Fifteen years ago, American Express Global Business Travel set up its first work-at-home employee in Canada. These days approximately 86% of American Express GBT’s Canadian travel counsellors are home-based, says Jacinthe Ladouceur, Vice President and General Manager, American Express Global Business Travel, Canada.
“In the past two years we have put a strong focus on moving the majority of our travel counsellors to virtual working,” says Ladouceur. Home-based working has been a win-win for American Express Global Business Travel and its customers in Canada, she notes. “Our travel counsellors say they enjoy the increased work-life balance that comes with working from home. Diminished commute times give travel counsellors the flexibility to focus on their work and family, rather than spending upwards of an hour in the car during the harsh Canadian winters. This has led to some of the highest levels of job satisfaction across our company, and our organization is now rich with stories of travel counsellors who can more easily make their kid’s soccer games and manage school carpools.”
GBT has also been able to realize cost savings through a reduction in real estate costs, as well as costs relating to staff attrition, which is now significantly lower than average call-centre attrition rates, she adds.
There are benefits for customers too. “As a company we are now better equipped to manage travel disruptions than ever before. Travel counsellors across Canada means 24/7 coverage for all time zones in English and French. We can now leverage our available resources almost immediately, rather than factoring in commuting time when planning our response. In the home-based model, our virtual workers have the flexibility and willingness to quickly jump online to support increased call or email volume in busier periods. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a bus or metro disruption – there is no impact on our servicing.”
The home-based model is also making it easier to attract top talent across Canada, says Ladouceur. “Virtual working also means the talent pool from which we can draw now extends across Canada, as we no longer require candidates to be based within commuting distance of our offices.”
It can be a challenge to ensure employees who have never worked full-time within one of GBT’s offices have a true sense of the company culture. Ladouceur says she recommends every company have robust plans in place to ensure travel counsellors feel integrated within the company and have access to seamless communication before switching to a home-based model.
“Every one of our employees, whether in-office or home-based, uses the same desktop, phone and office amenities to ensure consistency across the organization,” she says.
“We also use regular calls, web conferences, video messages from leaders, instant messaging, and online team building exercises such as group trivia sessions, to help employees to work effectively and also connect with one another in a professional and social manner.
“In Canada, we will also invite our employees to CityHub meetings, where they have a chance to meet up and socialize with other travel counsellors while attending face-to-face meetings with suppliers and tours of new accommodation options. In addition, we still support full-time office-based working when it makes sense for the customer, business and traveller counsellor.”
American Express GBT employs each of its Canadian travel counsellors. It’s not a host agency, and agents are not running their own businesses. But the benefits of home-based work are tangible, she says.
“We are committed to offering our customers exceptional customer service. Employing a mostly virtual workforce has allowed us to offer our customers with ‘always-on’ service. By employing our own Canadian traveller counsellor team, we have been able to leverage the benefits of integrated technology and a seamless corporate culture, ultimately translating to a better experience for our business travellers.
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