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Tips for Staying in Touch with the Office While You’re Traveling

Tips for Staying in Touch with the Office While You’re Traveling

When you travel, the key people in your business life carry a range of assumptions about how you’ll communicate.

Some will assume you’ll be pretty much out of the loop until you stride back into the office. Others will presume you’ll pick up the phone or respond to a text message just as quickly as if you were in the conference room down the hall. So to keep communications healthy, you’ve got to do a thorough job of setting expectations.

Here’s a for-instance: When you leave town, many colleagues will assume that a fire has to go to three alarms before they can call you to put it out. If you want to overcome that inhibition, you’ve got to tell and show your coworkers, clients and other key contacts exactly what types of situations merit a call or email.

“People who might walk into your office and share something interesting wouldn’t think to pick up the phone [when you’re on the road] unless it’s an emergency,” says Suzanne Bates, president of Bates Communications, an executive coaching firm. “You have to be the one to take the initiative.”

Strike a Balance, and Set Limits Where Needed

Of course, you also need to let your people know the level of responsiveness they can count on from you. “It can be frustrating for people to leave you messages and not know when you might call back,” Bates says.

Some clients may assume that when you’ve come to their city for meetings at their offices, they own you 24 hours a day. But you can’t neglect communications with the home office or other customers. So make clear to your clients that while you’re in town they’re your top priority but not your only concern.

Many of us do need to give key people a panic button to press in case of an urgent issue, whether it’s a pager number or an inbound phone number that triggers an alarm on a BlackBerry. “People who work for me know that if they have a problem, they can get in touch with me,” says Richard Laermer, CEO of public relations firm RLM PR, whose “bat phone” -- backup cell -- is always on.

Make Yourself Available Frequently, Not Continuously

The secret’s out -- multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Especially when traveling on business, it’s counterproductive to try to do too many things at once, including keeping up with your communications. The key is to communicate at frequent intervals, rather than continuously.

“Check in at least two times a day, midmorning and mid- to late afternoon,” Bates advises. If you consistently preach and practice such a communications rhythm, many of your key people, especially your coworkers, will internalize your pattern of availability.

Another tactic is to write your email and voice mail catch-up time into your daily calendar. “Always plan 30-minute breaks in between meetings for internal communications,” says Karina Goldrajch, chief marketing officer at GenMobi Technologies.

If it’s critical to have a regular status meeting with a few key folks, then calendar it like any other meeting, and keep the appointment religiously. “I have regularly scheduled, weekly meetings with my direct reports,” says Brendan Courtney, a senior vice president at staffing firm Spherion. When he’s on the road, Courtney speaks with those contacts on the phone at the appointed time.

Suit the Medium to the Message

When you’re traveling, folks at the office may prefer text-based messaging (email, texting, IMing) to the phone. That’s not always the best practice when a conversation is required, because the inefficiency of text for an extended conversation can become intolerable when you’re on the road and working 24/7.

So Laermer and other savvy road warriors don’t hesitate to switch communications media to speed things up. “People spend a lot of time on back-and-forth email, versus taking 2 seconds on the phone,” he says.

One more thing: What you don’t need while multitasking your way through a travel day is a bunch of unimportant messages in your face. That’s why you should push back against inappropriate uses of “push” messaging technology. So when the office pest IMs you that your dry cleaning was just delivered to your cube, let him know that he’s all wet.

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