While many travel professionals love the freedom of working virtually, whether it’s from the comfort of home or in a busy coffee shop, most will tell you it isn’t always a joyride.
From the perils of 24/7 availability, to family and friends who just don’t get it, to the isolation of spending too many hours alone, working outside of a traditional office setup definitely has its challenges.
Travel Market Report asked four travel agents who have mastered the art of working virtually to share their advice, insights and strategies.
Owner, Global Voyages, Inc.
LEARNING CURVE: When I started, I didn't have a set schedule. I picked up calls day and night, weekdays and weekends. If the phone rang, I answered. I was building my business. Clients started expecting this, and they made no effort to call during regular business hours. Instead most called after hours and on weekends and would get offended if I didn't answer. As time passed I noticed I was making more and more mistakes. I was always exhausted, stressed.
LESSON LEARNED: I switched to more conventional 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday hours, and that changed everything. Once I started respecting my own time, so did my clients. Now if I take care of their requests after hours or on weekends they see it as a nice gesture.
A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN: I would advise newcomers to have a separate work space, an office in their home that's just theirs and serves only that purpose. I found that necessary to stay focused and motivated.
MISSING THE TEAM: After years of working from home, one of the challenges I had was feeling like I am part of a team. Also, not having to leave my house to get to work has gotten to me after a while. Scheduling meetings with co-workers, suppliers and clients, doing work-related things outside my home has become necessary to make me feel like I am part of this industry.
Mercedes Christina Ozcan
Owner, Fit Travel Go!
TOP TIP: Ignore the housework.
CRAFT A PLAN: Structure yourself so you have a normal workflow. It doesn’t have to be from 8 in the morning; some people work 7 to 3. It doesn’t matter. You can take two hours out in the middle of the day. But you have to have a time-in, time-out of any particular task you have to do.
GETTING ENERGIZED: I have to get out of my fuzzy slippers and PJs, put on a business suit and empower myself to go, for example, to breakfast seminars. You come back refreshed and energized. It’s very isolated sometimes. You have to supplement it with meetings, networking events, joining associations, and being with like-minded people.
FOCUSED TIME: My calendar gets filled up [but] I don’t schedule anything on Mondays, because Monday is my email day, my work flow day.
KEEP MOVING: Don’t sit eight hours without getting up and stretching. It’s important for your mental focus, for your body. Get up and walk around. I have a high bureau in the bedroom where I place my laptop and work standing up. I find that I’m more productive, more alert.
GUILTY PLEASURES: I’m guilty of having the TV on. For me it’s the Food Network channel, so sometimes it’s, ‘Yah, let me watch that show. Who’s going to tell me no?’ Or I take my cup of coffee and go outside if it’s a nice day. Or I take the dogs for a walk. There’s no guilt in that.
FACING YOURSELF: You can get caught and have a spinning your wheels type of day. You have to deal with your own sense of who you’re looking at in the mirror: ‘Here it’s been three hours, four cups of coffee, and I’ve got nothing done.’ It’s a mental struggle.
Maya Northen, CTA
President & Owner, Chimera Travel, LLC
Cherry Hill, N.J.
OH, THE DISTRACTIONS: When you work virtually, and particularly when you work from home, there are so many distractions –– the laundry, the dogs, the grocery shopping list.
THE STRATEGY: For me, it’s routine, it’s ritual. I have a calendar where I schedule the major things I want to get done each day, with room for client emergencies. I try to wake up around the same time and be active in the morning –– go for a run or go to gym. I try to finish around the same time, and I give myself a few breaks during the day.
STAYING ON TASK: I work on an hourly fee, so I use a client clock and that really helps. It takes away from email distractions, social media. If I’m timing a client, I’m not going to go look at a Facebook post.
LEAVING HOME: Client meetings, consultations with new clients –– I tend to do that at a coffee shop or café. I prefer to be out and about. When it’s too quiet, it’s kind of disturbing to me. I’m more focused out in the world.
BEST ADVICE: Find a work style and schedule that works for you. It’s discovering the way that you work most efficiently, makes you most happy and meets your client needs. Then stick to it. Also give yourself a little leeway.
NETWORKING: I threw myself headfirst into organizations. That’s a way to get out and meet people. In Philadelphia, we must have five or six big hospitality industry organizations. I pick and choose. Sometimes they are young professional mixers. I do a range.
SUPPLIER RELATIONS: Making sure you make personal connections with suppliers is very important. It’s more difficult when you do everything virtually. It’s important to maintain those relationships, to check in with each other.
TOP TIP: You have to be focused. You have to be disciplined. I still get up, I still take my shower in the morning. Some people go, ‘Oh I’m home, let’s see what’s on the TV or read the newspaper’ like it’s a Sunday. I’m in my office now. I’m wearing my jeans, a T-shirt, I’m comfortable, but I’m working. I’m disciplined.
THE PERKS: The nice part about it is if you do have a client or a rep in the area who wants to meet, you have the privilege of keeping your out-of-office [message] on.
GET YOUR SLEEP: You need to turn off your phone ringer. Don’t be woken up at 2 in the morning. You have to be fresh and able to service your clients. If you’re waking up at 2 in the morning, then 5, then 11 at night, you’re not going to be efficient.
CLIENT TRAINING: My clients know I will get back to them. You almost have to train your clients. You tell them, ‘I will service you. I’m good.’ If it’s urgent, you’ll deal with it.
YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY: At the Ultra Luxury Summit there was an agent at the table in her 20s who was constantly checking her phone. I asked, ‘Do you ever turn that off?’ She said, ‘That’s how I get my clients.’ I told her, ‘I know your clients are important, but you’ve got to turn it off.’
STAYING SANE: One of the things that keeps me sane is that I play racquetball competitively and I scuba dive. When I go on vacation with my husband I do not stay connected. I take one vacation unplugged.