Thank you Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase for sponsoring this series of articles for the business traveler. Savvy business travelers are masters at balancing the “professional” with the “personal” when they travel. They work effectively to carve out time to sightsee.  They experience local culture.  They seek out hidden gems to entertain clients.  They accumulate rewards to leverage for more adventures in new cities.  In this series, we’ll provide tips and resources for business travelers to not only work “smart,” but also play “smart” to get more out of their business travel and enjoy the journey. 

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It’s a fact of life…  Even though you’re sitting in that row of barely cushioned air terminal seating, things are still going on at your office.  Emails are backing up, your voice mail is filling up, and items awaiting your signature continue to be placed, one by one, on your desk.

Even though you are traveling as a function of your business, your office “back home” still has its needs, and this often spells double duty.  Let’s not forget the needs of the family you left behind as well, to become a temporary road warrior.

How do you create a more productive and familiar schedule abroad, in order to do far more than glance at the unfamiliar restaurants, museums, theaters and sites outside your hotel window?  You can do this, but you’re going to need to add a few tech tricks, as well as some out-of-the-box thinking to make your time on the road both worthwhile and rewarding.

Keep a set schedule, regardless of location

If being out of the office for even a short period of time throws you off, perhaps it’s because your schedule has changed.  Maybe it doesn’t have to.  Consider keeping those 8-5 office hours, even while away.  Yes, you may be half way around the globe, but there’s nothing saying you can’t still wake up at 6:00 a.m., straighten yourself up, iron your outfit, gather your items for the meeting, and simply get out of the hotel room.  There will be plenty of time after five to put on some jeans and loafers, wander the cobblestone streets of downtown Florence, and discover where they’ve got hidden away an exact replica of the Statue of David.

Business meetings abroad hardly ever follow the typical 8-5 format – many often start as late as 10:00 a.m., and can be over as early as 2:00 p.m.  Some meetings are only an hour or two. Why not take this time to make arrangements with the office you are meeting at, to be there at 8:00 a.m. anyway, and ask if they have some spare office space, so you can set up your laptop or tablet and answer emails?  Use your cell to make some office calls, and check in with the boss or co-workers.

You never know when a pre-meeting conversation with the team back home will spark a brilliant idea you can share with clients that very morning.  Your willingness to take that 8-5 stand regardless of locale just might impress your clients to look deeper into the company you represent.  The more time you’re around that unfamiliar office complex in Rome, the greater the chance of meeting someone in the office with connections.  You just might wind up spending the evening winding through the lesser-known Catacombs of Pontian.

Meeting out early?  Keep things moving forward with the home office, even if from a side area of the hotel lobby, until 5:00 p.m.  If it’s the middle of the night back home, catch up on work until the official end of a typical workday.  Sometimes routine is all you need to stay on your A game.

Make office portability a way of life

If packing up your office for a business trip is a hassle, consider this…  You obviously have to travel as part of your office routine, so why is it that you’ve grown such deep cubicle roots?  Make your office always portable, so you can take it at a moment’s notice, without skipping nary a beat.

Working from a desktop computer?  Why not move your day to day computing to your laptop?  Each day you can close up shop and take your digital office life with you.  You can still connect an external monitor and a wireless keyboard to your laptop if you like having space for your elbows when typing at your desk.

Still maintaining file folders filled with carbon-based evidence of your office existence?  Why not bring to bear cloud-based document management solutions?  Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and other mobile solutions can securely store your office paper trail relatively inexpensively, while making it easier to share and even collaborate, real-time, on your important information.

There’s something liberating to giving up a file cabinet or two, clearing your desktop of paperwork, and knowing you can work from, well, anywhere.

Be there in person, even when you’re not

Before leaving the office, set a video conferencing schedule, and post it at your desk, with your boss, and on your office calendar.   If someone from the home office needs to talk to you, give them the opportunity to do it, face to face, even over great distances. Google Plus Hangouts works great for this, as it’s free and feature-filled, and requires only an Internet connection, and almost any modern mobile or stationary computing device.

Google Plus Hangouts will leverage your device’s microphone and camera to provide video conferencing with up to 10 people, and can easily handle a one-on-one conversation.  You can even screen share and swap files using the interface, while maintaining the feeling you are still present in the office.

Hangouts also works to keep in touch with your family.  Again, maintain that set daily schedule. Talk with your family each day, especially your children.  Create a nightly Hangout for them.  If you don’t normally do so, why not use Google’s free conferencing tool to read a goodnight story when away from home – perhaps your children will look forward to your business trips.  In a good way, of course…

One other use for Hangouts, particular for staying connected with family and friends, is using it on your mobile device.  Take your spouse sightseeing with you, real-time.  Show her the incredible cliffs at Praia D’El Ray in Obidos, Portugal, while you enjoy 18 holes in the late afternoon at what is arguably the most beautiful golf course in all of Europe.

Rather than fighting time away from the office, or seeing it as an inconvenience, embrace the concept of business travel as a personal challenge, and as a way to show your loved ones the world you get to explore.

Can you get to the point that you are almost equally as productive, comfortable and connected, regardless of where you are?

Image courtesy AirportSeating.com

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Thank you to Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase and Technorati Media for being sponsors of this article. All opinions expressed here are my own.