your Policy With Your Technology
Your travel management technology probably doesn't stay the same. But if your policy was created years and even decades ago, it might not account for that fact. For instance, your travel office or HR might have recently introduced an automated expense system. Does your policy account for the necessary steps employees need to take as they seek reimbursements and guidance?
7) Take a Look at Your Duty of Care Elements
This step is particularly important in aligning your travel policy and corporate culture. Duty of care dictates that an organization bears responsibility for any travelers on its behalf, from regular business trips to unexpected emergencies and disasters.
In any corporate culture that values individual employees, this component is absolutely essential. If you haven't formalized duty of care in your policy, now is the time to do so. If you already have, it might be time to take another look and ensure alignment with your corporate values.
8) Consider the Sharing Economy
One common area in which corporate travel policies often fall behind is the sharing economy. While you might not consider opportunities like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, your employees probably are. A projected 33% of internet users in the U.S. will take advantage of ride and travel sharing services next year.
Your travel policy should account for that cultural shift. Consider the parameters by which employees can utilize some of the services mentioned above. In car sharing services, safety and cost become a major consideration. For Airbnb, safety is also critical, particularly when considering the above-mentioned duty of care requirements.
In addition to setting restrictions and parameters, provide expertise for your employees. Let them know whether they're truly saving money before unexpected fees are added in, and help them make the best travel decision for their needs.
When Should You Update Your Travel Policy?
All of the above steps matter whether you are updating an existing travel policy or building a new one. But in the former case, it can become a bit more vague. In that case, you might have trouble finding the line: when should you actually update your travel policy?
The answer to that question, of course, depends. But generally speaking, it never hurts to take a close look at your existing policy with your corporate culture in mind. Done right, corporate travel doesn't just support, but actually builds your culture. Frequent offers and standardization of bleisure travel, for instance, can communicate values of work-life balance and employee happiness that may not have emphasized previously.
Through your travel policy, you can emphasize the types of values, and ultimately the type of culture, which you want to establish at your organization. An update in that direction, even when it is not absolutely necessary, can still provide a significant boost to those efforts.