“Happy New Year – We Made It!”

While we likely have never expected to greet a colleague with the excitement of simply having survived a year, it seems that everyone came back to work after the holidays with the same sentiment. We always have the ambition of making the new year “better than the last”, but for 2021, that goal has a lot more weight to it.

That being said, 2020 was also the year of change. The year of getting out of our ruts. The year of reexamining how we do things and seeing if there might be better or different ways to accomplish those things.

Cornerstone CEO Mat Orrego put it quite succinctly:

“As a team leader of Cornerstone 2020, while challenges were many, the joy of working with dedicated and caring people made it worth the effort.  Too often, we lament that which was — but with a different perspective and a squint of the eye, and we see a whole better way to be better. 2020 is the year that defined the business for the next ten years of successful ventures.”

To emphasize his point, Orrego wrote an article for The Company Dime that had been nicknamed “Pivot or Perish” as a working title while we edited it and went through drafts. In it, he asserts that:

“History has taught us that “big” ideas emerge from crisis, and these ideas become accelerants to confront difficult choices that were easy to push off during better times.”

And that’s precisely what we’ve already been seeing. From virtual conferences and meetings to the rise of live streaming as a common source for corporate content, the business landscape is pivoting. And things that couldn’t keep up (movie theaters for example – Cinemax filed for bankruptcy back in April 2020) are slowly perishing.

Adapting To The “New”

Cornerstone EVP Laurie had to stop her busy travel schedule just like many others all over the globe and immediately lamented not being able to travel anymore. But as businesses have cautiously begun returning to the practice, she’s already noticed some positive changes.

“I truly miss traveling and have been so excited to have been able to travel four times from July to now.  Planes are super clean – they look brand new!  I’ve done two car road trips this fall as well, so I have experienced hotels in different locations.  Hotels and airlines really seem to be doing their part.  The travel industry is resilient as it’s an industry that gets hit hard when there is a disaster – like 9/11 and now the pandemic of 2020.  People have a need to be with others, see different places, get out and that is why travel will be back…just taking longer than anyone would have imagined!  

Cornerstone hosted a webinar at the beginning of the pandemic that dissected the travel industry’s initial response to COVID and how it would recover. The most wonderful part to come out of it was seeing the entire industry band together to get all of our travelers home. There was this communal heroism from the start, and in many ways that have yet to fade.

Cornerstone’s Customer Services Facilitation Manager Jenny noted that “2020 made me realize that my team has my back … This year, I saw first-hand that my co-workers came together to show support, to provide grace when things are difficult, and added extra hands when things needed to be done.”

Not only did people come together to solve problems, but some companies also began really appreciating their strengths. Jenny went on to examine this:

“Even when the industry was at its lowest activity, customers still were interested in our solutions.  While things were much slower than in previous years, there was no doubt that projects were still in motion and customers needed our expertise to implement a tool.  Our team learned how to back each other up better and train others to assist when things got overwhelming – flex and shift has a new meaning!  But we did it — we made it through with pose and determination.”

Filling niches paid dividends for companies poised to fill the new gaps. Video meeting apps boomed (Zoom stock saw a 665% stock increase), digital conferences became mainstream, and everyone downloaded either UberEats or DoorDash in place of going to restaurants.

For Cornerstone’s clients, it meant a new appreciation for automation. Our Survey On The Future Of Travel Policy results showed a clear shift. Before the pandemic hit, the most prominent features requested in a policy automation tool included the enforcement of compliance with company travel policy and approvals. Post-pandemic, we saw heavily weighted priorities also include automated ways to communicate traveler education on both safety protocols and return-to-work requirements.

Most importantly for us, the priority of having an automated software solution for traveler communication and approvals had increased and was rated as “very important” by the vast majority of respondents.  Cornerstone immediately went to work on our own COVID response in the form of an automated Risk Messenger program. Learn more about this solution here.

Looking Forward

Obviously, adapting to the “New” is a long process, and humans are still social creatures despite staying relatively sequestered for almost a year now. This basic fact is what keeps us confident that travel will return in force as soon as the COVID threat has passed. Cornerstone Senior Advisor for Product and Marketing Tom summed this feeling up in his interview:

“2020 made me realize how important business travel truly is. While video conference calls are functional, it’s harder to get to know people and see what gets them excited, what makes them tick, and build trust without being face to face. As much as I used to get exhausted going to and from the airport, I really missed the face-to-face time and the conversations that start with “hey what if” that seem to happen when you pop into an office or are sharing a beverage.”

Laurie added “I’m also thankful for technology and our ability to adjust and work from home and do school from home — although, I’m ready for a little less technology at the moment. I would prefer to see people in person than on web cameras!”

Whatever the next year has in store for us, we can at least be reassured in the fact that our industry has survived this crisis and will only climb from here. Humans are a nomadic and social species; travel is in our DNA. While there is no doubt that the landscape has changed – web calls are far too convenient to go away any time soon – we at Cornerstone are excited to see how the recovery progresses and how quickly we can all get back in the air.

It was also refreshing to have sat down as a company and thought about what we learned in 2020. While it might be easy to fixate on the negative situations, analyzing the year as a whole was a valuable exercise. We realized how much we had learned and how much we had come together as a team. We also are excited to get to work solving current and future travel automation issues – those that were highlighted by the pandemic, and those that will certainly arise as a part of the new landscape of the travel industry.

Happy New Year – We Made It!