Until teleportation becomes the norm, frequent travel is simply a fact of life for leaders in the modern business world.
As companies continue to grow more reliant on foreign markets, face-to-face meetings remain essential, especially when managing a global team. Tools like Skype have helped bridge global communication gaps, but no technology can supplant in-person interactions — with your team or with your family.
In the meantime, you’ll have to find ways to maintain a healthy family-travel balance, which is no simple task.
The hardships of the road
Travel inflicts a number of stresses on family life. Missing out on the day-to-day bustle — from soccer games to keeping up on your kids’ schooling to basic conversations — can easily disrupt your family dynamic.
It sometimes feels like reentering family life is the hardest part of being gone. You have to tread lightly and be careful not to upset decisions made in your absence.
I know the struggle all too well. On average, I spend 50% of my time on the road, and it’s not uncommon for me to visit five offices spanning three countries in just four days. This isn’t easy on my family, but we’ve found ways to strike a balance and ensure that a busy itinerary doesn’t keep me from actively participating in my kids’ life.
Here are five steps I take to minimize travel pains and maximize family time:
- Think in opportunity costs. There’s only so much time in a day, so you will inevitably have to make sacrifices. You’ll miss family events, so you need to determine which ones are acceptable and which ones are nonnegotiable. For instance, I have traveled on my own birthday four of the past five years, but I haven’t missed any of my three children’s birthdays.
- Prioritize quality over quantity. You have limited time at home, so you need to make the most of it. Although you might be exhausted after a trip, staying bedridden won’t make your absence any easier. Make your health a priority overseas, and you’ll be energized to spend quality time with your family when you return.
- Stay connected. Once your kids are old enough to have email, keep in constant contact with them while you’re on the road. A quick text or note shows that you care and are still engaged in their lives. I also make sure to check my kids’ grades online and even set up online quizzes on Quizlet to test their knowledge of European countries and capitals to keep them connected to my travels.
- Keep your bags packed. Having a travel bag ready to go will shave hours off the packing process and free up more time for family. This simple practice means I can catch my kids’ soccer games 30 minutes before I have to leave for the airport.
- Bring your family along. Obviously, your family can’t travel alongside you all the time, but you should occasionally invite them to join you. This opens their eyes to new experiences and gives them a taste of what your life is like on the road.
In the end, preserving your family life while traveling the world is all about prioritizing. Leading a global team is a worthwhile endeavo, and so is making time for your family. You might have to skip watching sports or having a drink with the guys, but you’ll be happier for it.
It won’t be easy, but with a bit of planning and dedication to your family, you can be a world-class parent and business leader at the same time.
Jason Popp is the executive vice president of international at GES, an event marketing company that connects people through live events. With more than 20 years of experience, he combines operational and direct P&L management with rigorous strategic thinking. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonpopp.
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