2024-01-26

The 5,000-Mile Work Week: Rethinking Expenses for Hybrid Super Commuters

Emburse Data Insights
Male business traveler at a station looking at his mobile phone

We look at how different companies approach travel expenses for employees that have moved away from their pre-pandemic office.

We’ve all heard stories about employees commuting extreme distances to comply with return to office (RTO) policies after relocating during the pandemic. Deciding what to do with these “hybrid super commuters” has raised new questions for companies already struggling to institute effective RTO policies — especially around their long-haul expenses. Should employees be responsible for their commutes, even when it’s a case of trains, planes, and automobiles? Or, since they’re requiring employees to return to work in person, should companies treat these extreme commutes like any other business trip?

We can’t tell you what RTO policy will be right for you. Still, we can tell you how most companies are handling these expenses: 56% of employers reimburse travel and meal accommodations for their employees who live outside of the daily commuting range to an office. 

That’s according to the latest Emburse data, which reveals how far employees are willing to go to maintain their work-life balance. A survey of 120 Emburse customers found that some employees travel as far as 2,500 miles each way for their weekly office visit, with 13% of hybrid workers commuting 4,000 miles round trip every week. 

Research has consistently shown that healthy and happy employees tend to be more productive, engaged, and likely to stay at their jobs and recommend their workplaces. Flexible work arrangements, like the ability to live and work remotely (at least part-time) from their preferred locations, are a major source of employee happiness and engagement.

Because healthy work-life balance has such substantial business benefits, it’s perhaps an encouraging sign that companies are willing to support these extreme commutes. In our survey, 56% of finance departments placed no cap on meal expenses within policy, 63% had no limit on in-policy mileage or ground transportation, and 65% allowed uncapped compliant hotel or airfare expenses.

This data reflects the transition towards more flexible, employee-centric expense policies and a wake-up call felt around the country. This is the new reality of work. Employees don’t want to compromise on their hard-won livelihoods, and employers don’t want to go completely remote. Companies who wish to retain productive, engaged employees no longer have a choice — they need to support their work-life balance, even when it comes to those taking more extreme measures to do so. 

Here’s How Your Peers Are Taking Action on Hybrid Traveler Expenses

Businesses now need to shift focus towards ensuring they can afford to meet the expectations of modern hybrid workers. Without robust expense control methods and comprehensive visibility into employee spend, they will lose money along the way. Implementing an expense solution typically pays for itself within a year. 

As flexible working arrangements become more deeply rooted in our culture, hybrid companies may need to redesign expense policies and controls to cater to the needs of a dispersed workforce — and to achieve more visibility and control over expenses. Examples of this includes re-evaluating and establishing new policies on expenses central to the hybrid work model, such as mileage, hotel stays, and even software subscriptions.

Need some advice from your peers on how to better control and manage hybrid expenses? According to Emburse customers who participated in the survey, here's what works. 

Streamlining expense reporting 

Without a clear hybrid expense policy, employees may not understand what is or isn’t acceptable to be company-paid - especially if it’s different from an organization’s standard business travel policy. That can lead to out-of-policy purchases, which take additional time and energy to reconcile. 

Channeling these expenses through virtual corporate cards can help reduce out-of-policy spending and the extra reconciliation work associated with it. Traditional corporate cards need more proactive budget control, meaning rogue expenses are often only discovered after the purchase. 

Virtual cards allow companies to set up-front policy controls and usage limits (such as approved vendors, purchase categories, budget, and time restrictions). They auto-approve in-policy purchases at the point of sale and seamlessly submit transaction details to the ERP system. That prevents any conflict from denying out-of-policy expenses and saves time for employers, approvers and finance team members alike when submitting and approving spend. 

Because virtual cards can be generated instantly, it’s easy to equip hybrid employees with corporate cards without increasing overspending or fraud. And, because virtual cards automatically incorporate expense policies, you can issue new cards in a few clicks should your expense policy change to accommodate hybrid workers.

Finding the right spend control solution for hybrid super expenses 

Now more than ever, businesses must adapt their expense policies to remain in control of spend while supporting their employees' changing needs. To ensure financial visibility and compliance across T&E, companies need a solution that makes expense management simple. Emburse expense and travel solutions make expense policies easy to implement and update if business rules change — like lifting mileage restrictions. 

Emburse delivers the agility, flexibility, and efficiency required in the new era of hybrid work, ensuring finance teams and HR departments can focus on what matters most: driving business success.

How could your team benefit from Emburse? Request a demo today and see for yourself how easy it is.

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