Checklists can be a powerful tool to help us make wiser decisions when complexity is high. Checklists enable us to act and make decisions based on facts and considered perspectives rather than leaving our decision-making to unreflective thinking based on old habits and out-of-date defaults.

Checklists can improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts just like checklists have improved aviation, healthcare, construction, and investment banking for decades. Time has come to use a checklist to make wise decisions about business travel. Let’s be deliberative and certain that traveling and showing up in-person is actually the best course of action and not the automatic way we approach work just because that’s how it used to be done.

Why change the business travel default

During the pandemic lockdown, business travel mostly stopped and we found alternative ways to connect and conduct business. As we move forward having to live with the COVID-19 virus, we have a chance for a catapult change mindset to innovate on business travel.

Never has a review of travel been more needed (see the urgent call to climate action in the UN report). Consider these facts: Just 1 round-trip flight London-San Francisco has more than 2x the yearly emissions of a family car and just 1 round-trip short flight London-Berlin produces 3x the emissions saved by a full year of recycling. And this is just one flight! Think of how many flights we and our colleagues took in the year before the pandemic. About 30% of flights pre-pandemic were business trip related with many not really essential but instead were the default for how work was done. Business travel also was often at premium prices accounting for about 75% of airline profits and 66% of hotel profits. According to the Global Business Travel Association, corporate trip expenditure in 2019 was 1.43 trillion USD.

Heavy business travel was certainly a reality for us (Tinna & Lisa) up until January 2020. It was not unusual for us to spend less time with the client than we actually spent in travel time. This had a toll on us, our families, and the environment, and potentially was an unnecessary expense to the organisation. In the lockdown year of 2020, Amazon and Google each reported savings in travel expenses of 1 billion USD. This type of savings (on different scales) has no doubt been seen in many organisations around the world over the past 1½ years. At the close of 2020, experts were predicting a permanent 36% cut in business trips, and this continues with an August 2021 survey of business executives in the U.S., Europe, & Asia reporting an 84% reduction in travel going forward and another global survey of CEOs and executives citing that a reduction in business travel is likely to be a permanent legacy of the pandemic. So, it seems that we’re on a path of a more sustainable approach to work travel, doesn’t it?

But still business travel is starting to creep back

We easily can revert to past patterns without thinking about it. We are influenced by factors such as a return for some people to office-based work and an overall feeling of pandemic fatigue coupled with a confidence from high vaccinations rates in some countries. A yearning for back to ‘normal’ can mean a return to traveling to offices, in-person team meetings, visits to clients’ sites, attending in-person trainings, conferences, sales events, and more. Still, the travel uptake rate is slow for now. For the remainder of 2021 in the U.S., business travel is predicted at only 30% of 2019 levels.

We are still within a window to apply what we have learned about how to work without traveling. We can change how we work going forward.

Making deliberate and wise choices

We are not saying that there shouldn’t be any face-to-face meetings involving travel, but we do want to make sure we are aligning our intentions for a more sustainable approach for ourselves, the organisation, and the world.

Interrupt a return to old ways of working

To help interrupt an automatic return to the old ways of working and default business travel, we have developed a checklist to help guide transparent information gathering, to check in on actual needs, emotions, and aid decision-making on business travel. This can be used by both people with external and internal roles when requested to travel.

How to use the checklist – together

We encourage that the checklist be used by both the person making the request and the person being requested to travel, and then have a joint discussion sharing each other’s responses for an inclusive, collaborative decision-making process.

The Inclusion Nudges Checklist for Business Travel

Version: October 2021

1. Start with a ‘no-business-travel’ default!

Why? What is the behavioural science insight?

Defaults are powerful determinators of our behaviour because we blindly follow the default and it’s very difficult for us to deselect and opt-out of a default because it activated our loss-aversion bias (when we want to avoid losing and missing out on something). Equally, it can be very difficult to opt-in on something new because the unconscious mind, which is controlling most of our behaviour and decisions, has a preference for the familiar, the usual, and the recognisable patterns. Business traveling still goes in that category because it’s been the norm much longer than no traveling due to pandemic lockdown. Default design is a very effective behavioural design to change norms and un-reflected decisions. In this case, default design is used instead of asking people to opt-in on a new norm, such as ‘business travel is not needed’, and also instead of asking people to opt-out of a familiar norm, like ‘business travel is normal’. It’s important to make ‘no business travel’ the default. Now, the decision has to be made based on arguments about ‘why business travel is needed’ and not the other way around. Such behavioural insights designs will make a crucial difference.

2. Create a checklist

Here are some questions, arguments, factors that you should consider and discuss with your collaborators and/or ‘requestor’. These are suggestions you can use when making your checklist.

We will for sure use these ourselves to make sure traveling for business actually is a necessity and not just a habit and stuck assumptions.

Checklist questions:

Is business travel optional?Yes/No
Is business travel an explicit request?Yes/No
Do I just assume business travel is needed?Yes/No
Did I tell the ‘requestor’ that my default is doing ‘the task’ online/remote?Yes/No
If they deem traveling ‘essential’, did I ask for the reasons?Yes/No
Do I agree with those arguments for the need to travel for business?Yes/No
Did I ask the following questions:
– If lockdown were still in place, how would this work be approached without travel?Yes/No
– Has that been done before?Yes/No
– If so, how did it go? How could it be done even better (still without travel)?Yes/No
– Are the current tech platforms being fully used to enable doing the work without traveling?Yes/No
– Are new tech solutions needed?Yes/No
Write the answers here and consider them as part of the final decision.
Do any of these arguments make the case for me traveling?Yes/No
– Meeting in-person is needed to start up this collaboration.
– Meeting in-person is the only way we build trust.
– Meeting in-person is needed to build strong relationships.
– We can only idea-generate and innovate new solutions by being in the same room.
– We have to be in the same location to be able to collaborate and make good decisions.
– Seeing and hearing you give your keynote talk in-person makes it more effective.
– When you give a talk in-person it’s more entertaining and inspiring for other people.
– I don’t like working online/remote (I feel incompetent, I feel lonely, I ….).
– I get a better understanding of other cultures.
– I can visit family/friends at that location.
– I love traveling.
– [Add other reasons…]
Did I share my arguments for why business traveling is not needed?Yes/No
Does the collaborator/boss/other have the power to decide on my behalf?Yes/No
Can I walk away from the job/task if I do not agree on the need for travel?Yes/No
Am I willing to walk away from the job if I do not agree?Yes/No
Are there negative business/career implications if I don’t travel?Yes/No
– If yes, write them here and consider them as part of the final decision.
Are there negative physical and mental health risks/implications to myself,
my family, and to others if I travel?Yes/No
– What are the needed protection health logistics for travel? Write these here.
Facts – I also need information about:
ENVIRONMENT:
What form of transportation will be used?
Are there ways to maximise the trip to include other work (and thus reduce the number of future trips)?
What’s the estimated environmental cost and impact for this travel by me and all others traveling for the in-person work?
How does the organisation’s commitments to the climate, UN SDGs, sustainability, etc. shape the travel policy and approach to work?
EXPENSE:
What’s the estimated cost for travel, not only for myself but all participants for the in-person work?
Will the travel requestor cover all health expenses associated with the trip (i.e., tests, masks, potential quarantine requirements, cancellation penalties, etc.)?
Is there an extra bonus paid to the person who agrees to travel? If so, what is it?
How much could be saved by not traveling? What are two ways that this money could be used differently (instead of on travel)?

My final test: I mentally walk-through the travel and the work from ‘door to door’/step by step. 

Make a tick mark on paper each time I register a feeling or thought of discomfort, concern, and/or questioning as I do this mental travel. Afterwards (when I have mentally returned home), count how many concerned times (marks) I registered as I pictured the travel & in-person experience. What did I notice?

Some final reflective questions to inform my decision:

  • Does my decision to travel/not travel for business feel right?
  • What do I personally loose by leaving home for this business trip? What do I gain?
  • How do I personally feel/think about doing this trip?

Closing Notes:

Thank you to Michele Wucker for sharing her insights and strategy. We have incorporated these into the checklist.

We share this business travel checklist with you and would like to hear how you use it. Also, please join us in continuing to evolve the checklist. Send us your inputs: contact@inclusion-nudges.org

Want to read more about checklist designs?

We recommend this book: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

See these Inclusion Nudge checklist designs:

List Pros & Cons to Counter Biased Evaluations in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and in Inclusion Nudges for Talent Selection

Checklist to Balance In-Group & Out-Group Opportunities in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and in Inclusion Nudges for Leaders

Checklist to Mitigate Heterosexism in The Inclusion Nudges Guidebook