Guest blog post by Anna Szabolcs
International business travellers (IBTs) are often used as a cost-effective way for multinational corporations to take care of international business, without having to relocate an employee. Small and medium-sized enterprises increasingly join in the global competition and are making use of IBTs. However, very little research has focused on IBTs in this specific context. The current blog post introduces five main recommendations to manage IBTs in small and medium sized enterprises. These are based on my Master thesis, which was conducted in the context of Odense Robotics cluster in Denmark, taking both the employees´ and the employers´ perspective into account with interviews and a survey.
Recruitment and selection
Setting realistic expectations and fostering self-selection should guide the recruitment process of IBTs. International business travel can be an attractive part of a job for some candidates, but undesirable for others. Moreover, having the right technical skills does not equal to performing well in an international environment. Therefore, using personality assessments and tests aiming to screen the candidates´ cultural awareness is essential to ensure strong performance. These practices will allow the organization to attract the most suitable candidates and eliminate the threat of having to repeat the expensive recruitment process over and over again.
Training and development
IBTs often lack appropriate training and development opportunities. One reason is the nature of their job, which leaves little room for planned preparation or training. On-the-job training is a good way to overcome this issue. It could be done in the form of mentoring, where the mentee can accompany the mentor – for instance, a senior employee – on his/her trip to acquire new skills. Furthermore, as IBTs need to adjust to different cultures continuously and promptly, cultural awareness training should be incorporated into their work routine.
Contingent pay and reward
IBTs’ compensation can be a tricky question for the organisation as their working hours are very different from the 9 to 5 office hours. They usually work while in transit and also in the evenings at their hotel room. Consequently, companies shouldn’t just offer base salary that incorporates the expected amount of travel or pay overtime. They should offer a detailed compensation package to help IBTs understand how they are rewarded for their extra effort. Furthermore, companies should aim to govern the employment relationships of IBTs with a contract that sets out the clear terms and conditions of the employment. It is important to clarify the obligations and rewards to foster the IBTs’ commitment to achieve the businesses’ goals. However, monetary compensation is not the only option. IBT lifestyle can take a toll on one´s personal life. Allowing some reasonable time off after a longer period away could be a good alternative to paying overtime. It can also prevent burnout and reduce work-related stress. Furthermore, intrinsic incentives can be an effective way to increase commitment and create a work environment where people feel inspired to put their best effort forward.
In small and medium-sized organisations performance management can be considered unnecessary since the size of the company allows closer working relationships, where feedback can be given on a daily basis. However, a formal performance appraisal system that is specifically developed to evaluate IBTs can help to shape the attributes needed for them to successfully perform their job. It can also help to understand the costs and benefits of the IBT assignments and reinforce the organisation´s goals.
Travel management is one of the most important and essential ways an organisation can offer support to IBTs. Taking care of travel logistics frees up time that the employees can then spend on the job. Using an external company could be one (cost-effective) solution to take care of the organisation´s travel management needs. In connection to the travel itself, companies should consider allowing an upgrade to business class, especially in the case of long-distance flights, to enable IBTs to be ready to work right after getting off the plane. Providing decent accommodation where IBTs can enjoy a good night sleep is also important to facilitate high performance.
IBTs could also benefit from support with their workload and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It is recommended to set up a deputy system when possible, to help IBTs with their daily tasks while they are away. State-of-the-art equipment should be provided to enable IBTs to complete work on the road and keep contact with their home office and their family during the business trips. Furthermore, companies should offer flexible working hours, family-friendly practices and in general pay attention to their employees´ work well-being to help IBTs deal with the potentially stressful traveling lifestyle.
SMEs can use these five recommendations as a guide and choose what to implement based on individual needs. It can provide start-ups with some useful ideas to think about their HRM practices regarding IBTs as well as help more established organisations reconsider their existing practices, and potentially make them more effective.
Szabolcs, A. Z. (2019). Managing Flexpatriate Assignments in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. Master thesis, University of Southern Denmark.