While some people in the travel advisor community have been working from home for years, it’s still a new experience for many. We’ve spent the past five months adjusting to our new home offices, and for many companies, employees won’t be going back until late 2020 or early 2021. To help travel advisors navigate this new challenge, ASTA Global Live last week held a panel on the best practices for working in a virtual world.
Keeping employees on track can be challenging with the distractions at home. Angie Licea, president of Pro Travel International/Tzell Travel Group Division said to set goals and objectives and make sure you’re doing regular check-ins. “It’s important they understand what’s expected of them and you’re checking in to make sure they don’t feel lost, and celebrate those successes with a little time and attention.”
The panel’s moderator Summer Corbett, director of sales and marketing at Uniglobe Travel Center, recommended focusing on employees’ results and what they’ve got done, not on how much time they’ve logged on the clock. “The freedom you give to your employees goes a long way into motivating them to be productive,” she said.
To concentrate on productivity of employees, Helen Enriquez, vice president of product development and technology solutions at Ensemble Travel Group, focused on collaboration tools like integrated share point sites, and upgraded to Microsoft Teams, “so our engagement with them includes a different way of interacting on video calls.”
John Cruse, chief operations officer of Balboa Travel, engages employees through the agent network. For any new hires, there’s “a lot of training a lot of side by sides and mirroring.” To foster a sense of community, Balboa Travel hosts Happy Hours and trivia with prizes. “It’s about getting them together and making them feel like a team.”
Cruse said it’s also required to be on camera during video calls or meetings, as a way to keep engagement. Virtual backgrounds are provided for employees if it makes them more comfortable that sharing their background.
Similarly, Ensemble has “connection calls” where every department gives an update. “It’s a good way to connect with everybody,” Enriquez.
Member forums, either an embedded forum on their portal or on Facebook, have also allowed Ensemble member agents to share best practices and work together on getting across different challenges with customers.
Believe it or now, people end up spending more time working in their home office than they would in at their regular office.
Having been home-based for so many years, Licea said there’s a tendency when working from home to begin early and end late, especially when you’re going through that initial period of guilt where you feel like you always have to be online.
She said it’s important to get up and walk throughout the day you, from a health perspective, and keep a list of what you want to do during the day. “What happens when you’re home-based, you don’t sign off. So have a start and stop time and try and stick to it.”
Enriquez agreed that it’s a challenge to make sure you don’t burn out, as there’s a pressure you have to answer emails immediately.
With 60-70% of the day on video calls, Enriquez said there’s an active effort to make sure all meetings run as efficiently as possible and set expectations of what’s trying to be accomplished. All meetings need to have agendas, and are set to 45 minutes max because they tend to run over, and require minutes afterwards for follow-ups.
Managing and customizing your work space
“You’re more productive if you set up a good environment,” Enriquez said. Make your home office somewhere where you can work away from distractions. Make it comfortable and customize it to meet your needs.
Licea said she cannot live without is multiple monitors, and it makes maneuvering that much easier. If you use a laptop, try and connecting one monitor to make it easier to display your screens.
Cruse also makes sure his employees’ at-home setups are ergonomic to prevent any long-term injuries like carpal tunnel.
As for the tools themselves when working, Enriquez said training is always important to help agents understand how to use new technology, such as a recently rolled out video tool.
Automation tools and skills that work best for Cruse’s team includes FROMP, which funnels in contact points in one single desktop application, and is “less confusing for agents to control those touch points.”