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    Remote-working expenses: from business travel to home-office equipment – how tech can make life easier

    With business travel expected to pick up and home working set to continue, companies need clear policies on expenses. That’s where expense processing apps can help manage employee expectations

    Two friends enjoying a cup of coffee as they sit at the table near the window.
    As we emerge from the pandemic, businesses will need to create new policies for remote working, claiming expenses and business travel. Photograph: nortonrsx/Getty Images/iStockphoto
    As we emerge from the pandemic, businesses will need to create new policies for remote working, claiming expenses and business travel. Photograph: nortonrsx/Getty Images/iStockphoto
    David Benady

    Last modified on Wed 6 Oct 2021 12.02 BST

    As the pandemic recedes and staff trickle back to their offices, they will find a very different world of work. Employees will have to make a whole new set of decisions – when and where they work, how much time they spend in the office and at home, whether to work with non-vaccinated co-workers and customers – and for some, whether to start business travel again.

    Staff are likely to feel uneasy and unsure unless their employers can give them clarity about where they stand on these issues. Any confusion risks eroding employee satisfaction and could lead to decision fatigue, frustration and ambiguity over their role. If employees get fed up, their productivity will suffer and they may even look around for another job.

    As Ryan Demaray, managing director of small and medium businesses, EMEA at SAP Concur says: “If businesses are to win the recovery they need all of their people in the boat, fired up and rowing in the right direction.”

    Our studies have shown that 65% of employees don’t even know their company’s expense policy

    Businesses will need to create a whole new set of policies that clarify the rules for remote working, claiming expenses and business travel. Demaray adds: “Our studies have shown that 65% of employees don’t even know their company’s expense policy with regard to what they can expense and what they can’t. It is a problem when employees don’t understand what they are allowed to do, creating uncertainty, fear and doubt.

    “Employees don’t know if they can order that monitor for their home office. Or if they are allowed to go for coffee with someone to discuss work – can they claim expenses for that? If they are not clear, they may just avoid it and just have a Zoom call instead.”

    Low angle view of confident Asian woman checking emails on smart phone, riding an escalator, commuting to work.
    Employers will have to give staff extra guidance around business travel for the foreseeable future. Photograph: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

    New remote working rules being laid down by companies include, for instance, allowing staff to work from home indefinitely but requiring that they stay within a two-hour travel time of the office in case they need to be called in for specific tasks.

    On the question of expenses, many organisations will probably exclude travel to the office if staff need to attend a meeting, but they would include business travel. Businesses will also need to decide which types of home equipment staff can claim expenses for. Who pays for a mobile phone upgrade when that device is being used as a work and personal tool, or buying a new desk for the home office?

    Demaray says the complexities of these policies can be overwhelming for staff who often end up not claiming their full expenses for fear of falling foul of the rules. But technology can help solve some of these problems. Expense processing apps on staff mobile phones can clarify the situation by automatically telling employees whether an expense claim is valid or not. This tells them what is and isn’t allowed and enables them to work within the rapidly changing rules. Apps and software can also keep staff apprised of the rules on flexible working.

    SAP Concur software for managing expenses can help companies make big bold decisions with employees at the centre, and deliver technology in ways they are familiar with - on their mobile phones. Staff simply take a photo of an expense receipt on their mobile, upload it to the Concur Expense app, add the details and the app will tell them if it falls within company guidelines. This allows the company to get what it needs, while employees have certainty and clarity to do what is needed to achieve those goals.

    Four in five think their professional and personal lives will suffer unless they increase their business travel this year

    One area where businesses will have to help staff with difficult choices is in business travel, as concerns about Covid safety will have a huge impact on the trips staff are prepared to take. A study by SAP Concur across 25 markets found that staff are eager to get back to business travel. Some 96% of the 3,850 business travellers interviewed are willing to travel for business once more, while 65% actively want to. Four in five think their professional and personal lives will suffer unless they increase their business travel this year. For others, it is hard to achieve their business goals without face-to-face contact. But executives are concerned about hitting the road when Covid infection rates are still high in many markets and there are fears about new variants.

    An unrecognisable man typing on his phone in his home office.
    Many employees have been looking for new jobs and new avenues of career development in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic. Photograph: FreshSplash/Getty Images

    The survey found that business travellers have high expectations of their companies when it comes to travel. Some 89% expect their company to protect their health and safety while travelling, with 46% wanting to be allowed to choose their own accommodation. More than half expect to be allowed to choose direct flights, and 41% want to be allowed to stay in four- and five-star hotels, with 39% demanding to choose premium seating while travelling, such as business class.

    Business travel has been hit hard by the pandemic, with spending falling by 52% last year to just under $690bn (£500bn), down from $1.4tr in 2019, with the US down 79% and western Europe falling 77%, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA).

    The GBTA report forecasts a rapid bounce-back though, with business travel predicted to grow 21% in 2021 and by even more in 2022. But many expect domestic business travel to come back before international travel, which will remain restricted as concern about Covid continues.

    With so much change and disruption during the pandemic, many employees have been looking for new jobs and new avenues of career development. Staff shortages are common across the economy and businesses are under pressure to retain staff.

    Companies must make life easier for their staff and give them clarity over the coming months. That means providing employees with easy and seamless ways of working flexibly and clearly laying out the rules surrounding remote working and claiming expenses. Technology will help bridge the gap, offering software and mobile apps that keep staff updated on the latest changes to company expense and employment policies. Staff are the most important asset a business has. They deserve the best.

    SAP Concur solutions help automate finance processes to free up time for staff, provide insights into spending and future-proof your business