Often it’s an uphill battle for a manager to get into contact with an employee who is on the road. Sending an e-mail, a text message, or an instant message via a corporate “chat” application, or calling a cell phone or a corporate office phone often yields no results at all. You’re battling time zone offsets, the will of the traveler (who may not wish to be contacted), and a host of other unpredictable delays, interruptions, emergencies, dead zones, and predicaments that you can’t possibly be aware of. So how can you improve the odds that your messages will actually get noticed? How can you decrease the response time from a traveling employee?
First some basics: Your employees need to clear their corporate e-mail accounts of as much clutter as possible. Suggest alternate e-mail addresses to your employees to handle the load of “traveler spam” they will accumulate from hotels, airline frequent flier notifications, and the like. For example, an employee might wish to set up a Gmail account for the sole purpose of receiving airline flight time alerts. A rule might be generated in the Gmail account that immediately bumps up the priority of the message and forwards it to their cell phone as an instant message or as an e-mail to their corporate account that is received on their cell. Employees may restrict this action only to airline alert messages and to their manager, who can e-mail the special account for a more immediate response. Alternate e-mail accounts should also be used to order and track personal items ordered from catalogues while on travel. It’s no coincidence that the people who order a lot of items online also have the most spam in their e-mail boxes.
Another way to tip the “odds of initial contact” is to enforce some cell phone rules. If your traveler carries a corporate cell phone, the rules should be made crystal clear regarding when those phones should be on, what countries they’re allowed to use them in, and how immediate their response should be when it rings. Too often corporate cell phones are adopted by traveling employees as their own. It may be OK to have their personal contacts stored in there, but if the boss is calling and the boss is paying for the phone, the boss gets priority, especially during core working hours. In the case where employees carry multiple phones (it still happens), you may need to insist on having all of the numbers, if they’re slow to respond to the corporate phone.
Cell phone rules should also take into consideration the cost of cell phone plans and features. Certainly corporations save money by pooling their cell phones under the umbrella of one provider. It’s more cost-effective than reimbursing employees for their monthly cell phone costs. All too often, however, these larger pooled cell network plans don’t include all of the features that some travelers would derive great benefit from. For example, AT&T introduced the first cellular “world phone” and has since cornered the market on international coverage. Most corporate deals with the company, however, don’t include international phone use because it takes a serious chunk out of the “money saved” by their corporate customers. Now consider the ridiculous charges for international roaming without some sort of international service plan. Some countries charge more than $5 per minute for phone use when they have to connect you to your home provider. Also, cell phone charges can add up significantly even if you don’t use the phone. A great example of this is when a traveler crosses the border into Canada. You’re so close to the United States, cell phones don’t have to roam to connect to the digital network in Canada. Yet there is a significant charge to make a data connection to a U.S. server from the network in Canada; so if the employee’s cell phone is on and the phone automatically checks for e-mail once per minute (or more often, as is usually the case), it can easily ring up $500 per week without even making a call. Therefore, it may be prudent in some cases to ask the employee not to use the cell phone at all, unless it’s an emergency.
Corporate cell phone “pools” usually work in such a way that that the cell phone provider gives the company an enormous pool of minutes to be distributed among employees. One employee may only use 500 minutes in a given month, while another may use 1,500 minutes. If the pool has a total of 500,000 minutes per month, for example, and you have 200 employees with cell phones, each one of them could use 2,500 minutes. These kinds of plans work extremely well for employees who travel domestically to larger cities where they don’t have to roam. In this case it should be easy to get in touch with any traveler carrying a corporate cell phone, and those employees should understand that.
While traveling internationally or domestically, having a prearranged time of day to touch base will ensure both parties are available, and it will maximize whatever you are spending on the minutes.
Finally, it never hurts to ask, “What’s the best way for me to get in touch with you while you’re on the road?” They may prefer voice mail and that’s fine, as long as you set the expectations for how often they need to check it. Some people are big texters and others prefer e-mail. Be explicit about the e-mail accounts and phone numbers that will be most effective, and regardless of the methods you set, you may still need to keep a list of your travelers and the best way to get in touch.