This week, I write to you from a small hotel room somewhere in the Ilm-Kreis district of the German state of Thuringia.
I think. I cannot be 100% certain of this as nobody in the vicinity seem to speak any fluent English or Malayalam at all.
Thankfully, I am only here for a day and can get by with three or four essential pieces of Business German: “Guten morgen” (Good morning), “David Hasselhoff” (Bring me some ham) and “Dies ist eine erstaunliche Paradigmenwechsel machaan!” (This is an amazing paradigm shift machaan!)
And as I type this column, there is Gunter, a wild Thuringian forest wasp the size of a small child, trying to mate with my window.
This precarious situation combined with an amusing piece of news I recently read inspired this week’s topic of debate: Effective business travel.
The amusing news was mentioned by the Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway in a piece published late last month. In the piece, titled “Beware the wild management consultants”, Kellaway talks about how a group of partners at consulting firm Bain, while off-site-ing in rural India, got charged by a wild buffalo. True story.
Thankfully, none of the consultants suffered more than a few stitches and, after an aggressive bidding war, the buffalo will head emerging markets commodities at Goldman Sachs. “He is aggressive, but also remarkably ruminant,” said an HR manager.
Too many people assume that business travel is all about lounging in plush hotel rooms, swimming in fully reclining business class airplane seats, and luxuriating in decadent washrooms. All for free.
Yes, but not all of us work for the Planning Commission. (Editor’s note: Well played.)
For the vast majority of cubiclists, business travel invariably becomes a tiresome oscillation between joyless hotel room to hotel room, and plastic airport lounge to airport lounge.
In fact, the only way to survive frequent trips is to make the process as friction-free and automatic as possible.
Now if any of you have seen the film Up In The Air, you already know that packing cleverly, wearing slip-on shoes, and looking like George Clooney is a great way to smoothly manoeuvre through airports. I’ve tried it. It works.
But I would like to share a few more tips and tricks, gleaned from personal experience and extensive research that will hold you in good stead.
The first trick is this: eat two breakfasts.
Having hurried, incomplete breakfasts with colleagues is a sure-fire way to start the day on the wrong foot. Especially if senior staff are present. An awkward croissant and a coffee does not a breakfast make.
Instead have a proper breakfast a full hour before your designated team breakfast time. Fearlessly craft and consume that messy, oozing scrambled eggs and bacon and cheese and salami and hash brown croissant sandwich. Later return for the morning team sit-down. Sip coffee, nibble on a banana, and carry yourself with dignity.
Which brings us to our second tip: carry translations in all major world languages for the phrase “scrambled eggs on brown toast and black coffee please” in your wallet or on your phone. Or for whatever else is your favourite one-plate, all-day-breakfast. For example, if you’re travelling to England, carry a translation in Polish. This saves lives.
My next tip is: Always strive for leg room. This is particularly important if you work for one of those companies where only top managers travel in business class. Use websites such as SeatGuru.com to choose seats before checking in online. And then when you’re on the plane, offer your seat to one of your senior colleagues. Boom. Now prepare the family to move to a larger flat after the forthcoming promotion.
Next, one of the biggest complaints I hear from young travel-prone cubiclists is that they are constantly short of sleep. And partly this is because of peer pressure.
For instance, you are seated on a long-haul flight next to colleagues. Stay awake and you’ll be groggy for weeks. But fall asleep and you have no idea what the two of them are gossiping about.
Use the two-step “Vadukut Process” for airborne surveillance. First of all, tell your colleagues you’re going to doze off. Insert earphones (connected to nothing), lean back and close your eyes. Simultaneously leave the voice recorder on your phone on. Now you can surreptitiously listen to them as long as you are awake. And the phone will take care of the rest.
Boom. Now you know how to open the stationery cupboard without keys.
And finally, we come to the topic of Indian food. It is an unwritten rule of Indian companies that overseas business trips must close with an authentic, often pricey, Indian meal. But is the restaurant really Indian? Or camouflaged Bangladeshi?
Agonize no more. Simply browse through the menu till you find an entry for anything with green peas in it. Does it say “mutter”? Or “motor”?
Please do the needful.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns