An Apple a day lets the millennials play

Kate Roe, VP Marketing at KDS, a global provider of corporate travel solutions, looks at what the trend for smart watches and wearable technology could mean for managing corporate travel and expenses for millennials.

millennialsGeneration Y. They are the Y in the BYOD phenomena of recent years and are also becoming the driving force behind the huge wearables trend in the workplace. WYOD. Trips off the tongue about as well as it B-led predecessor, right?  If you’ve not heard it before, you’ll surely be familiar with the scenario: a colleague who’s perhaps returned after their Christmas break or latest birthday milestone sporting a rather fetching smart watch or fitness tracker. They seem to be growing in quantity everywhere I look.

So, as the BYOD expands to incorporate WYOD, it also presents an opportunity for companies to make the most of staff owned devices for corporate travel. Managers need to understand the challenges, mitigate the risks and maximise the opportunity. These challenges are at both a departmental and strategic level, and are especially apparent in the case of business travel.

Employees are increasingly coming to work with their own smart watches, phones, tablets and laptops. Why are employees seeking such autonomy and what challenges does this pose to managers at the departmental and strategic level? In particular, how does it affect an employers’ ability to ensure their duty of care over staff, or control costs?

Our tools shape our thinking. In previous centuries, our tools and lives were much the same as our grandparents’. Accelerating technological development has ended such generational continuity, and we are now in a world where major shifts in personal technology and social relations are separated by years not decades. We are not only 10 years into the era of smartphones and social networks and already it is hard to imagine life without them.

For business, the challenge is not only to leverage the latest technologies to better compete, but also to understand, accommodate and support the new generations of employees.

Sometimes referred to as Generation Y or millennials, this generation now represents the largest proportion of the current workforce and brings expectations shaped by the tools and capabilities of modern life. Any question can be Googled, friends and colleagues can be networked instantly, for any task there is an app. For millennials, immediacy is normal. A recent article pronounced them the “most radically different generation since the industrial revolution. This Generation Y has arguably become the smartest, most opinionated, and globally astute group of consumers”. What’s more, the changes driven by this workforce are also being adopted by their predecessors.

Trying to find the right balance of freedom and control for hyper-connected and highly autonomous employees is a tough task for any manager. Most corporates have invested in a managed travel program, crafting a policy to reflect the company’s values and goals. They have negotiated deals with preferred suppliers and provided a corporate application for bookings and making associated expense claims. However, today’s workforce is used to to booking personal travel on easy-to-use consumer apps. Therefore, because corporate applications tend to be clunky and restrictive, travellers naturally revert to booking their travel outside the corporate environment.

The risks of booking directly outside of the managed program include:

  • Duty of care – If you don’t know where they are, you can’t help them
  • Irresponsible spend – No way to know if travellers are over-spending, or measure the loss
  • Loss of preferred supplier deals – Negotiated rates are renewed based on volume

Fortunately, technology offers solutions. The latest business travel and expense (T&E) applications bridge the gap between corporate/management concerns and employee expectations. By emulating consumer applications, they can woo employees back into the company fold.

For example, rather than piecing together the different segments of a trip, modern solutions will offer a logical, intuitive way of booking an itinerary: travellers input their starting point, where they need to be and when, and within seconds, the application proposes a bookable, cohesive, policy-compliant set of services (taxi, flight, hotel, etc.) presented as a “door-to-door” timeline including costs of bookable segments and estimated travel expenses. Advanced features include pre-populating the traveller’s expense report to submit on return. The traveller saves hours compared to the usual process of researching and booking individual elements of their trip. And because these solutions estimate costs for transfers, meals and other extras, managers can understand and make approval decisions based on the predicted total cost of an entire trip. True demand management of this kind can lead to significant savings.

Beyond booking travel and submitting expenses, modern solutions also offer an on-trip assistant and expense capture app. Designed initially for tablets and smartphones, these on-trip applications are now also available for wearable devices, such as the Apple Watch. Gone are the days of mental gymnastics to determine how long before the gate closes, which tube station to stop at or where to pick up the rental car. The smarter apps even capture your receipts on the go, saving travellers hours in collating bits of papers and trying to remember where they spent what. These solutions are a great example of businesses adapting to Generation Y employees. The employee gets their consumer-grade experience, while companies can track employee movement promote preferred suppliers and see productivity and staff satisfaction increase. Meanwhile, this new insight into the total “door to door” cost of travel empowers senior management to better craft policy and to control costs.

The smartest new talent inevitably uses the smartest new technology. Attracting and retaining this talent will increasingly hinge on businesses meeting the expectations and technological demands of a younger workforce. Although this digitally savvy generation expects better tools and processes, many managers agree they are often more willing to adapt to corporate policy than previous generations. But the pace of technological change is increasing and corporations need to keep up. After all, in a few years, we will be hiring Generation Z so now is the time to act to keep pace and better yet, stay ahead.