Bill Gates says in-person meetings aren't the 'gold standard' anymore and that 50% of business travel will go away even after pandemic

  • Bill Gates is predicting that business travel and office work won't return to pre-pandemic levels in the future. 
  • "My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away," Gates said at The New York Times DealBook conference on Tuesday. 
  • In-person business meetings won't be the "gold standard" anymore, Gates said, predicting that most companies will have a "very high threshold" for doing those types of business trips. 
  • Many major tech companies, particularly in the tech realm, are reconsidering the future of work. Some, like Twitter and Slack, have said employees may work remotely forever. Others, like Microsoft, after planning to implement hybrid models of work. 
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The sweeping changes we've seen this year to office work and business travel won't go away, even after the pandemic subsides, according to Bill Gates. 

Gates described how he envisions the future of work during an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times DealBook conference on Tuesday. According to Gates, one of the biggest changes to how business is conducted will have to do with work-related travel. 

"My prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away," Gates said.

The type of business travel where it's important to fly somewhere to physically sit in front of someone else to discuss something in person won't be the "gold standard" anymore, Gates said. He predicts most companies will have a "very high threshold" for doing those types of business trips. 

When it comes to working from home, "some companies will be extreme on one end or the other," Gates said, likely alluding to companies like Twitter, who have said their employees may work remotely forever, from anywhere. 

Gates did reveal one downside of virtual meetings versus in-person events: the inability to meet new people. He told Sorkin that he hasn't made new friends this year because he never meets people at random.

"More could be done on the software side to allow for serendipitous run-ins after meetings," Gates said. 

Many companies, particularly those in the tech world, from which Gates hails, are reconsidering the future of work now the the pandemic has shut down the majority of travel and in-office work this year. Twitter isn't the only company who has said employees never need to return to the office: Slack, Stripe, and Facebook have all said employees may relocate away from company headquarters, though in some cases, they'll take pay cuts.

At Microsoft, the company Gates founded with Paul Allen in 1975, employees will shift to a "hybrid workplace" where they'll only report to the office for half the workweek. 

Gates' predictions on business travel line up with research from industry experts, who have estimated that it will likely take several years to return to pre-pandemic levels. According to Bank of America research from October, corporate travel is unlikely to rebound until "late 2023 or in 2024."

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