While there are thousands of home-based advisors, a large portion of the travel agent community is still working in brick-and-mortar storefronts and now find themselves having to work from home indefinitely as governments work to flatten the curve of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
That could be a drastic change for a lot of advisors, who aren’t used to setting up shop from a home office or a kitchen table or who aren’t used to sharing their working space with others in the household who are also now forced to work from home. But travel agents talking to TMR said that, while it can be a jarring change, there are ways to help ease the stress.
“Social distancing doesn’t mean self-isolation,” Gina Gabbard, senior vice president of Leisure & Independent Advisors with Ovation Travel Group, said. “It just means we need to be creative in the ways we connect with each other.”
Here are some tips and tricks for staying productive and on task from home-based agents to those that are new to working remotely.
1. Set ground rules with the people in your home
“As a home-based agent, the current situation is more business as usual – almost,” said Judy Fiorello, owner of Sail and Sand Travel in Williamsburg, Virginia. With kids out of school, there is a bit of an adjustment to be able to spend time with them and guide them accordingly.” Try and reduce distractions as much as possible.
“Advise those in the home that you're working and not to be interrupted unless it necessary. Close the door, if you have one, to let others know this is uninterrupted time,” Fiorello added.
2. Create a morning routine
It’s important to start your day as if you were going into the office – anything to get you into the mindset you’re “going” to work. “Although I miss working at the office and my work family, I have been doing several things in my home to create some routine,” said Limor Decter, travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group in New York City. “Firstly, I wake up early and I get dressed nicely each day - no leggings or sweatpants allowed.”
Laurie Jenkins, travel consultant at Hagens Travel and Cruises in Vancouver, British Columbia, also said while it is tempting to stay in them, it’s best to get out of pajamas to get yourself motivated for work.
3. Maintain regular hours
Keep your office hours, including taking a lunch break and set a timer if you need to be reminded. Fiorello recommended to stop working when your office day is done.
“It's all too easy to keep working into dinner time, or later, but that's not a good work/home balance and your family, and you, may suffer if you don't end work at quitting time.” She suggested set an alarm to remind you if needed, turn off the computer and lights at quitting time and close the door when you walk out so you're not tempted to come back and do more work.
4. Schedule Breaks
Ben Borelli, travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, said “if you have the opportunity where you can walk around the block and the weather permits AND you keep our plan of social distancing, do so. It’s healthy to breathe fresh air out of the house.” Decter also said she sets an alarm on her phone every 75 minutes to stretch, breathe deeply, and her straighten posture.
5. Set priorities
Set priorities of what absolutely needs to be done this day and what can roll over to the next workday. That includes limiting social media to breaks or lunch.
Fiorello suggests using the Pomodoro or other focused method, such as block work, to concentrate on a task for a certain amount of time - and only do that task don't multitask.
Andrew Steinberg, travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, said updating mailing lists and data bases during this time are key. If you find yourself with extra time, he recommended creating newsletters, participating in lectures and video tutorials on destinations, accounting clean up, reaching out to partners to check in, “then have a firm stop time which allows you an opportunity to separate the day and then have leisure time.”
Looking on the optimistic side, Fiorello said “the silver lining is that many people may have a different outlook on a travel agency that has a home office or a private office as being just as legitimate and valid as any storefront office. This is a hurdle that some travel advisors struggle with when obtaining new clients and the question is... ‘Where are you located?’ and the answer is ‘I have a private office.’”