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Traveling Guy

Posted by johnreynolds on February 17, 2007 at 5:55 PM PST

I left my house at 6 am on Monday to catch a flight from Austin Bergstrom to Chicago Midway. During my 2 hour layover waiting for a connecting flight to Providence RI, I participated in a conference call with 3 folks in New London CT, one in Groton CT, one in Boston MA and one in Peapack NJ. I arrived in Providence at 3:30 pm, picked up my rental car and drove the 50 miles to New London in record time, landing at my desk away from home by 4:30 pm.

I spent Tuesday catching up with my colleagues. One of them drives in from Boston and the other takes the train up from just south of New York City. During the day I conferred with colleagues in Peapack NJ and back in Austin.

On Wednesday we had a big meeting... a presentation and walk-through for our stakeholders. A winter storm had dumped a bunch of snow and sleet on the area, and since my rental car had no ice scraper I had more than the normal amount of fun getting in to work.

The meeting went of well, but of course most of the participants were elsewhere (having dialed in via WebEx).

Thursday (Today) was very surreal... the roads were icy in the morning, so many of the locals worked from home, leaving only the out-of-towners like me in the office. I left early, expecting a longer commute up to Providence due to the snow, but the roads were fine. As I write this I am on a plane, somewhere between Connecticut and Maryland, and with luck I should walk through my front door by 11 pm.

This has pretty much been my ritual each week since the first week of October last year. I decided to make a huge career shift, and took an 80 per cent travel job as a Professional Services guy for a BPM company.

I love the work, and I am totally jazzed up about the promise of Process Driven Design... But business traveling is not for the faint of heart.

My second week out, a freak snowstorm in Chicago shut down O'Haire just long enough to throw off flight schedules across the Eastern seaboard. My flight was delayed for 4 hours (plus two hours on the tarmac in Providence waiting for Air Force one to get off the runway in Chicago), so I missed my connection. End result? I got to sleep in Concourse B of O'Haire, lost my cellphone, and did not get home until 18 hours later than originally scheduled.

That episode was my worst journey so far... but you just have to get used to it. Delays happen, and you can't do a thing about them except to be prepared and keep smiling.

I replaced my cell phone with a Blackberry, and it has become truly indispensable. With it I can check my email and flight schedules, make and change reservations, etc. and the screen is even bright enough to use as a flashlight in a pinch. I never check luggage unless I have to. I never schedule a flight through O'Haire unless I have to. I am learning the tricks that business travelers use to stay sane.

Back to my most recent trip.... the irony of that journey was that to a large extent I traveled far and wide to participate in virtual meetings. I enjoyed the quality face time with my team mates, but the important issues were resolved remotely. Virtual presence was "good enough" to get the job done... being there "in the flesh" was only to provide an added measure of trust and confidence that there were no misunderstandings.

As virtual meetings get better, as our ability to project our presence remotely improves, will there come a time when "in the flesh" meetings aren't necessary?

Today's technology has already made "being away from home" a lot less of a big deal than it once was. I call, chat, email and share photos with my wife (Teri) constantly. I can pay bills, schedule Dr. appointments, and even watch "local" TV shows wherever I can get a WiFi signal. I am never "out of touch" with the home front... and I don't have to spend time catching up when I do get to be at home with my wife.

Can't the same technology keep us from getting "out of touch" with what our client's and colleagues need from us, and what we need from them? To a large extent I think that it can... but not quite yet. Remote meetings just aren't the same... They are fine for keeping things on track, but they don't work well for establishing relationships and kicking off new projects.

So for the present, I'm a business gypsy. If you are in the same boat, I'd love to hear the tips that you have learned to keep yourself sane... Happy Traveling!


(cross-posted at Thoughtful Programmer)

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