Rethinking Business Travel: Voices from ImpactFest 2023

ImpactFest 2023 was a great place to experiment with the ‘Brainy Bunch on Sustainable Business Travel’ infographic. The test at ImpactFest was to see how professionals at different organisations think about drastically reducing emissions by innovating the way they meet online and transferring power to local experts. The participants of the focused group conversation were intrigued by the topic and image, expressing a genuine interest in finding ways to develop a more sustainable business travel behaviour. 

I want to travel and at the same time, I want to make sure I do it right. How much should I cram into a trip? Are all these workshops, networking worth my car emissions?

The Roundabout Format

Six professionals joined the Roundabout at table 6 in the Fokker Terminal, The Hague. The ImpactFest format is that  participants place a chip on the topic of a mindmap that they would like to talk about. The group starts with the topic with most chips. In this case, the mindmap was replaced by the infographic and small plastic penguins were used in stead of chips. The professionals wished to dive into ‘Transfer Power to Local Experts’ and ‘Revolutionise your Online Meetings’. In a second round ‘Take the Train’ was put on the agenda.

Transfer Power to Local Experts 

The discussions touched upon the concept of transferring power to local experts and colleagues, with recognition of situations where it’s feasible and where it might be more challenging:

‘At one point in time, we opt for a writing workshop in-country, which means that two people fly in and that we have everybody, all the partners that are involved and all the colleagues that are involved in that particular proposal come together in that particular country to discuss that. There is quite some added value in that approach because of making the linkages and also translating it back into requirements that are required from, in this particular case, a European donor, while having the proper context of the country and merging those two. Fully transferring and leaving the European perspective out is a bit of a stretch right now. Perhaps in the near future, let’s say, next five years, but not now as it is.’

Proposal writing and including the European and global perspective can be done in an online format. Combined with in-country meetings run by a local experts. During the pandemic there have been several examples of this. It would be interesting to learn if the results of a program that was developed without travel are different from a program where the European perspective was present at the proposal writing phase.

‘Transferring power is not possible if you are hired by the head quarters of a company or organisation that is based in the Netherlands. If I would have to trade my power to the local, I would basically have no business.’

‘Remote alternatives really have a possibility to democratise work and open the job market for those that would have otherwise been left out.’

At the table, there were only Europeans present. Later on, the Infographic was also commented upon by people from Egypt and Southern Africa. On ‘Transfer Power to Local Experts’ they shared: ‘This is exactly what we need!’ and ‘When I make a point, someone from my country is much more inclined to take it seriously than when someone who does not fully understand the context makes the same point.

Revolutionise your Online Meetings 

There was a rich exchange on the potential of online meetings, recognising the benefits, challenges, and the effort required to make them effective. Participants considered how to optimise or develop online formats for specific purposes and align them with meeting rhythms.

      Why I find revolutionising online meetings so interesting is because I feel like there is more to take from this.

‘I feel like so often we are not properly reflecting on how we work. We oftentimes just do work and work how we always have done it. But there’s not a deep reflection on how to do it better.’

‘You have to be mindful on ‘when do we meet?’ What outcomes do we want at what point, where do we see meeting rhythms aligned to this, and what are the desired meeting outcomes? Not just on a project level, but really on interpersonal level also. Then saying, Okay, for this meeting, would it be more definitely beneficial to be in person? Does it really require being in person?’

‘A lot of more preparation has to go into online meetings. On-site it is much easier for me to wing it. But once done, everything can work quite well.’

‘If you know how to steer relationships in different formats, I think whether you travel or not, you manage to blur the lines in a way that suits that context.’

‘While there is a clear distinction between in-person and online, there doesn’t have to be a loss of quality of connection. It is connecting in a different way.’

Fly less, not possible yet?
‘If you take too long and you’re in the online format, you may reach the point where it feels like it’s going down. People lose the touch, so you have to keep the momentum. If you can’t keep the momentum, you should have a point where you re-engage physically. But that’s that.’

‘Two months back I went to Tanzania for a large meeting that we had globally. I also saw and felt the necessity or the added value that it brings that we’re having all those people in five days together in one room. In the room and then also at dinner, at breakfast, evening meetings, which you don’t have because when you shut down your Zoom, you’re out. It’s done’

‘The values of in-person meetings are about connecting people on the ground. About actually getting those experiences of how is it for small farmer in their location. Their challenges might be X, Y, Z, and I thought they were ABC. I think we need to understand really well what the benefits are of going in person. What are really the benefits? What can you really capitalise on here? I can’t tell.’

‘When you go on a business trip, you go very short. Why not make it a little bit longer also to really get to know the country, to go a little bit deeper than only your work?’

Take the Train 

The conversation delved into the practical challenges associated with train travel, acknowledging the potential benefits while recognising the current limitations and discussing the need for improved infrastructure and better pricing mechanisms.

‘In an ideal world, the train would be great. But in most areas, it’s either expensive, it’s either in construction, it’s either too slow.’

‘There’s a night train that goes from Basel to the Netherlands. I took it a few months ago and I forgot to book the bed suite.’

‘You don’t plan your appointments. No. The appointments are made for you because you need to attend a meeting that is scheduled on be there at 9:00 in the morning. Okay, great. Once you’re preparing for your trip, you come to the conclusion, Okay, I can get there by train, but it’s going to be quite difficult with also connections and then you need to take another train, another train. That’s one thing. Then by plane, you get there instantly in that sense. Then you are tempted to go for the more polluting option.’

‘You can also say, I pay for something which is more sustainable. That’s fine. If we now will get a proper ticket price for a plane ticket, then at least that part is no longer an issue.’

‘To have a European, well-connected network of night-trains would be a game changer.’

The goal of ImpactFest 2023 was to establish successful and meaningful connections. Now it is up to you!

You can integrate the insights on revolutionising online meetings and transfering power to local experts into your work, redefining how you connect and collaborate to build a more sustainable and impactful professional landscape.

With Brainy Bunch, you can turn your online meetings into powerhouses of innovation and engagement. We are reshaping the future of online collaboration through sample sessions, meeting format development, consultation and training. This makes it possible for your organisation to reach your goals while flying less.

In January 2024, we are offering three free assessments in which we give concrete steps how you can maximise your impact and minimise your carbon-footprint. Book your seat for a 1-on-1 assessment now.

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Jobien Hekking

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