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Back to business: from offices to business travel, how does the US feel about returning to work?

14 Sep 2021

Brought to you by TravelPerk, the #1 business travel platform.

Back to business: from offices to business travel, how does the US feel about returning to work?

There’s no denying it – it’s definitely been a strange time for business and business travel. Businesses all across the globe have had to quickly adapt to changing times, with many realizing just how adaptable their workforces are to remote working.

Now, thanks to international vaccine rollouts, we’re getting ‘back to business’. But what does that look like? How do workers across the US feel about getting back to the office?

We surveyed 1,000 US workers to find out just that. What are the attitudes towards the office? Is the face-to-face meeting dead (spoiler, it isn’t!)? And how are workers feeling about the prospect of business travel in the ‘new normal’? Read on to find out.

People want to get back to ‘in person’

It’s been a tough, lonely year and it seems like people are eager to get back to work and seeing their colleagues in person. We asked our respondents how they feel about face-to-face meetings following the switch to Zoom, Skype, and Teams – is the face-to-face meeting a thing of the past? Only a quarter thought so, with 26% saying they feel like the face-to-face meeting is dead and a huge 74% disagreeing.

This may come down to those in-person trust signals that we miss out on when meeting virtually. In fact, 64% of people think the key to trust is human contact, with over half (53%) telling us they trust in-person sales over online. While virtual meetings can be useful for connecting quickly, it’s clear the real-life touch is something we’re not keen to lose any time soon.

Younger generations need in-person working

The office comes with a range of additional benefits, especially for younger generations who may not have years of experience in their roles. Learning on the job is a key advantage to spending time in the office, with 60% of workers saying the best way to learn a job is being around colleagues. Particularly for younger generations who may be entering the workforce for the first time, seeing more senior colleagues interact and problem solve is a great way to help build confidence and develop their own skills.

Younger generations who have lost out on vital office time may also be feeling the effects of ‘imposter syndrome’. Over half (56%) of 16–24-year-olds say they’re concerned about imposter syndrome when working from home, compared to only 11% of over 55s. This makes sense – while older generations have spent years in the office, those only just entering the workforce don’t have the experience or confidence to thrive working alone at home. Being in the office, around colleagues, and feeling part of a team is a huge advantage to these younger generations and one that can help eliminate feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome.

The downsides to home working

Burnout is a very real threat to workers, especially those working from home. Being able to physically leave your place of work, move around for meetings, and fully ‘switch off’ on an evening isn’t always possible when the lines between home and work are blurred, and over half of workers (51%) told us they’re concerned about experiencing burnout from back-to-back calls when working from home.

Team relationships have also taken a hit, with over half (56%) of workers saying they’re concerned about a lack of team spirit or working relationships. The office, and face-to-face contact, are a must to help teammates bond, socialize, and build strong communicative relationships.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of productivity in the office due to socializing. Most (63%) workers don’t think office small talk should last any longer than 10 minutes.

Business meeting etiquette

We’ve already established that people trust others more in person, which is a huge positive for face-to-face business meetings as they help to build that much-needed trust and rapport. When talking about in-person meetings, a further 53% of respondents say their industry needs in-person meetings to survive. The industry that needs in-person meetings the most is HR, with 67% saying their industry would not survive if meetings were moved to virtual.

As well as many people feeling in-person meetings are essential, they are also more productive. 60% of workers say they do more prep for in-person meetings than they do for online, showing how virtual meetings may not get the best results.

So, in-person meetings aren’t going anywhere. What about the handshake? The handshake has become a definite no throughout the pandemic, but what would people prefer to see replace it until shaking hands is considered safe?

The Covid elbow bump isn’t a hugely popular option, with 44% saying they find it an unprofessional option for meetings. Only 9% thought a nod or fist bump should replace the handshake, with most opting for a simple verbal greeting (41%) or a smile (15%).

We did see differences between genders, with men three times more likely than women (15% vs 5%) to opt for a fist bump greeting. Interestingly, when looking at age divides, the 55+ generation are the age group most likely to fist bump in a meeting. Despite its younger perception, 12% of over 55s said the fist bump is their preferred greeting, compared to only 7% of 16–24-year-olds.

Workers want business travel back

‘Travel’ has become a strange topic over the pandemic, but as restrictions ease and the world opens up, workers are keen to get back out exploring. 41% told us they see business travel as more of a job perk since the pandemic, with 4 in 10 (40%) saying business travel will be important to them when looking for a new job.

Younger generations are the most eager to travel for business, with over half (54%) of 16-24-year-olds saying they see business travel as more of a perk since the pandemic compared to only 13% of over 55s. This younger generation also finds business travel more inspiring. While overall 34% of workers say they have the best business ideas when traveling, when looking at just 16–24-year-olds, this figure rises to over half (53%). Younger generations want to travel for work, and find it hugely beneficial and inspiring to do so.

Across the board, we can also see that most workers are productive when they travel for business. Only a quarter (25%) said they feel more stressed when working on a business trip, with 32% saying they feel no different and the remaining 43% feeling less stressed when they work while traveling for business.

How comfortable are people expensing when traveling?

We were also curious about expensing etiquette – how comfortable are people expensing when they travel for work?

Food came top of the list, with 83% saying they’d be happy to expense a meal in a restaurant. 81% said they’d be comfortable expensing travel for work, meaning 19% don’t feel comfortable asking for travel costs from their employer – a pretty high figure, in our opinion!

Three-quarters (74%) of people said they’d be comfortable expensing takeout food, with a further 68% saying they’d ask for money back for a cup of coffee. While people seem comfortable expensing food, this number drops when looking at room service – only 57% would feel comfortable expensing something they’d ordered to their room.

Alcohol is at the bottom of the list when looking at what people expense. 38% said they’d expense alcohol with a meal, with just a quarter (26%) saying they’d feel comfortable expensing alcohol on its own. Gender came into play here, with men twice as likely than women (16% vs 8%) to expense alcohol without a meal. There was a generational divide too, with 36% of both millennials and Gen Z (16–34-year-olds) saying they’d be happy to expense alcohol compared to only 9% of over 55s.

The experience of traveling for work

Traveling for work is obviously productive from a working perspective, but also opens up new cities and experiences to workers who may not have had the opportunity to travel there otherwise. So, what do people want to do when they travel for business?

The priorities people have when traveling for work are actually pretty simple. Most want to go out for a nice dinner (72%), stay in a nice hotel (69%), and check out the local tourist attractions (55%).

What do people want to do when they travel for business?

  • Go out for dinner – 72%
  • Stay at a nice hotel – 69%
  • Visit tourist attractions – 55%
  • Go for a night out – 39%
  • Order room service – 29%
  • Visit a gym – 24%
  • Go to the cinema – 15%
  • Arrange a date with someone new – 10%
  • “I only like to work while on a business trip to a new city” – 3%

Looking at industries, we saw that HR are the biggest party animals. 56% of those working in HR want a night out when they travel to a new city for business. Architects are also those most likely to be looking for love, with 18% saying they like to arrange a date with someone new when traveling for work.

As the world returns to ‘normal’, we can see that both office working and business travel are making a return – and that their return is welcomed by most workers! From cutting out imposter syndrome and burnout to experiencing the perks of traveling and seeing new destinations, there’s much to be said for in-person experiences. While hybrid working and digital communications offer a degree of convenience, it is clear face-to-face remains the future of business.

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