Out-of-Towning It with Work Colleagues

I traveled out of town with co-workers last week to New Orleans. I struck it lucky. A conference that usually is held each year in Atlanta needed to be relocated this year to New Orleans—a city I had never been to but always wanted to visit. Meeting me there were nearly all the people I work with. 

The great thing about traveling for work to New Orleans is there’s a lot of distraction to allow escape from said work. That means Hurricane cocktails at the hotel bar and one or two early Mardi Gras parades passing by your hotel and the conference center where you are supposed to be diligently working.

The first night of the trip, the head of our department, along with a few other colleagues and business contacts, went to dinner together amid many drinks. The question that comes to mind: How do you make the most of the opportunity to bond with your co-workers and business contacts while maintaining professionalism, and achieving at least some of the goals you came to the meeting destination with?

I found wise advice in this article. It was written seven years ago, but the advice is timeless. The first piece of wisdom passed along is to NOT insist on sitting with co-workers on the plane. The initial idea of not wasting a moment, and using even time in transit for work-related conversation may seem good, but when you’re actually sitting there for three hours, or more, on a plane with nowhere to turn, and your boss or over-eager co-worker beside you yammering away about upcoming projects, burnout occurs fast. Even if you can’t sleep on a plane, time in transit on work trips is time to refresh and reflect or to work independently on your tablet or laptop. Not insisting on spending every waking moment together also ties into a tip of my own—don’t require three or four days, or more, of near-constant productivity on a work trip. Just as you retire at the end of the day while at home at the office, so, too, does your brain need rest out of town. You’re out of town, not out of the realm of normal human needs for downtime. 

Not letting your guard down, another tip the article passed along, requires an understanding of the fine line between sharing and bonding and offering up revelations that will come back to bite you. That means sharing the sadness of your kids going to college and leaving you with an empty nest, or noting your exhaustion at renovating your home, but NOT sharing the record of your arrests from your youth, or other revelations that could harm the professional image you’ve worked hard to create. 

The article notes the importance of not overdoing it with the drinking, and I think that tip ties into the one about not over-sharing. Heaving drinking can mean heavy personal revelations for some people. Just recently one of my colleagues shared a time when he got into trouble at a professional meeting by reenacting a swear-word-laden monologue from the film, Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m sure the monologue sounded much funnier to my colleague after a few drinks than it sounded to his colleagues, some of whom were probably much more sober. 

On the other hand, the article points out the importance of also making the most of the opportunities a business trip with colleagues allows. You have a chance to show interest in them as people, asking about their hobbies and family, and being open in return. You also have a chance to prove yourself in ways that may not be possible in the office. If you mostly work alone in your office, an out-of-town trip with co-workers lets people see how charming you can be when networking with business contacts, and how well you can represent your company as you explain your products and services to those who are unfamiliar.

The question becomes: How do you prepare young, inexperienced employees for the beginnings of their work travel? Do you prepare a sheet of do’s and don’ts, or do you rely on the employees’ native intelligence to figure it out for themselves? When Millennials first entered the workforce, I remember seeing articles about how some did not even know how to use utensils when eating. Obviously, those articles were exaggerations and silly stereotypes, but since young people today are known for sharing more with others than previous generations, is a tutorial on the proper level of sharing on a business trip a good idea?

How do you mentor young employees at your company, so they have the right models in place for the best way to act in front of colleagues and business contacts while out of town for your company? 


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