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What travel managers can learn from Pixar’s Purl

5 min
Posted: 15 September 2020

Lelia Gowland, Principal, Gowland LLC. Don’t be like the guys at B.R.O. Capital – adapt to the changing workforce. Flexible travel policies promote employee loyalty, help retain your best road warriors, and create a more inclusive culture. The new Pixar short Purl provides a humourous look into the challenges many companies and individuals face navigating office culture and changing workplace dynamics. In the video, a hot pink ball of yarn named Purl tries to fit in at B.R.O. Capital, a toxic, (human) male-dominated office. Here are five key strategies travel managers can take away from this delightful film:

  1. Create multiple feedback mechanisms to understand traveller needs.

Companies that are growing quickly will especially benefit from surveys and focus groups about travel policy, which ensure that all voices — new and old — are heard.Given its typical employee (tall dudes in suits), extended leg room might be a standard travel perk at B.R.O. Capital. But, since Purl is about a quarter of the size of the average BRO, that benefit wouldn’t exactly improve her travel experience. Surveys and focus groups can give great insight into what actually matters most to employees. Dr. Christian Spieker, Head of corporate services at ZEB was right when he said, “You have to listen to your people. There is no one truth.” Providing the Purls of your office the opportunity to communicate their needs in low stakes settings will allow them to feel like a valued part of the team, rather than someone who has to make special requests or struggle in silence. A traveller like Purl might wind up with her hot pink yarn legs dangling in the 'ample' leg room, while what she really wants is the car service of her choosing once she lands.

  1. Meet your colleagues where they are.

As Jaime-Alexis Fowler of Empower Work reflects, “Small, positive actions can have significant impact on employee experience.” For example, Purl would likely have felt far more included at B.R.O. Capital had she been encouraged to share her perspective. Fowler suggests incorporating communication channels outside of meetings for those that may prefer to share insight in other ways. For example, if you’re hosting a meeting about travel policy, you could include reflection questions in the meeting invitation to help people share their thoughts in advance and close the meeting by offering alternative ways to share feedback, like those surveys and focus groups. Introvert insights for the win! Changing organisational culture or policy can be challenging and often requires patience. Perhaps your team is hesitant to adopt a new approach, or your boss is skeptical about introducing more flexible travel policies. Give them space to voice their concerns and get acclimated to the changes.

  1. Create a flexible policy, such as a total daily rate for each city

We’re more likely to see great work culture when companies have a travel policy that adapts to individual needs. While the BROs may prefer to have a larger food per diem to spend on wings, perhaps diminutive Purl prefers higher-end accommodations. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit Purl, and it probably doesn’t actually support all of the BROs either. When companies develop a total daily rate for each city — which factors in cultural and geographical nuance — they give travellers decision-making power. It’s a win-win: employees have a better overall experience and companies keep travel rates within budget. Additionally, this sort of flexibility can improve engagement with your program and policies…a win-win-win!

  1. Ensure you have the right tools in place.

Word travels fast at B.R.O. Capital. Purl hadn’t even gotten off the elevator on her first day before all of her colleagues’ cell phones were buzzing, telling them there was a new kid on the block. While technology isolated Purl, it can also be a powerful tool to keep your employees connected and empowered. Flexible travel policies need to be supported by flexible tools. Make sure your people are able to make their own travel decisions (within policy) with a platform that can support their mode of work. Road warriors need to easily change travel plans while they’re on the move, which means they need a tool like the Egencia booking app that puts the power in their hands. As Niklas Nordström, Strategic purchaser at Attendo said of his travellers, "[they] expect the same service whether they book online, offline or on their mobile. The booking process needs to be quick and easy."

  1. Use existing work culture to roll out change.

While she initially struggles, Purl eventually uses humour to fit into the office culture and ultimately to help change it. Through her plucky enthusiasm and adaptability, she was able to ingratiate herself to her colleagues. Ideally, teams are receptive to change, and the responsibility to adapt doesn’t fall on one person. Still, if you’re trying to shift to a more flexible policy, it’s helpful to be sensitive to the current climate. If your team is more serious, you could leverage what works and share the new travel policy in a standard memo. Alternatively, if you’ve got a playful workforce, you could create a short, funny video to unveil it on your intranet, much to the delight of your colleagues. Whether you’re a vivacious ball of yarn in a company full of investor BROs or a travel manager in a fast-growing company, Purl can provide great insights. As you consider your travel policy, remember that flexibility, combined with opportunities for traveller feedback, can help employees stay engaged and committed to the company. Read more on why diversity and inclusion matter to your fast-growing business in our white paper What growth hackers know about business travel.

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