On the Road Again

4/6/2011 10:57:51 AM
By PSN Staff

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.  

Lodging
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.

Airfare
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 position.

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