Travel is part of any executive’s life. When we reach a certain level of responsibility and seniority, it becomes essential to manage our teams across the world, to connect with clients, to manage shareholders and to expand our company’ global reach.
Travel enables essential face to face connection, a great source of pleasure. After all, why are we in business if not to connect and build great projects with other people? Travel is both a great business enabler and the path to great connections.
But it is also very disruptive in our lives on so many levels:
Planes and trains all have terrible air.
They are bug infested environments.
They force us to sit in uncomfortable positions for hours.
Plane/train food is dreadful microwaved CRAP with no nutritional value.
Sleeping upright or at strange angles is NOT conducive to peaceful rest.
You are away from your home base and loved ones.
Let’s face it, no matter how nice hotel staff is, they don’t really care about you.
In summary, travel is exhausting, sometimes very lonely and can be terrible for your health.
So how can we fundamentally rethink business travel? Here are a few ideas I implemented at the worse of my travel in a fast growth tech company when I was at my peak of happiness in the firm and really balanced.
Start the day with warm water and lemon followed by a healthy smoothie.
When I first started traveling, I followed the lead of my peers: "take the first plane available departing at 6 am to arrive for the first business meeting at 9 am". That means:
1) Wake up at 4 am (which is really the middle of the night and you get so nervous about not hearing your alarm that you start waking up at 3 AM or even earlier);
2) Rush in the dark into a taxi to make it on time for the 5 AM security check;
3) Get on the plane and eat a terrible tasting microwaved pastry, the worse instant coffee, and immediately get a terrible stomach ache;
4) Land with an acid festering bloated stomach, exhausted, cranky and confuse. Grab a muffin and latte at the airport to give you energy.
In those conditions, you are supposed to be in top form to meet a new customer or motivate the troops! But your performance is on par with how your body feels. And your body is feeling terrible! It's full of processed food and bad sugar. It's deprived of sleep, of water, of essential nutrients, of pleasure and of exercise!
Isn’t it better to start the day at a normal hour with a warm water and lemon, followed by a healthy smoothie? Why not share breakfast with your family, then go to the airport, ignore the plane food entirely and arrive at 11 am for your first meeting? Will the 2 hours lost not actually be a productivity gain? My experience has proven so.
Enjoy your time abroad
Another accepted practice of business travel is to pack 18 hour days since we are not with our loved ones. We typically work twice a normal work day and book a hotel as close to the office as possible so that we can leave at 11 pm (having woken up at 4 am that morning), walk 5 minutes and just have room service whilst finishing emails.
The impact: no time off for your brain or body and food digested whilst sleeping which will guarantee another bad night sleep.
And then we repeat this experience until we rush to the airport to get home. We inevitably get sick on the flight and spend the weekend "recuperating and surviving” because we are completely worn out.
The business results are often equally disastrous.
We send signals to our teams abroad that we are complete workaholics, with no respect for downtime or family life, which inevitably communicates to our teams that the same is expected of them. Our discomfort and lack of sleep turns into impatience and snappiness which is really destructive because they have been expecting our visits and really been looking forward to the shared experience and yet all we can focus on is the next cup of coffee to stay awake.
Why not treat business travel as an opportunity for me-time?
Why not leave the office with all the other local employees (and leave the computer in the office), take a stroll, have a run, visit a gallery (wow do something cultural), have a nice dinner on a terrace at a normal hour and then go to bed at a normal time? If you feel like you need to catch up on email, the plane will give you that opportunity.
It's imperative that we respect our bodies, our brains during business travel and let it become again a source of inspiration and shared experiences rather than optimized slavery.
Let’s be happy and successful!