Even in regular work environments, pretty much everyone experiences stress. Nearly a third of US and UK workers say their work-related stress level is high to unsustainably high! Think of the onslaught of colouring books, meditation apps, and ASMR videos. Being able to deal with or eliminate stress is now the holy grail of today’s workforce.
Not all stress is bad. Some stress, for short periods of time, has shown to narrow the field of focus, which boosts creativity, and helps complete important tasks. However, when you need to learn a new skill, solve complex problems, or make important long-term decisions, stress is not helpful. In an increasingly complex world, learning how to prevent and mitigate stress is the key to performing consistently at a high level.
Now take regular workplace or everyday stress, and add the uncertainty and fatigue of regular business travel. You will get a particularly nasty cocktail. The chance for disruption is high, and the amount of decisions needed to get even simple things done, is overwhelming. When the world is your workplace, you’re squeezing emails and calls in between trains, planes, taxis and airport queues. And despite working under these conditions - which would appear shocking if faced in the office - business travellers are expected to get the job done, stay connected, remain energetic, and solve problems. All on limited to no support.
This year, following international stress awareness week, we’ve taken a look at business travel stress factors. Because whether you are a business traveller, or have staff who are, seeing the world as a workplace, is the first step to making it a great one. And everyone wins when employees have an environment where they can stay calm, energetic, and productive.
Give yourself some slack
There’s enough stress from issues outside our control when it comes to travel. Planning to have meetings right before or after a flight is basically asking for stress. Not to mention extra work when you have to move things around, or reschedule flights. A good way to avoid this is to keep a buffer of a couple hours on each side of a flight. Save it for things that don’t depend on phone reception, fast internet, or prolonged use of battery.
If you’re moving fast, things will break.
Some people need to work literally all the time. Like taking calls while walking to security, meeting someone during a layover, or sending final decisions as the plane lifts off the runway. From time to time things will go wrong. If things going wrong causes you stress, you may need to slow down.
Know exactly what to do when things break
Some companies want their business travellers to buy fully flex flights for exactly this reason. It may not be the most economical choice, but it’s an indication to the traveller that when things go wrong, not to stress about it.
There are other ways of signaling to travellers that you want them to focus purely on what really matters. Like giving them travel tools with 24/7 instant support, simpler or automatic expense reporting, and show you trust them to make the right choices in tricky situations. Being micromanaged from afar by people who have no idea what you’re experiencing is a sure fire way to cause stress.
Get rid of small admin tasks
When travelling a lot, small admin tasks pile up and clutter the brain. The constant and growing backlog can leave travelers feeling like they never have enough time and there are unrealistic expectations placed on them - both at home and work. Figuring out how to remove as many of those as possible, will give the mind space to think, and make better decisions.
Take care of the body, mind, and soul
Sitting in new chairs, sleeping in new beds, carrying heavy luggage up and down stairs, and running to, through, and from airports adds significant stress to the body. Without proper care, this type of stress leads to headaches, chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain and productivity obviously suffers as well.
Constant crowds, queues, new people, irritating people, high noise levels, and unfamiliar places, is a breeding ground for anxiety, worry, and constant alert mode. Learning how to shut it all out - whether through breathing exercises, yoga, or blasting music on noise cancelling headphones - is vital to keep the mind at a level where it can have fun and stay motivated.
The key to any stressful experience or environment is subsequent down time. Having time to recharge, nurture hobbies, time with family and friends, provides balance needed to go out there and do it all again.
Don’t over promise - to others or yourself
Not being able to deliver on promises is stressful and backing yourself into a corner is unnecessary. A healthy level of laziness is required to eliminate stress when you frequently work while travelling. Manage your own expectations about what is possible, and then for colleagues and clients under promise wherever possible.
Build a routine
Familiarity of a routine, means fewer active decisions need to be made. Whatever is possible to make into a routine, build it, practice it, perfect it, then watch as your energy levels grow.
Improving the current state of business travel
When it comes to travelling for work, people have become used to a high level of uncertainty, and mentally prepare for the worst.
At AHOY we believe the experience of travelling for work can and should be about much more than just getting by. That’s why we have a 24/7 customer service function in the app. When you know that instant help is just a tap away, it’s easier to relax and focus on what matters.
The role of HR and travel managers
Companies invest more and more in designers, architects, and amazing work environments. For office-based workers, that’s great news. For business travellers, they won’t benefit from your carefully selected ergonomic office chairs when working in a cramped middle seat.
HR departments could consider how they can improve the working conditions of employees on the go. For example, this could mean creating a ‘travel pack’ with super battery packs, mobile data backups, long battery life laptops, noise cancellers, compression socks, back rollers, and elastic bands for exercising.
Travel policy has traditionally been focused on manager approval, finance integrations, budgets, and better pricing. These are important for sure. However, equally important is understanding the needs of employees who work from everywhere, and ensure their experience, from making a booking to completing a trip, is as great and stress free as possible.
Reaping the rewards of a stress-free work environment for business travellers
Every manager knows that providing top talent with the environment and conditions to do great work, means they will enjoy solving problems, stay motivated, and help the company meet its goals. This is often overlooked for those who regularly travel. Designing a great “workplace” for travellers’ is worth it. Over the long term, mental and physical health is simply good for business.
For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.