Time Management Strategies for Corporate Travel

Love it or hate it, corporate travel is often a non-negotiable part of running a business. This isn't just true for large corporations with million-dollar travel budgets. Increasingly, business travel is a necessity for small and medium-sized companies, too. In a world where we can connect over the internet with anyone on the planet, sometimes there's just no substitute for working face to face.

These demands put a lot of pressure on travel coordinators, who have to organize everyone's bookings while keeping things on schedule and on budget. When each coworker has a unique suite of preferences --- Bill needs a full onsite gym, Susie wants her airline points --- it's a lot to keep track of.

Fortunately, it is possible to streamline your travel planning to save both money and time. Most people are already clear on money-saving techniques for travel, including rewards cards, airline miles and bundling bookings to get discounts, and you can make this work for your team if budgets are tight. But it's just as important to make sure your team employs time management strategies while they're on the road or in the air. When everyone is on the same page about how to manage their time while traveling, your whole operation runs more smoothly. Communication is easier, and you should notice a bump in productivity as well as morale --- which is sure to score points with the C-suite.

Before You Book: Time-Saving Systems for Business Travel

Planning a successful business trip starts long before anyone heads to the airport or even thinks about booking a hotel. When travel coordinators invest time in putting systems in place to streamline booking and remote work, they earn it all back with the time and frustration saved on every future trip.

1. Keep Communications Consistent

There's no reason to let work grind to a halt just because some team members are away on business. There are almost too many options for keeping in touch, and that can mean time wasted playing phone, text and email tag, especially if everyone has a different preference.

To streamline communication, suggest that managers adopt a business-wide protocol for doing so. Slack is a great choice because it has plenty of tools for collaboration as well as dedicated messaging and chat that can be used from a laptop or a mobile phone. Slack comes with lots of great advice for customizing its tools to your needs. You may also be able to route all of your communications through an existing CSM, or you could simply all agree to text directly or via a messaging app. No matter what you choose, the point is that everyone uses the same system to avoid lost emails and downtime wasted on phone tag.

Once you're all on the same page, put some norms in place about how often everyone is expected to check in. Will you have a deadline for responding to messages? Should out-of-office workers always be "on," or will they check in at certain times of the day? How will you adjust for time zone differences? Travel coordinators can lead the way by gathering feedback after each trip to see what works best. If you're using Slack, a Polly Poll is an easy way to get started; Doodle polls are another solid option.

2. Streamline Travel Planning and Booking

Seasoned travel coordinators know that booking flights, rental cars and hotels is time-consuming. Multiply the research time by several staff members and executives, and you could spend hours each day just searching for itinerary details to make sure everyone gets where they need to go.

Whether you have employees book their own travel or have a go-to person do all the legwork, you'll save time by choosing a single travel management tool where you can book hotels, flights and rental cars. Upside Business Travel lets employees book their own travel to take advantage of their existing airline miles and rewards accounts while allowing travel coordinators to manage everyone's bookings from one dashboard. This saves time in planning and also makes it easy to make adjustments on the go.

3. Centralize Itineraries and Schedules

The travel coordinator isn't the only person who can benefit from having a snapshot of everyone's travel plans. Sharing itineraries and schedules with the team makes sense for everyone, whether they're abroad or holding down the fort at home. A shared Google calendar that shows everyone's travel plans and meeting schedule is a great way to keep everyone informed.

For example, knowing that Debbie is in Dubai and John is in Johannesburg will make it easier to plan a conference call or check-in time with realistic expectations. You'll also be able to see at a glance the best time to schedule a quick conference or text chat by looking for an opening that works for everyone instead of wasting valuable time going back and forth on a group email to schedule something. A robust calendar app also takes the guesswork out of time zone calculations, so be sure to share it with everyone.

Time Management During Travel

With systems for booking and communication taken care of, you've set the stage for more productive business travel. But travel coordinators can also become real leaders in the workplace by helping coworkers get the most out of their trips. Consider sharing these tips with your whole team to help make their jobs a little easier. You'll be helping leadership and traveling coworkers alike by helping the entire workforce get the most value out of every minute.

Pro Tip: Share out the link to this blog post in an email blast, or adapt the following tips to your next company newsletter.

4. Always Have a Plan

When it comes to business travel, the nuts and bolts of your bookings isn't the only thing worth planning. According to time management expert Brian Tracy, "every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution." In addition to noting flight times and hotel check-ins, encourage travelers to schedule their entire day while traveling. Large chunks of time will be spoken for in the form of meetings and meals, but they can schedule important tasks, phone calls and email time in the slots in between.

The trick to effective planning on the road is to make the schedule as detailed as possible and to include a list of everything needed to execute your tasks. When living out of a suitcase it's easy to get scattered, so travelers should write down the tools they'll need throughout the day. This will allow them to effectively pack a briefcase or tote with the right paperwork, laptop or other supplies to avoid being caught unprepared.

Pro Tip: Make sure that downtime is part of the plan! Research has shown that rest breaks play a crucial role in productivity. Travelers should schedule a nap, some time at the gym, or an afternoon to explore a new city to help you recharge.

5. Make the Most of Your Time En Route

All types of travel require plenty of sitting around, whether it's waiting at the gate or settling into a seat on the plane or train. This is the perfect time to take care of tasks that don't require premium concentration. Remind travelers that they can accomplish quite a bit from a laptop while en route.

For example, consider answering email on the plane. Even if the Wi-Fi is spotty, it's possible to save drafts to the outbox and let them fly upon landing. Time spent waiting is also useful for quick phone calls and taking care of short tasks like filing expense reports or organizing lecture notes.

6. Avoid Distractions

Working in a new location is distracting. To help traveling coworkers avoid this, suggest that they pack noise-canceling headphones and some excellent podcasts. Earbuds are also a powerful signal to seatmates that someone is too busy to chat.

For anyone easily distracted by social media and other apps, traveling can heighten the urge to goof off. Try installing Freedom, a program that blocks designated apps on a laptop or phone for a given time period. This can help establish uninterrupted work periods to maximize productivity.

After the Trip: Take Time to Reflect

Reflection is important to make sure you're doing your best work, and it can reveal errors and inefficiencies in your team's travel plans, too.

7. Evaluate Your Schedule

When your team returns from a trip, ask them to take time to reflect on how it went. This should include a look at the goals for the trip as well as the nuts and bolts of the travel itinerary. Did you have sufficient time to get places? Were you able to stick to your personal schedule? How could you make better use of your time in the future? Answering these questions will help everyone see how to improve for next time.

Travel coordinators should gather feedback on everything from the condition of the hotel to the speed of picking up a rental car. This information will help plan future trips to be even more efficient and comfortable. If you don't already, consider making a survey that travelers complete after each trip so you can note any trouble spots and come up with an improvement plan.

The Bottom Line

Time management is challenging in our fast-paced, digital world. Adding the demands of business travel to the mix makes it even harder to stay on track. But with the right tools and a willingness to develop solid systems for your team, you can help everyone in your company make the most of their time --- wherever they are.

What's your secret to managing your time while traveling for work? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.