Human Connection: How Work Gets Done

by Steve Black

As the Association continues to plan its 2021 Supply Summit & Product Showcase in April, it watches the national landscape for events happening, events adapting, and events going online.

Here are a couple analysts’ thoughts on what’s ahead for business travel and how to optimize trade shows as we wait for the COVID dust to settle. (Second article – Build a Virtual Farm Show Strategy)

Human Connection: How Work Gets Done

Microsoft co‐founder Bill Gates has predicted that more than half of business travel will go away permanently now that remote work and virtual meetings have become the norm.

While I’m sure he would offer Microsoft’s Teams as a worthy substitute for face‐to‐face business deals, Gates’ dire travel prediction substantially underestimates three key factors.

Human connection is how work gets done. We are fundamentally relationship‐driven creatures, and even with the most advanced technology, when push comes to shove, business still gets done in person. By his own admission, Gates himself hasn’t made a single new friend or business connection this year, and most of us can relate. We’re talking with people we already knew through happy hours and team collaboration, but with conferences, trade shows and other networking events canceled, new connections are harder to come by.

There will be an arms race in sales. Your CFO may be thrilled about the lower travel and entertainment expenses this year, but ask him or her about sales numbers. Most won’t be so thrilled, because you can’t have one without the other.

Your sales team might say they’re perfectly happy to sell virtually, but as soon as your competitor gets in the same room with a prospect, you’ve essentially lost the deal. Not to mention, there’s a tremendous amount of upsell, expansion and retention that hinges on personal relationships. It’s often over lunches, coffee or drinks that consultants and vendors learn about other challenges their client is facing and can offer support.

That’s how a one‐off project turns into a long‐term engagement. The reality is the weaker the relationship, the more likely you are to get unseated by your competitors, and if you’re not physically there, your risk is much higher.

“Never travelers” will become travelers. When everyone was in the office, we could easily gather to brainstorm, either formally around a conference table or informally in the break room.

With the loss of connection and the challenges of remote collaboration inherent in distributed work, innovation has slowed. At the same time, remote recruiting makes it tougher to onboard new employees.

Companies need to get their teams together to push the organization forward. As a result, we can expect to see more in‐person team building, project kickoffs and collaboration sessions with people who never traveled now hitting the road twice a year or quarterly.

Where you once had 20 percent of staff always on the road and 80 percent who never traveled, now you might have half or more who travel occasionally.

While it’s true that the threshold for justifying travel may increase—companies will need to focus on the ROI—business travel will still be essential for growing sales, building teams and maintaining culture.

A good CFO isn’t just thinking about the bottom line and cost savings but also how the talent experience and overall company growth come into play.
Getting people together is critical for rapidly building trust and relationships, rallying around a cause, and re‐energizing and motivating the team—all of which are critical for innovation.

Steve Black is co-founder and chief strategy officer at Topia. This is the first section of an article that appeared at Stay tuned for advice on kickstarting business travel post-Covid in the next issue of Shortliner.