Ask the Admin: Staying in Touch While Traveling

By | Feb 2, 2010

Lisa sent me the following e-mail:

Do you have any tips or advice for communicating daily, weekly or priority items when traveling for weeks at a time.

Thanks for your e-mail, Lisa.  As it happens, I worked for 3 years for one boss who traveled almost 50% of his time, so I learned a great deal about how to keep in touch while he was traveling.

Make Sure You Have a Plan

If you have a boss who travels frequently, you need to have a plan in place to make sure the two of you stay in touch while he’s out of the office.  Make sure you sit down together a day or two before he leaves to discuss things that might come up while he’s gone.  Some of the topics to cover are:

  • Any current issues that may come to a head while he’s out, and who is in charge of those issues while he’s away.
  • What types of issues he expects to be notified about immediately.
  • What types of issues can wait until you next talk.
  • What issues can wait until he’s back in the office.
  • Who is in charge of what departments while he’s out (i.e. who’s the go-to person for different issues that may come up).
  • How often will he contact you while he’s out of the office.  Usually, depending on the time difference, my boss would contact me once or twice a day to touch base and go over any pending problems.  If anything of an emergent nature comes up, I would contact him (sometimes in the middle of the night if he was in Asia).

Having a plan in place before your boss leaves can relieve a lot of stress on the part of you both while he’s traveling.

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Monitoring E-mail

Usually when people travel for business, their schedules are pretty tight, and they don’t have time to keep up with their daily e-mail.  Make sure and find out if your boss wants you manage his e-mail in a more hands-on basis than normal.  A boss that generally only wants you to keep an overview of his e-mail may want you to take point when he’s traveling.  For my boss, I would set up a folder called “For When You Return”, and I would put all non-urgent messages there.  He could glance at them if he had time, but he knew none were urgent and could wait for his return.  I’d often send phone messages to him by e-mail and file them in that folder as well.  Any urgent e-mail I would turn red so he’d see it immediately when he checked his e-mail.  And, of course, any e-mail that was of an emergent nature I would call him about.  If it’s something you normally do, you would continue to delegate any issues to others that are appropriate.

It’s a Trust Issue

The most important thing if you have a boss who travels frequently is to have built a high level of trust.  The boss needs to know that you can make appropriate decisions about what needs to be delegated, what can wait, and what needs an immediate notification.  This is the kind of trust that is only built over time, and it requires cooperation from your boss to build the knowledge and trust necessary.  If your boss doesn’t talk to you regularly about his work and his priorities, you aren’t going to have the knowledge necessary to be able to make those types of important decisions, and he won’t feel comfortable leaving delegated responsibility with you when he travels.  It’s another reason why it’s so important to push your boss about having a daily meeting.  You need to be a partner with your boss if you are going to be able to do everything he needs when he’s away.

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