By Jimi Gonzalez
My company recently started a new project that requires a fair amount
of travel for my employees. While we’ve done some work out of the area
in the past, this is the first time where we’ll be on “the road” for an
extended period of time. I have no problem with jobs that involve
travel, I’ve spent many years of my own career with a packed suitcase
and I’m very experienced at sending installers, programmers, and
engineers far away from their families, homes, and pets for extended
periods of time. After all, if you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you.
However, more than any other part of their job, travel has the greatest
potential to drive your employees completely crazy. Based on
conversations with a couple of road warriors and some of my past
successes and mistakes, I’ve listed a couple of tips if you want to
keep your sanity and avoid a mutiny of your traveling crew.
Meals & Incidentals
Be sure to communicate to your travelers how much you are paying for
daily meals and incidentals before they decide to have dinner at a
steakhouse every night. One option is to follow the government’s
standards. The General Services Administration (GSA) has meals and
incidental rates for every major city in the United States at gsa.gov/perdiem.
They pay 75 percent of the rate on the first and last days of travel,
to account for the fact that many people would rather starve themselves
than eat at the airport.
When bidding a project, I’ve learned not to use the GSA’s lodging
numbers for budgets because they represent a discounted government rate
and don’t include taxes. One way that you can save money is to call the
hotel directly after you’ve been awarded the project and negotiate a
low rate for multiple room nights.
If at all possible, when budgeting for your project, plan on separate
rooms for your employees. Your traveling employees spend all day
together. They work together, probably take lunch and dinner breaks
together, and seem like they are a great team. Honestly, they’re sick
to death of each other and the very last thing they want to do is fall
asleep and wake up in the same room as each other. If they’re
traveling for a week or longer, employees are also grateful for rooms
that include kitchen appliances. Corporate apartments are great
solutions for long trips since they can include appliances and multiple
rooms at a lower overall cost than hotel rooms.
Booking airfare today is a balancing act. Flights with layovers and
late night arrivals can be cheaper, but you lose valuable time on the
job site while still paying for meals and a hotel. A ticket price may
seem like a great deal, but when you consider the fees for the
installer to check their suitcase and toolbox, it might be better to
pay a higher fare on an airline that doesn’t charge excessive baggage
fees. Always book as far in advance as possible and, if you have to
cancel, make sure you follow up on any refunds or credits due to you.
You Can’t Plan for Everything
Travel is filled with hidden costs. These include mileage to and from
the airport, airport parking fees, time at the airport, travel time to
the location, and gas for the rental car. There’s no way you can
individually account for them all without making your estimating team
crazy, so just make sure that you have a number in your budget that
helps to cover these miscellaneous expenses.
We’re Systems Integrators, Not Travel Agents
I’ve made my fair share of travel booking mistakes in the past and I
hope not to repeat them. In fact, I look forward to making all sorts of
new mistakes in this modern era of arbitrary airline fees and advanced
security screenings. Just keep an eye on your budgets, make sure your
employees are safely stowed in a hotel or corporate apartment, and
please return your seat backs and tray tables to their full upright