Some companies have unlimited travel budgets, but most do not. Every flight, hotel, business dinner is scrutinized and limited in many corporate organizations. And we’re not even talking about business class travel expenses.
Basic travel is not cheap. If you’ve ever bought a pint or bottle of water on a layover in an airport, you’re probably nodding your head right now.
When I started in my first corporate employer branding job (it was called social recruiting back then), I was working remotely from Austin, Texas for a global company headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The sourcing team I worked most closely with, was also remote but some of them worked near HQ. They would drive into the office once or twice a week for ‘face-time’ with the teams they supported, as well as to occasionally see each other.
I was told that there was no travel budget for me to come to the home office.
It was my job to research and represent the culture, to articulate it, and to respond as the digital face of our recruiting brand. But I couldn’t spend any time experiencing the culture in the space that the company provided for employees. You read that correctly.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I sought out every opportunity to talk with my co-workers. I hosted monthly social media lunch and learn sessions (in part) to feel connected to the team, and even pioneered video calls at the time so I could see their faces. Most of them had video turned off, because they weren’t comfortable showing their remote workspaces, and were only used to simple conference calls. Fun fact: half the company couldn’t even access social media channels.
I even drove for three hours one-way at my own expense, to the nearest satellite office in an attempt to talk to employees face to face. Needless to say, I was not set up for success in this role.
Flash forward almost ten years, and video conference calls are the new normal. We see our global co-workers in their natural habitats as they work from home, as well as via video cameras in each of our corporate offices. Our visual appearance on video, even our facial expressions and posture are part of how we communicate.
But there’s still something missing. Back when I started my current role as an employer branding leader with a growing team supporting global initiatives, I had let most of my activities and thinking revolve around corporate HQ. You’re probably thinking, didn’t he go through that?
It’s easy to do what’s easy. And subconsciously thinking like everyone was on the U.S. central time zone was very easy to do. And then I started hiring more people on my team and traveling globally for our creative projects, video and photoshoots, and social media training.
Workdays and Time Zones
There’s something that you discover when traveling for work. First, it’s the jet lag that knocks you for a loop. Depending on how far you’ve gone, that has varying effects and copious amounts of coffee helps. A little.
The real challenge in the time zones is not simply the precious overlap in the day when your team is also working at the same time. It’s the length of the working day. Remember that while you’re sleeping, they’re having meetings, working on projects, responding to emails, updating documents. So when you start your day, your inbox is full of messages, questions, and decision requests.
This means that in order to get things done, many people work outside of so-called normal working hours. It’s especially the case when you’re traveling away from your regular time zone. You wake up in the hotel, go into the local office and savor the face time with your team and the people that you support. You work a long, full day, and then something happens around 4 pm when the coffee no longer does the trick. You start to see emails, chat messages, and tags from the home office. Your workday is much much longer now. Then you realize that this is normal for your team members in this office, and you start to appreciate them even more.
There’s something about breaking bread across a table with your workmates. As basic as it sounds, it really does help you relate to them as more than your co-workers, but as fellow humans. We’re all facing similar challenges and fears, we all struggle with time management, and most of us want to be inspired in our lives outside of work. That’s why those five minutes at the beginning of meetings are so important. To ask how everyone is doing, complain about the weather, or talk about their kids. It helps us relate to and appreciate each other.
Which is why when I travel, I plan at least one meal out with my team members. More if the schedule allows. Not to go all fancy with the expenses, but to spend time outside of the office, being human with the people whom I respect and (yes) actually like. The time rocking the microphone at a karaoke bar in Tokyo (you know who you are) or the time you missed your taxi and walked two miles back to the hotel in Hyderabad, in the dark. It’s that time together that you can’t replicate through a video screen.
When you’re traveling for a conference or workshop like the Talent Brand Summit in London, there’s even more incentive to make lasting connections. It’s these relationships that you’re going to need when you get back to your office.
I usually plan what I’ll get out of a trip before I book any travel. This helps me justify the expense, and be the most efficient I can be. The other benefit of traveling for work is that you get to see your plans, your preparation, and your hard work in action. You also get to see when all of your best intentions don’t work out. Most of the time, it’s how you communicate that isn’t understood or received. Other times, it falls apart when your plans (which were often created in a vacuum) collide with the actual office or cultural environment. Local culture eats good intentions (and employer brand strategy) for breakfast every day.
Why should your boss approve your employer brand travel?
Because they want you to understand and represent the authentic culture of your company. Because they want you to connect with your team and help them develop themselves personally and professionally. And because they want to see your attraction plans and employer brand strategies actually carried out as you intended. That’s how you know what you’re doing is actually working. It’s the culture, it’s the connections, and it’s the quantifiable data that help you be successful as a global employer brand leader. It also helps to word your travel request carefully.
If you travel for work, count yourself lucky. But always, always remember…what happens at karaoke, ends up on Facebook.
About the author: Bryan Chaney is a global talent branding and attraction strategist. He’s a co-founder of the Talent Brand Alliance, and the Talent Brand Summit event series. He’s worked at IBM, Twilio and currently leads employer brand for internal recruitment at Indeed. Bryan has worked in recruitment, technology, and marketing, providing him insights into the marketing of hiring, the importance of technology and the buying process that candidates make when applying for jobs.