< PrevNext > Solidifying Remote Work Polices Will Transform Travel Manager Role By Michael B. Baker / January 27, 2022 / Contact Reporter Share With return-to-office plans becoming increasingly vague thanks to the fast-spreading Covid-19 omicron variant, contingency policies are starting to morph into something more permanent—and so are some changes to corporate travel programs and travel managers' roles.Several large global companies have already announced return-to-office plans for early 2022 are no longer possible with omicron, including financial firms like Goldman Sachs that have been some of the biggest proponents of getting their staff back into offices. In many cases, January plans were already a rain date of return-to-office plans in fall 2021, which were pushed back for the delta variant. Rather than setting plans potentially to be thwarted by a sigma or upsilon variant, CEOs are taking a different approach."The return-to-office date has died," Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom recently told the BBC. "Endless waves of Covid have led most CEOs to give up, and instead set up contingent policies: if, when and how to return to the office."As this return draws out longer, more companies will face decisions on expiring office leases, which will require them to make more permanent decisions on what their working models will be for the foreseeable future.There already has been a lot of chatter as to what hybrid and remote working arrangements will mean for travel programs—potentially more internal travel and less concentrated volumes around headquarters cities, for example—but more travel managers this year might find themselves now responsible for policies and decisions never in their job descriptions before.Travel managers may find themselves dealing with a much larger traveling population than in the past, which will bring its own management challenges. At a recent BTN Trends & Forecasts event, EAB VP of business solutions Steven Mandelbaum said that makes the prospect of accessing bundled offers from airlines via New Distribution Capability connections more attractive, as many of these new travelers will not have status with partner carriers. Companies that relied largely on traditional corporate card programs also might start looking more deeply at virtual card options if these new travelers have not been issued corporate cards.As lines blur between commuting and travel, travel programs might find themselves absorbing some of those costs as well. If companies are covering costs like parking and lunch for employees traveling in from out of town, for example, it will be harder to exclude local employees now coming in on a non-regular basis."If you told me two years ago [to absorb commuting costs], I would have said absolutely not," Mandelbaum said. "Now, I still don't want to, but I may have to, and the money has to come from somewhere."Allowing more remote work is opening a number of other complications in which travel manager might now find themselves involved. Some companies might not even be aware that some employees have moved away from more expensive cities and are working hundreds of miles away or even out of the country. The surprise often comes when an IT issue arises and employees ask to have laptops or other equipment shipped to far-flung addresses, Mandelbaum said.While several large companies made headlines by saying they would be exploring "work-from-anywhere" policies early on in the pandemic, most have since clarified to say that anywhere is not exactly "anywhere," given the tax and other regulatory measures involved, Global Tax Network managing director Christopher Hall said. Travel managers could find themselves working more closely with HR, payroll and corporate tax teams as all of that gets sorted out."Companies have been in survival mode, and now there are policies going into place," he said. "You'll need to be in control of that data."Above all, travel managers will need an extra dose of patience and flexibility in the coming year, because as the quick emergence of the omicron variant reminded us, long-term planning at all can still be futile."Over the next five years, a lot of organizations are going to be trial and error to see what works," Festive Road consultant Katie Virtue said. "There is the potential for the travel manager role to be drastically changed."