Finnish business travel won't return to pre-Covid levels, survey finds

Nearly all of the two dozen companies at the top of the Helsinki stock market said they planned to reduce the amount of money and time devoted to business trips, compared to before the crisis.

Image: AOP

It appears very unlikely that Finland's business travel will return to pre-Covid levels, according to an informal Yle survey of more than two dozen of the country's top-listed companies.

Yle asked 30 firms listed at the top of the Nasdaq Helsinki stock exchange about their plans for the future. A total of 25 replied to the survey, with nearly all of them saying that, looking ahead, they are planning significantly less business-related air travel than before the Covid crisis began.

Nearly half of the companies estimated that business travel and related expenses would be 20-40 percent lower than before the global pandemic.

Faced with coronavirus-related recommendations for remote working, employees began working from home and used video conferencing to even take care of things like production and technical issues. Meanwhile, video chats were also used to replace business trips, a practice the majority of companies said they plan to continue.

Video conferencing will continue to be used for routine internal meetings, according to many of the companies, including energy firm Fortum, where it's expected that business trips will decrease by as much as 30 percent compared to pre-Covid times.

Remote meetings work

Eveliina Dahl, Fortum's human resources VP, said regular meetings, and even ones concerning big projects, can be conducted remotely "very well."

Similar sentiments came from Hannu Mäntymaa, the president and CEO of Wärtsilä, which among other things is a marine power service company that serves customers around the world.

After the pandemic, the company began to remotely monitor activities of ships in faraway places like the coast of West Africa from Finland.

"[That] means we can monitor and support customers remotely without having to send service engineers to support customers," Mäntymaa explained.

The company estimated that after the pandemic finally subsides, business trips abroad will be about 20 percent below pre-Covid levels.

Wärtsilä manufactures and services power sources for the marine and energy markets around the world. In addition to meetings, the firm has remotely carried out engine testing, maintenance as well as inspections.

Responding to whether remote meetings could replace ones that previously required travel, the vast majority — 13 of the companies— said they could do it "rather often." Six said "occasionally," four firms said "often" and one company was "unable to answer the question." Just one company said that could "never" happen.

"Sometimes it is good to meet"

However, there are situations that call for face-to-face encounters, according to many of the companies, including insurance firm Sampo Group communications manager, Maria Silander.

"Especially when meeting new colleagues or key stakeholders," she said.

In-person meetings are considered by telecom firm Telia to be important in boosting community spirit at the company, but business trips at the company are expected to decrease by 20-40 percent compared to before the crisis.

"Sometimes it is good to meet. Creative cooperation and community-building gatherings will certainly be the main reason for business trips immediately after the coronavirus [crisis] ends," the company said.

There are benefits in cutting down business travel, including saving money as well as time spent on the road, in airports and in the sky, according to Fortum's Dahl.

"If you travel to [Central] Europe twice a week, it means you have to wake up early in the morning and the week's rhythm becomes a challenge. So, between that and efficient uses of time, it's important to avoid travel," Dahl said.

Similar opinions were heard from chemicals company Kemira.

"We especially invest in the well-being of our staff and this applies to travel now and in the future. Constant travel is difficult and stressful," the company said.

Another side effect of reducing business travel is reducing carbon emissions, an effort in which many of the companies are committed.

Financial service firm Nordea said reducing travel was one of the ways it is meeting its emissions targets. By the year 2023, the Nordic bank aims to reduce its 2019 level of carbon emissions by 30 percent.

In carrying out its informal survey, Yle asked 30 companies with the largest market capitalisation on the Helsinki Nasdaq stock exchange at the end of August about the firms' post-pandemic international business travel plans.

A few of the companies ended up being excluded from the survey due to essentially operating exclusively domestically.

The survey was carried out during the second half of September.