You are the one with the great lifestyle but, on the road, lousy interpersonal communication with those back home will compromise everything you have accomplished. Be cavalier about it and you will lose your colleagues and your customers. Because you are on-the-fly and often in different time zones, it’s up to you to make up for the obvious negatives: When traveling, you are not available for one-on-one/face-to-face conversations and therefore you have a substantial decrease in office-cachet. (It’s amazing how much blame one can receive when not available in the flesh to defend oneself.) And, more to the heart of the challenge, it’s just more difficult to coordinate with those rooted in their home turf. You must counter these deficits by being a hyper-proactive communicator.
These guidelines suit the office-bound too. I recommend you share these parameters with your co-workers and customers. This list can serve as the basis for a “contract for communication” in which all parties understand the expectations of everyone else. Tweak it to suit your particular needs…and especially remember to see your communication process as a recurring system that will improve with time if you use glitches as red flags for improvement. -sc
- Clearly inform your colleagues/clients back home of your limitations and expectations. They have agreed to deal with you despite your traveling lifestyle but must know your patterns in order to know what to expect. Be upfront.
- Back-home business associates will naturally assume the worst if there is little contact. So, think “frequent communication equals good communication,” and “quantity as well as quality.” Anyone who has extensively traveled knows that distracting time-sucking glitches are numerous and unexpected. Check in with those back home with frequent “all is OK” messages even if things aren’t exactly perfect on your end. (Assuming the worst is actually a very useful management/defensive positioning).
- Most people in the western world expect business to happen between 8-5 Monday thru Friday. For you, working at night may be the price-to-be-paid.
- Keep colleagues posted regarding your location. It helps them gauge things. Back-home people envy your traveling and want to know you are OK. Let them know the time/day difference: “I’m in Hong Kong and 12 hours ahead of you.” Remember that the international dateline confuses things for most people who don’t travel.
- POS (point of sale): Return calls and messages ASAP.
- It’s OK to not have an instant answer to every question, but immediately indicate to the other party when you will have an answer.
- Do what you say you are going to do.
- Make meeting deadlines a quest. If something comes up which is going to prevent a deadline from being met, warn colleagues/clients beforehand. In giving this alert, set another deadline and then, no matter what, meet it.
- In any context, always remember your client or vendor hates prodding you. Be proactive. Stay ahead of things. If you are consistently being nudged to perform, the relationship is doomed.
- From the beginning, get clear about who is in charge of what.
- Avoid emails that scold. Take care of sensitive issues in one-on-one telephone conversations so people can defend themselves or argue a point real-time.
- Use voicemail for longer, drawn-out explanations or messages in which you must convince someone of something. The human voice is a very good thing.
- Give more info than is required. No one can mind-read. Too much info is better than too little.
- Poor communication can ruin relationships. Note the “Communication Formula for Success or Failure.” This equation compares one’s effectiveness to others who provide the same service. Let’s say you are better at what you do than 95% of your competitors(X), but you are average (50%) in your communications quality(Y) because of your traveling. Multiply X by Y and you find you are at less than 50% effectiveness compared to your back-home competitors. (It will be hopeless if you aren’t very good at what you do. Stay home and work in an office. For you, the mobile lifestyle is not going to work long-term).
- If a communication error occurs, it should not happen again. Slipups must not accumulate like toxic waste. Combat this by using errors as prompts for incremental system improvement.
- Know that if you really “get” the systems strategies for operating your business or job (see Work the System, Part 1), you will find most problems will be system-problems, not people-problems.