There’s a lot that goes into planning business travel. If your job requires you to be on the road often, managing all your trips can seem like a second job in itself. Many companies choose to take this work off employees’ plates by having administrative assistants handle travel booking. Should yours?
The answer depends on a mix of considerations, from the structure of a company's travel management program, to the preferences of its traveling employees.
Admin-supported employee travel isn't going away
Though technology has made business travelers increasingly comfortable managing their trips, a significant portion still work with an admin (a catch-all term for administrative assistants, executive assistants, office managers, or any other employees who arrange business trips on behalf of colleagues). According to a survey conducted by the Global Business Travel Association in 2015, 44% of business travelers said someone else booked their most recent trip for them.
Not all travelers are equally likely to rely on an admin. Whether an employee uses an admin tends to correspond to his or her travel frequency and seniority. Executives travel more frequently than do other employees; they're also more likely to already have administrative support for non-travel functions such as scheduling. In this context, it's natural to delegate some aspects of travel booking.
Employees outside the C-suite also work with admins. Having someone else arrange business trips for you is undoubtedly a nice perk, but there are reasons beyond convenience why a company might have a team of admins to help with travel. An experienced travel booker can ensure that:
- Trips comply with company policy.
- Expenses are submitted properly.
- Alternate arrangements can be made in the event of a travel disruption.
Self-service employee travel is becoming more common
The benefits of having employee travel managed by an admin (convenience, policy compliance, added service) must be weighed against the potential costs. With an ever-increasing number of travel options it’s difficult enough to settle on the optimal choices for yourself; imagine having to do it for someone else. That’s why some people find coordinating travel with an admin to be more work than handling everything on their own.
Younger employees seem to be especially comfortable planning their own trips. A Boston Consulting Group survey of business travelers found that Millennials were more likely than their older colleagues to utilize self-service travel systems. To someone who's never had to pick up a phone and interact with a travel agent, relying on an admin to book a trip might seem as antiquated as using the term “secretary.”
But while it’s true that online travel sites have simplified booking, they’ve also added a bewildering amount of choice. An experienced admin can simplify the process, and free up employees to focus on higher value work. As argued in a Harvard Business Review article called The Case for Executive Assistants, overall productivity in an organization is maximized when tasks are delegated judiciously:
“At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that.
That’s true not only for top executives ... Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well. Although companies have embraced this logic by outsourcing work to vendors or to operations abroad, back at headquarters they ignore it, forcing top talent to misuse their time.”
For this reason, though business travel is generally trending to a self-service model, for many companies it still makes sense to offer employees an added level of support.
Self-service and admin-supported employee travel can coexist within the same company: one employee might book all his own trips, another employee might have a dedicated admin to manage all of hers, and a third might need assistance only for some trips, such as ones being booked last minute, or ones that have complex itineraries. And the line between admin-supported and self-service booking is blurring thanks to digital assistant apps that combine machine learning with 24-7 access to actual human support reps.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution for managing employee travel. Ultimately, the effectiveness of a company's travel program - as measured by policy compliance, cost-control, employee satisfaction, etc. - depends on how responsive it is to the needs of the end-users. For every employee who prefers to take a hands-on approach to planning their trips, there's likely to be another who appreciates the extra support provided by an admin.