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HR Hotline: are you ready for the sharing economy?

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Having enjoyed the convenience and value-for-money of sharing economy services – such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb – in their free time, many people now want it replicated in their business travel. But is your business ready for this growing demand?

One quarter of UK business travellers used a sharing economy, or peer-to-peer accommodation provider such as Airbnb in 2017, according to a survey carried out by Egencia. It found another 44% were considering using this type of accommodation in future trips.

Richard Freke, Managing Director of Bristol-based HR consultancy H2R Selection, says: “A sharing economy will enable a more engaged workforce and allow organisations, specifically HR teams, to move with an ever-changing environment.”

Growing popularity

The sharing economy looks likely to extend its reach into all aspects of travel. Airbnb founder Brian Chesky has said the business is considering launching an airline as it seeks to transform itself into a travel conglomerate.

Such sites are also investing and adapting their policies to woo the business travel community. There are signs this is working – in a poll of 243 travel buyers by the Business Travel Show in February, 58% of respondents agreed that alternative accommodation and transport providers are a good thing, up from 37% one year before.

Policy review

Demand from employees to use sharing economy services is prompting HR and travel managers to re-think their policies on expenses and business travel more broadly.

Caryl Thomas, director of The HR Dept Cardiff, an outsourced HR company, says: “For Uber, you would have to consider, who owns the account? How is it invoiced? Do you pay upfront or do you pay afterwards?”

HR policies will need to adapt to address these questions on a case-by-base basis. Changes may also be needed to reflect changes in the way people claim for expenses after using sharing economy services. H2R Selection’s Richard says: “I would say that either one person declares the full amount, or the amount is divided between the parties – either way extra diligence will need to be taken to make sure that the expense isn’t submitted twice or multiple times”.

Things to consider before your staff start using sharing economy services:

  • Consider how these services will be expensed – who will pay the upfront fees?
  • Communicate which companies your staff can and can’t use
  • Make clear any specific service restrictions (e.g. no booking tree houses on Airbnb)
  • Clearly state to staff the rate guidelines for booking sharing economy services
  • Outline to staff key safety guidelines (e.g. checking for verified credentials)
  • Check your insurance adequately covers staff using sharing economy services

What do employees want?

HR professionals should learn what their employees want and then assess the feasibility of using these services, balancing convenience and lower cost against their duty of care.

Richard says: “It is important that the policy is fair and consistent, and communicated to all.”

Corporate travel management business Advito advises HR policies should make it very clear which suppliers – and in turn, which of their products – travellers can and can’t use. For example, cloud computing business Salesforce’s policy encourages use of Airbnb’s business-appropriate accommodation, but doesn’t allow travellers to book tree houses, boats or shared apartments.

Advito also advises that policies include rate guidelines, stating how much employees are allowed to spend on accommodation per day, per city.

Duty of care

Safety comes first in HR policies. When using travel providers like Uber or Lyft, employees should know to remain alert, checking that the name, photo and license plate on the app matches the driver.

Variations in local laws and regulations governing sharing economy services across different countries will need to be checked. Due diligence becomes more complicated when using sharing economy services.

Safety precautions should be communicated to employees before they begin travelling and be reviewed as necessary.

Caryl says: “Ultimately HR has to be the moral voice of the organisation and keep employees safe.”

This may mean insurance policies also need reviewing. Richard of H2R Selection says more bespoke insurance solutions might emerge to cater for larger groups sharing business travel and accommodation.

Regular reviews

The changing nature of services offered by sharing economy providers means expenses and travel policies will – more than ever before – need to be a work in progress.

Of course, sharing economy services aren’t for everyone. They won’t for example have always the same amenities that a hotel can offer – such as late check-in, an on-site fitness centre and a concierge.

Caryl says: “I think the use of sharing economy services will increasingly become an issue as demand rises as we move closer to Brexit and companies potentially feel the pain a bit more.”


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Mariette Ferreira

Mariette Ferreira

Mariette heads up marketing at FairFX. She loves travelling, scuba diving and South Africa, but she's yet to combine all three in one.

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