Travel for work: the positive stuff

So a while back I wrote this post on travel. This is another post on travel for work but more from the perspective of how good it is for your career. Over the years I have interviewed many people for roles that require some form of travel or another. Many people don’t want these kind of roles. Some do, but many don’t. My hardest sell was for roles requiring lots of travel to India.

Last week I was in Houston (Texas), for work, and I was reflecting on how lucky I have been in a couple of my roles to travel internationally. My first real business trip in my career was to London, travelling business class. That was awesome. I love the perspective you gain from these kind of trips. Experiencing a different part of the business and a different culture. I think it makes you a better leader.

Without doubt some of my best work and career development opportunities have been because I got to travel. The things I most remember were the interactions with people and the things I got to experience. 

Some examples…..

Longest most amazing day ever
While in India where I was doing some HR Audit work (kill me) I got to travel to a little known and remote place called Mundra, located in the upper north-west corner of India.  The landscape resembled roadrunner country and to get there the plane landed at an airforce base. The company I was working for at the time had developed the operation there as well as the housing and amenities for the employees they had to attract to the area to work. The HR Manager’s role went well beyond what you would expect. She was responsible for ensuring employees had adequate housing, providing education for their children, and more.

The longest most amazing day ever started with completing the HR audit at the work location and then going on a tour of the employee housing and the school. Lunch was followed by a long drive, on a road shared with buses, trucks, motorbikes, cows and elephants. Yep. The purpose of the trip was to visit a palace which provided the set for many Bollywood movies and then we had a drink on the beach while camels meandered past. We were invited to meet the Maharaja of Kutch and share a meal. When I finally returned to my hotel room that evening I couldn’t believe the day I had just experienced. I felt that time had been stretched (as I often would feel in India) and I could not have fitted in anything more varied and different to what I did that day. It seems surreal when I now think of it.

What did I learn?
The day was about learning how time is viewed in India (everything will happen in it’s own time) and gave me great insight into companies who provided more than just a job for employees. The leaders of this business were not just managing a workforce, they were managing a community.

As a tourist I would never had such an amazing experience.

Working with team members on the other side of the world!
Probably one of the hardest things in global organisations is developing relationships when you don’t get to see people! Geographical separation coupled with cultural differences mean that misunderstandings can be blown out of proportion and the ability to get things done can be hampered. One company I worked for would have me travel to their overseas head office a couple of times a year for 2 weeks at a time and that made a massive difference to our team getting to know each other and being effective. It also gave me visibility to other leaders in the business.

Last week I was at a global meeting (which happened at about the same time last year) and our team were able to continue to build the relationships we had already established. I got to connect with some other corporate people who I had met previously and met some people who I have only had contact via email. I also went to my first Rodeo and saw REO Speedwagon perform. They still got it! I learnt a lot this week and am leaving with a very clear focus and a very tired head. All good.

What did I learn?
Despite advances in technology for communication and collaboration, I just don't think they can beat meeting in person on regular occasions. 

You can always communicate!
By far the biggest learning experience I have had working and travelling overseas was in China. One particular trip I was being picked up by my local contact who didn't speak English. He bought with him a young Chinese woman who speaks about 6 words of English. I speak 2 words in Mandarin and had Charlie with me who was 4months old and still being breastfed! I flew into Guangzhou not knowing what Hotel I was staying in but also knowing that I was having dinner with a group of Chinese people who also didn't speak English. Who would do this?
It helps that the Chinese love babies and children!

It turned out to be a great dinner and trip. We all seemed to be able to communicate over a meal and Chinese wine and these people left the young Chinese women to stay with me in the hotel so I would be safe. I'm really not sure how much use she would have been (seeing as she was half my size and we couldn't really communicate) but it was a kind gesture.

The next morning my interpreter joined me, which meant the standard of communication improved, particularly on a business level. In the end it was a successful trip.

What did I learn?
Speaking the language is really just one way to communicate. There are many other ways and strangely on this trip I think relationships were built during the times we couldn't use language to communicate. These were often over meals, which seems to be a universal way to build and strengthen relationships, no matter what country you are in.

So what's the point?
Travelling for work can be hard. It messes with any sort of routine, it's very tiring and can be difficult if you have children that need care. If you can work with all these challenges then the difference it can make to your career can be massive. Don't rule it out!