The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are your strategies for staying effective while working remotely?” is written by Phil Schraeder, president and chief operating officer of GumGum. He is not an investor of the companies mentioned in this article.
As the president and chief operating officer of a company that has operations in multiple countries, my “office” is often an airplane seat, the backseat of an Uber, a hotel room, or a random coffee shop.
I’ve come to accept that. If you have the mentality that professional travel disrupts you from your regular routine, workflow, and meetings, you’re going to constantly feel displaced. The trick is to embrace this disruption and find ways to work with it, not around it.
Here are some of the ways I work effectively when I’m not at our office:
Assemble a set of ‘road warrior’ tools
I use Evernote to take notes and keep track of essential details across my computer desktop and mobile phone. I carry a tiny mobile hotspot with me wherever I go. My team knows they can securely message me on WhatsApp wherever I am in the world. I always check with my wireless provider in advance regarding voice and data roaming options in foreign countries.
I also never leave home without a laptop privacy screen, which prevents anyone but the person sitting in front of a laptop from being able to see its screen. That way if I have to work on something confidential, I feel more comfortable doing so in open areas like airport lounges, or in close quarters like airplane flights. Search for “laptop privacy filter” on Amazon; you can get a good one for under $40, and they weigh just an ounce or two.
Build room for error into your travel itinerary
Travel delays and cancelations happen—all t time. There’s often the temptation to be cost-conscious by, for instance, flying into town the same day as a meeting. But think of the incremental cost of a night-before hotel room as a form of insurance against the chance that your unexpectedly delayed arrival may throw off not only your schedule, but everyone else’s.
Building some buffer zones into my travel itinerary is also, frankly, a coping mechanism. It offers me a chance to hit “reset” upon arrival, whether that means having time to get in a workout at the hotel gym or grabbing dinner with friends if I happen to be in a city where I know folks.
Set expectations before leaving town
Standard operating procedure for some road-warrior managers is to disappear for days and then, when they get back, act annoyed and disappointed about what didn’t get done while they were gone.
There’s a simple way to avoid that cycle: Meet with your team prior to leaving and set imminent goals and expectations regarding essential projects. Managers should never take for granted that some team members rely on being able to find managers in the office to get a greenlight or a gut-check. Before you leave, think through the possible roadblocks and discuss “if/then” scenarios with the team.
Stick to your regular meetings
As best I can, I stick to my regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings while traveling—I just do them by phone or Zoom, a video and web conferencing service. This makes clear that I’m always willing to make time for my team. I try to remember that many of my meetings—especially one-on-ones—are a chance for team members to get clarification, talk about what they’re focused on, and figure out how to work through challenges we didn’t anticipate. The need for that dialogue doesn’t go away just because I’m in New York, Sydney, or Paris.
That said, one-on-ones are helpful for me too. Sticking with them even when I’m on the road not only helps me maintain a pulse on all the projects in progress, but keeps me from having to play a massive game of catch-up when I am physically back in the office.
I know that a lot of people treat work trips as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for standing meetings. And in a way it seems only fair that if you’re going to be having all these other meetings on the road, you should be excused from some of your regular meetings. But canceling your regulars just ends up spreading the sense of travel-related limbo and displacement to your colleagues back at the office.
In the end, the key to being an effective road-warrior manager is to remember one of the basics of management: It’s not about you, it’s about them.