With less than eight weeks to go before I have my third baby, I'm taking a break from business travel, which means forgoing speaking opportunities, missing conferences, and moving some in-person meetings to video calls.
Coincidentally, I'm not the only one thinking twice about nonessential business trips: Companies like Google and Amazon are restricting business travel to China because of the coronavirus, officially called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Depending on how this virus spreads, it may affect travel to other countries as well.
How much of a threat the coronavirus is internationally remains up for debate. You can use this moment to reconsider your company's business travel policies, though -- there are plenty of other reasons why requiring employees to get on a plane can be more harmful than beneficial.
Flying can make you sick
Coronavirus aside, there are a lot of germs your employees can pick up in all that recirculating air. That means getting on a plane can lead to lost productivity in the form of sick days. According to a recent report, sick days alone cost U.S. employers "60 cents for every dollar employers spend on health care benefits." Not to mention that even without sickness, the jet lag itself is exhausting.
Talent is likely one of your biggest assets as an employer, so keeping that talent healthy and rested has a direct impact on your results. It's not just good to care about your employees' health; it's also good business.
Business travel takes a big toll on parents
Asking employees with kids to travel puts a burden on them and their families. For employees without partners, finding and affording overnight child care for multiple days can range from challenging to impossible.
Even for parent employees who have support, business travel means precious time away from their children. At my company Winnie, one of our core values is work-life balance. We have found this value not only helps us attract talent, it also helps us retain employees.
Air travel is wasteful in more ways than one
As a leader you need to be thinking about the impact you're having not just on yourself and your company but also on the world. Airplane emissions are increasingly harmful for the environment -- a recent study concluded that "the rapid growth in plane emissions could mean that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world's carbon budget."
Flying isn't just having a negative impact on the carbon budget. It's also impacting your real budget. Traveling can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per trip. Compare that with a videoconference that is free or nearly free. For small companies, this cost is meaningful, and for larger companies, the cost adds up over multiple employees.
There are plenty of benefits to reducing your company's reliance on air travel. It shouldn't take a global health crisis to make us question our business travel policies and take a hard look at whether the benefits are worth the cost.
As for me, my reduction in air travel during pregnancy and post-birth has never had any noticeable negative effect on my business. I can focus on local speaking opportunities, and have videoconference meetings that are just as effective as in-person ones. In addition, by limiting travel as a company, we are able to save money and have better work-life balance and overall health -- all things that have helped us build a sustainable company for the past four years and counting.