The crazy antics of Steve Martin and John Candy came to mind this morning as I was driving to the airport for the second time this week. Today’s trip was a one day “in and out” venture that would see me get out of my car, get onto an airplane and then disembark and take the local train from the airport to our office in Vancouver. Tis evening I will reverse the process arriving home somewhere around 11PM this evening. Planes, trains and automobiles, albeit in the wrong order, twice in one day.
I do love to travel, but i usually think of travel in terms of vacation and leisure! In some ways I love business travel as well. I do really like the opportunity to get to know the character of different cities … there’s much to learn in this. History, culture, geography,customs, food, etc. I especially love business travel when it involves heading to one of our offices in another city as it provides the best opportunity to truly connect with people at a “real life level”. There is also a feeling of being able to contribute more in a location you visit only occasionally.
However I think the balance of business travel is towards the side of being more difficult than pleasurable. Especially after something in the range of 75 flights this year (and this pales in number to some of the road warriors out there). The tedium of airports, lugging luggage, finding one’s way in new places, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, lacking all of one’s own “stuff”, and having full choice over one’s diet. Then there is the lost time at home to keep up with all the things we need to do to make our lives run smoothly, and perhaps adding that burden to our partner’s already busy lives.
Above all that, though, is the biggest personal challenge of all … being away from friends and family. Sometimes I’m not really sure of the toll that being away takes on these relationships. With family there is always the nightly call home to catch up and share “I love you’s”. But that never replaces the intimacy of being together … It is lacking in some way. We miss experiences and the opportunity for little joys is greatly diminished. Friends often go completely by the wayside during busy times. I can admit to getting more than one “are you still alive?” text or email this year. Extended family can often fall into some form of this latter category as well.
There is a price to be paid in our home office as well. Our routines are there, and people may have dependencies on us. When we are away from those a debt of sorts builds up that we feel a need to address. Which means that without support, we may find ourselves tending towards adding hours to our day when we return and therefore placing more strain on personal relationships.
While some road warriors do this by choice and truly enjoy the rhythm of this lifestyle, many people I talk to (and I’m proud to say most are outside of the organization I work for) say that they feel that they feel that this is expected of them, that it is the price of success and a well paid position. They shoulder the burden without overt complaint, understanding “that’s the way things are done around here”.
How can we approach this differently as leaders?
My first thought is with regard to frequency of travel. For those team members who travel infrequently, the novelty may be a reward and hence I think it is important to recognize that and use it was such within the bounds of affordability and necessity. Perhaps we can find ways to distribute the travel load from those who tend to travel more and thus feel it is more of a burden.
For frequent travellers, do we recognize the burden appropriately? Do we treat travel days as just another work day for them? Or do we recognize evenings and time spent in airports and airplanes as work time as well? Do we allow compensating time off or give control over work hours to these frequent travellers? Do we reward the partners of these road warriors for the extra load they shoulder, perhaps a gift card to a spa or a restaurant, a bouquet of flowers, or a gift basket? Are we having conversations with them on how to travel less, work remotely, use technology, shift responsibilities within their team, etc?
I’m blessed to work in an organization that gets this. We are empowered to do any of these things for our people. As a growth-based company the demands for travel are high, so we are consciously working to reduce them. At the same time we are a people first culture with offices in nine cities, so the value of face-to-face interactions and a need to gather as a team is fully recognized. The trick is in the balance of these things.
Are there any road warriors amongst you? What are your experiences in this regard? What tricks do you have to reduce either the frequency or strain of travel? How do you support team members who have a heavy travel burden? I’d love to hear from you!