Foreign travel

Travelling for work and being ‘Jet-set’ are two completely separate things in my book. Rare is the day that I step off a flight feeling refreshed and ready to jump straight into work-mode. Over the past 7 years since graduating I have travelled a lot for work and, given the location, some trips involved red-eye flights to save the organisation money and to maximise our time working with stakeholders during business hours. This means making a personal sacrifice in terms of home time vs. work and travel time and also takes a toll on your health and, eventually, sanity. Gripes aside, travel is excellent for business and is unavoidable in our big joined-up world.

With this in mind, I have compiled a few tips for professionals who travel regularly – whilst trying to respect some of the restrictions that come with travelling for work. From the outset, I’d like to say that if you work for a private company who allow their associates and staff to travel first/business class then you’re on to a winner. You will have access to flat beds and the golden ticket for the first class lounges at most international airports. This makes everything run smoother and gets you off to a head start, arriving at your destination looking slicker and less harassed (think 1980s power dressing business women – ever the immaculate travellers). This has not always been the case for me… I have had access to business seats and lounges but now working for a public organisation means watching the pennies when undertaking international travel and on this my advice is based;

1. Hair and make-up

Bit of a shallow one to start off with, but there’s nothing like a freshen up of your hair and make-up to make you feel work ready after a long flight. I know a lot of girls, myself included, who prefer to wear make-up to work. I think it’s psychological, like putting on war paint in the morning, and gets you in the zone. Practically it’s also very good for hiding dark circles and any bags that you carry under your eyes. If however you’re travelling alone, or feel comfortable going make-up free then, good on you, do so! Sometimes it’s better to travel fresh faced and apply on landing at your destination. This means that your skin has had time to rest and you can just apply a moisturiser throughout the flight. I find it easiest, when travelling with the boss, to keep my day’s make up on my face and just before we land pay a trip to the toilet to cleanse my eye make-up and re-apply fresh. No need to touch face or lips. This just makes the face look brighter and more polished. It also sweeps away any rubbed off mascara or stray eyeshadow flecks. Less is more and the darker the shade the more tired you’ll look, so stick to lighter colours and don’t forget your favourite concealer. For hair, I prefer to leave down on the plane, as rubbing it against those paper head rest covers seems to mess it up anyway. When I’m touching up my eye make-up in the bathroom I’ll pin my hair up, or just tie it in a simple pony tail for a more sleek look. This is also great for disguising any greasy hair issues, as travelling with dry shampoo can be a pain if you haven’t checked in luggage.

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2. Alcohol and caffeine

Similar to the above note on moisturising and rehydrating your skin, it’s important not to go overboard on the complimentary drinks – no matter how hard a day you’re having. Trust me, I know the pain, seeing the drinks cart wheel by as you are left with a sparkling water when all the other passengers are getting their bloody mary/G&T fix. Sad times. But if your working day is not yet over then it’s best to stick to something that will keep you on point in the long run. You’ll have the last laugh as you hand out paracetamol and stealthily locate the important travel documents, hotel reservations and car bookings which your colleagues are sluggishly fumbling about for. This is of course a personal observation, but in general drinking on a school night stopped being a thing for me in 2010. The same can be said for caffeine. As someone who drinks up to 8 cups of tea and coffee a day I am not casting the first stone of judgement here. Heck, do whatever you’ve got to do to get the job done, just mentally prepare yourself for the caffeine crash at some point around 3pm which, with time difference thrown into the mix, could be just before that important meeting. Bull’s eye!

3. Always stay one step ahead

You’ve located the gate, found your seat, managed to stuff your over-packed bag into the overhead locker and are looking forward to pulling down that window blind and zoning out. ERROR. Before you kick off your heels and plug those ear phones in, check what the next leg of your trip is. Did you print all the hotel reservations codes? Do you have a local taxi number to get to the conference? Do you need to print off your return flight tickets? Do you have any urgent messages to reply to before you go off-line for the flight? With these ticked off you can minimise stress at the other end and enjoy the rest of the flight. For any unanswered travel questions the flight crew are usually very helpful and can point you in the direction you need to go in. If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t feature your native language then learning a few essential phrases can come in handy. Some airlines even have bi-lingual dictionary applications on the personal screens – hours of fun.

4. In flight distractions

What’s that you say? Finished that briefing? Tied up those loose ends? Managed to book a seat away from any associates and colleagues? Yes, green light for the hotly anticipated catch-up-on-my-film-addiction segment. You’ve always wanted to see Jurassic Park 4. If it’s a short flight or you weren’t fortunate enough to get a personal screen, or worse you did but you haven’t brought any headphones and they cost an arm and a leg to buy, then a book or a magazine is the way forward. I personally prefer to grab a magazine as if my arms start to ache from carrying too much in my handbag I can ditch the magazine far easier than the emotional separation of having to leave a book behind. It’s also a survival tactic as looking at images makes me less likely to get travel sick than reading pages and pages of text. Given the nature of my work, we rarely use our laptops whilst travelling as lack of wifi/people looking over your shoulder (come on we all do it!) prevents us from working properly. I have however installed my favourite newspaper apps on my tablet but this comes back to the travel sick point. No-one wants to be sat next to Captain Vomit for 8 hours.

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5. Awkward conversations and nights in hotels

Ok, so number 5’s title could have been snappier. But, really, these are both things that require a little consideration and preparation. You are likely to find yourself travelling with a colleague or even your manager. This means that the risk of ‘talking shop’ all throughout that long haul-flight is sky high (!) – sorry, that was bad. This is a good opportunity for you to unwind. Try asking them about other things that don’t involve work or that don’t get too personal. If you’re like me and you delight in the silence and reflective space of air travel, or indeed you just have colleagues with limited banter, then the not-so subtle presence of a magazine in your lap, or passive aggressive inserting of the headphones should solve this. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not just the flight you have to navigate, but the car journey, the hotel check-in and the awkward lift chat as you try to gauge whether they want to eat dinner with you or they would rather you just met at X o’clock tomorrow for breakfast and you retire to your rooms. If you’re in charge of booking travel this is worth bearing in mind. Some people prefer to keep space for themselves in the evening, others expect your attendance at the hotel bar into the wee hours and not doing so would be rude. Up to you how to play it, just remember that whatever goes down, you have to do it all again the next day!

 

Do you have any tips for travelling and work? Have you worked out a system of survival for long haul flights followed by boardrooms and conferences? Leave your tips in the comments below…

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PA OK

Surviving in a competitive working environment can often mean that you’ll face a certain degree of hierarchical snobbery. Particularly if you have landed the very underrated position of PA. Being personal assistant to the boss has connotations of dogsbody style working but in my experience it is anything but. Play your cards right and you can successfully put your stamp on a role that will allow you access to high level stakeholders and an address book of contacts that most heads of state would love to get their hands on.

Don’t let anyone look down on the important job you do. Often the people you are working to would be melting in a disorganised mess without your cool, prepared approach.

I have worked for a country leader for just over a year now and the role has brought with it a plethora of opportunities that wouldn’t be available to even the next-in-command. Attending meetings with the Head of the European Commission, Parliament key figureheads in the UN, Presidents and famous people with political messages to spread have all contacted me to get to my boss. I have sat in on those meetings and participated in the majority of those discussions, exchanging business cards with those who are keen to engage.

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Don’t let people push you out the frame. You may not be the President, but your contribution is valuable and people are always listening.

Stakeholders may not have come to see you expressly, it’s the ear of your boss they want, but don’t underestimate the power of being present and pro-active. They will remember your face, your name, your manners when you escorted them and advised them ahead of the meeting, your willingness to facilitate the discussion and your professionalism throughout. Of course, most stakeholders are wise to this, but they still know that you hold the key to the diary, to the relationship that continues outside of the meeting room and any future engagements.

Use the network that you build up as a platform for your career. You are your own brand. Supporting someone on a daily basis who is higher up the corporate chain from you is a testament to your capability, not a limit. As proof of this, many of my colleagues, who have a varied background of education and professional specialisation, have landed top jobs thanks to the contacts they made whilst working as PAs. When I was at school we were told that there are more paths to getting the job you really want. This is true, it’s not always a linear school-university-placement-job pattern that people work to. In fact, having experience in a coordinating and supporting role speaks for itself in competency based interviews and opens doors that the standard online applicants won’t have access to.

So next time you’re compiling that briefing or speaking note, or scavenging for fresh milk for the boss’s tea, just remember that it all counts towards the bigger picture and you’re honing your skills in multi-tasking, working under pressure and (more often than not!) patience.

 

Have you worked as a personal assistant? Or, have you been able to use your role as a trampoline for the next exciting opportunity? Feel free to leave a comment…