Most of us in A/E/P or environmental consulting firms who are at project manager level or higher must travel occasionally. The probability that you will have to travel increases the larger your firm is, the more offices you have, the more specialized your services are, and the higher up you rise in the organization’s hierarchy.I travel a great deal— last week, I made flight arrangements for 14 upcoming trips! So I thought I would share my insights on how to make traveling as painless as possible for your family back home, for your employees and partners, and for yourself:For your familyCall home daily. The more you call, the less likely it is that your family will forget about you or be bothered that you aren’t always there. And try to call at a good time— not always five minutes before you have to leave for dinner with a client. Calling in the morning before everyone heads out can be nice, if your family gets up early enough. Talk to the kids, too. Of course it’s important to talk to your spouse or significant other. But if you have children, don’t forget about them. Ask how their day went. Listen to their problems. Stay in touch with what’s happening in their lives when you are gone. Make sure you take care of what needs to be done before you leave. Whether it’s fixing the broken hot water hose for the washing machine, or taking “Junior” out for a new pair of ice skates before hockey season starts, do what you have to do for the family before you hit the road. I always try to be sure my wife’s car is clean and has a full tank of gas, that the gardening shed isn’t a mess, and that my dresser is cleared off before I go. I also make sure to communicate with my kids’ teachers if I’m going to miss an open house, or their coaches if I’m not going to be at a soccer game. Consider using an online computer information service for family e-mail. This requires you to have a laptop and your family to have a home computer, but it is one more way for you to be closer to them. Have the kids fax you their latest art project. Respond to your spouse’s request for evenings that you will be available to go out to dinner with your friends. Give the kids help with their homework questions— all from afar. Come home in a good mood. Your family will want to see you if you come home and act like you are glad to be there. Pitch a fit about the bike left in the driveway, or the fact that your spouse hasn’t called the yard service to clean your gutters yet, and the whole family could be in for a rough homecoming. For employees and partnersWelcome new employees to the firm with a personal phone call if you can’t be there. This five-minute call always goes a long way toward making a newcomer feel that you care about them— especially if you are on the road when you do it. Don’t leave without going through your in-box and responding to what you have to. Nothing is worse than the person who leaves without responding to an important request for information or feedback, or without making a necessary decision that can hold up the work of other people. Take care of this stuff before you leave. Maybe then you’ll also be in a better position to respond to the crises that will hit you when you come back. Make sure that anyone who needs you can track you down. Our receptionist always knows what hotel I’m staying at, what my flight arrangements are, and what phone and fax numbers I can be reached at. This makes it possible to review proposals, approve invoices, or whatever needs to be done from the road. Call in frequently. Call in at least twice a day if you can. Get a portable cellular phone if you have to so you can call from the rental car shuttle bus or while walking from your airplane gate to the baggage area. Frequent communication allows you to deal with the things that come up without having them build up while you are gone. For yourselfTravel light. Heavy suitcases, too much paper, and too much stuff can make travel awful. Get a good garment bag and pack it light. Bring only the papers you’ll need and throw them in your computer case so you can leave your brief case at home. Send big things (tradeshow booths, 20 copies of a report, etc.) on ahead via UPS or Fed-Ex. Get a wheeled cart or integrated cart/bag instead of breaking down your arches holding 40 pounds on a strap from each shoulder. Don’t over-schedule. Don’t feel compelled to always leave on the 6:00 a.m. flight that requires you to get up at 3:45 a.m. Perhaps the 8:30 a.m. flight will make the trip a lot easier for you. And don’t think you’ll impress anyone with Herculean feats like going to 17 offices in a row without returning home once in a ten day period. I know some people working in A/E and environmental firms who actually work like this— and it’s crazy! Don’t feel like you have to work constantly. Sometimes even you need a break. Don’t work on every airplane trip. Read the book you brought along (and it doesn’t have to be a business book, either). Watch a movie. Sleep. Talk to the guy in the seat next to you. We all need some down time so we can do our best during the up times. Eat right/rest/exercise. This is easier said than done. But you will probably feel a lot better if you do a few simple things: don’t eat airplane food; don’t drink on planes; skip the hotel breakfast buffets unless it’s to grab some melon and juice; take a dip in the hotel pool before you go to bed or when you get up; and get a decent night’s rest if you can every day. Use cabs instead of rental cars. It’s always less stressful if someone else is doing the driving, not to mention oftentimes faster. Unfortunately, the era of satellite video conferencing through 3-D holographic images isn’t here yet. That means you can look forward to— at least for the next few years— the prospect of business travel. Don’t dread it. Instead, get yourself prepared to minimize the negative impacts it can have on your family, your firm, and yourselfOriginally published 9/25/1995
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