M obility is a very important driver of our social development. Even in the earliest history of mankind, the development of homo sapiens was associated with large migratory movements. Due to their extremely high adaptability, people in the most diverse climatic zones and geographies were able to survive and were always mobile.
Particularly in the business context, the topic of mobility plays a major role; the company’s own positions or entire departments in the companies that handle travel speak for themselves. Many business appointments are nowadays linked to travel activities of the participants and with increasing acceptance of distributed work the need for mobility increases rather than decreases. The mobility of people and goods is therefore not only a necessary prerequisite for business activities in a modern world, but also an industry in which extensive services contribute to value creation.
On the other hand, our need for mobility is a major cause of climate-damaging substances, and the necessary infrastructure alone can in part lead to massive interventions in the landscape and nature. Our awareness of these causes has led us to long for a “turnaround in mobility” in many areas and, above all, to try to mitigate the negative side effects of mobility by using digital technologies.
What can individual companies contribute to this? A great deal! New mobility starts with each individual. Companies can themselves make a contribution to the cultural change in our understanding of mobility and at the same time benefit directly from new forms of mobility in various places.
One of the biggest annoyances of an increasingly mobile society is the struggle for existing infrastructure. Every commuter knows the situations all too well, the morning traffic jams in the city or completely overcrowded stations and trains. The way to work is therefore not only difficult for many of those affected, but also costs a lot of time.
The question that companies can ask themselves is to what extent the presence of employees is necessary on all working days. Of course, there is no substitute for personal contact between colleagues or boss and employees, but in many cases a face-to-face meeting could also be conducted via a reasonable video or telephone conference.
Particularly among the younger generation, it can already be observed that in many professions the border to private life is becoming increasingly blurred. Nowadays emails are read round the clock, fixed working hours of 9 to 5 are more the exception than the rule. This does not mean that everyone will work more in the future, but many things can be better combined, which was not possible in the past. Accompanying a child to football training in the afternoon and finishing the presentation for the next day in the evening can be a contribution to a good work-life balance.
In addition to the daily trip to work, business trips are real time wasters and require a certain amount of preparation. After all, every well-organized trip brings with it transfer times during which one cannot be productive. The choice of transport mode has a big influence on this.
Let’s consider the real example of a business trip from Frankfurt to Berlin: The domestic flight from Frankfurt Airport with the pure flight time (approx. 55 minutes) is clearly shorter than the trip with the ICE Sprinter (approx. 4 hours). But if you include security checks, boarding, taxiing on the runway and above all the necessary buffer times, you get a total travel time of about 3 hours. This is still a bit shorter, but it has the disadvantage that you can hardly do anything useful because of the short sections. On the train, however, the motto is: get on the train, switch on your laptop and off you go. As a rule, you’ve already completed half a productive working day with it by the time you arrive in Berlin.
All in all, however, you should still critically rethink every trip, is the effort worth the personal meeting? Are there any alternative ways to avoid or reduce travel?
With today’s video telephony, meetings can already be simulated very well. The human being is out to not only hear words, but also to record the corresponding facial expressions and gestures of his counterpart. Even with little technology, good results can be achieved, yet the feeling of personal encounter is still missing. Digital technology will certainly make a contribution here in the coming years if we can move around in virtual meeting rooms in the future and holograms of our conversation partners are projected into the room.
There is also enormous potential for optimisation in the planning of appointments and travel. When arranging a meeting, often only the free availability in the calendar is searched for. However, there is little or no comparison as to when the paths of the dialogue partners will cross in the coming weeks or when they will at least approach each other geographically. If this information were available to a neutral intermediary, AI-based algorithms could be used to calculate optimal travel routes. This leads to a significant reduction in travel times and thus a higher proportion of productive time.
If travel cannot be avoided, the scheduling should be so well designed that it is not only stress-free, but can also take place using the most climate-neutral modes of transport possible. Those who travel by car and do not have to drive faster than 120 km/h on the motorway to keep to their schedule windows will save energy (fuel or electricity). The same applies within Europe in many cases to trains instead of airplanes. Perhaps a massive expansion of good night train services could help to arrive well rested at a destination the next morning and thus save an overnight stay in a hotel. There are no limits to the thoughts at this point.
The challenge for companies in the future will be to reconcile modern forms of work, the reduction of travel and transfer times and climate-neutral behaviour. I see no contradiction here, but a great opportunity. There are several steps along the way:
Define clear communication channels: Which communication channel is relevant for which type of information exchange? Ask BEFORE every personal meeting whether the personal meeting creates added value that cannot be reproduced digitally, i.e. via a video or telephone conference.
Take advantage of the extensive support measures in the field of electromobility and local transport to modernize your vehicle fleet and make bicycles and job tickets available to your employees.
With these measures you can make a decisive contribution to sustainable mobility and perhaps for the first time in human history we will see mobility measured in passenger kilometres no longer necessarily increasing every year.
A change in our mobility behaviour begins in your head and you cannot force your employees to do so. That’s why it’s important to incorporate this into your company if you want to convince people of the benefits of more efficient travel times and climate-friendly mobility. In the first step, no major investments are necessary:
Discuss with your employees what needs exist with regard to mobile working and home office regulations and where they might have to agree new regulations.
Develop communication guidelines to determine transparently when a presence meeting is necessary and when it is possible to switch to other communication channels.
Purchase video conferencing software and use it to communicate with employees and business partners. By default, the first question when making an appointment should always be whether the appointment can also be made online.
Find out more about the support measures for electric mobility, the purchase of company bicycles or job tickets.
Dr. Alexander Bode