I used to travel a lot for work when I was in the Air Force. We called it TDY, which was short for temporary duty. At one point I was traveling 3 or 4 days each week, at least 3 weeks out of the month. In this assignment, I was Director of Operations for a squadron. I kept 60 people all moving in the same direction to accomplish our mission. It was amazing to travel to all those places, but it’s definitely challenging keeping a team focused when traveling. I found these four business travel tips effective when leading from the road.
Last week we talked about some tips for leaders when taking some time off. Those tips were mainly about disconnecting effectively. This week we’ll focus on staying connected, but some tips from last time are still valuable in this case too.
Business Travel Tip #1 – Prepare Your Team
Have a plan before you depart, just like when you’re heading out the door for vacation. Make sure you know who is handling each of your responsibilities before you go and make sure they know! Get that positive handoff we talked about last time. Make sure they know where to find all of the information they might need to make a decision. Delegate authority to make decisions while you’re gone and be clear what they need to contact you about. Provide a way for your team to reach you in an emergency. Just like last week, discuss what constitutes a real emergency so they don’t contact you over every little thing that pops up.
Business Travel Tip #2 – Stay Connected
Tip #2 is to stay connected. This is a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago. Back then even with a cell phone and Blackberry, it was challenging to communicate and get information to make decisions. You couldn’t really read attachments on a blackberry, coverage was spotty and public wi-fi was rare. It’s a lot easier now with cloud storage, smartphones, and video chat. Take advantage of all of the tools you have at your disposal to connect and communicate with your team. If you’re not using these tools and you travel a lot, consider trying them out next time you travel.
Business Travel Tip #3 – Stay Engaged with Your Team
Staying connected is about more than just using the latest tools. There’s some time management that goes along with it. Plan time during your trip to connect with your team members. You may not need to connect each day with everyone, but checking in while traveling is a good practice. You may be uniquely suited to solve a problem for your team because you’re in a location where you can address the issue face-to-face. I know how tiring travel can be. The last thing you want to do make calls or read email after traveling all day, but the insight you’ll get from your team can make your trip even more productive. It’s okay to be selective with what you discuss with your team. If it’s a conversation that can wait until you get back, it’s okay to say so.
Business Travel Tip #4 – Use Downtime Effectively
Travel is almost always an exercise in hurry up and wait. Flights get delayed, we wait for cabs and ridesharing. There’s always a few minutes here and there to take care of little things. I will usually triage emails and do social media engagement when any time I’m waiting. This downtime is great for taking care of quick little tasks that often fall by the wayside. If you know ahead of time that you have a longer period of downtime, you can plan on doing a larger task. You can even use this downtime to engage with your team to answer their questions or give them some guidance.
There you go, 4 tips to help you lead your team while you’re traveling. Nothing is ever a perfect solution and these aren’t substitutes for being at home face to face with your team, but these 4 tips can help you stay connected and engaged with your team while you’re gone and I know they’ll appreciate it!