White Collar Travel: How Important Is That Phone Call?

The biggest complaint that non-business travelers have about the white collar folks likely involves cell phones. Our reluctance to turn the off at the appointed time is probably the greatest annoyance to those around us, though the Gordon Gekko-style pacing and posing at the gate tends to ruffle some feathers, too. I’ve overheard and even been asked countless times the very simple question: “Is it really that important?”

Of course, it’s sometimes phrased, “Nothing can be that [insert expletive of choice here] important.”

Now that I’m out of the game, my perspective on business travel has changed greatly, but there are some quirks and habits that still make sense to me. When I see a guy in a suit shaking his head dramatically, waving his arms and clenching his jaw, I get it. Chances are, it really is that important. Some issues won’t wait, especially if you’re bouncing up against a deadline and are about to be inaccessible for several hours.

In fact, it’s measurable.
Whether it’s commissions or billable hours, every white collar traveler has a number to hit – for the firm and, more importantly, personally. A manager squeezing in those last few minutes before the phones have to go dark can set people on the right course for the next four hours, resulting in possibly tens of thousands of dollars of value to his company.

Now, that’s the positive side of this. There’s also the crisis scenario. The door’s about to close, and you have only seconds left. Your project is blowing up, and your team needs any information or guidance you can give. Anything you can do will make life that much easier for the half a dozen or more people relying on you. I’ve been on both sides of this one and can assure you that it’s uncomfortable for all involved.

When you’re annoying everyone around you – which you really don’t want to do – you’re comparing that to trying to help your team. So, the choice involves securing the approval of strangers or taking care of people who are important to you. It’s easy to see how that one shakes out.

There is one more scenario to keep in mind: the business traveler before you, hollering and gesticulating, is a complete asshole who is unbelievably desperate or as much attention as he can garner. Do anything except ignore him, and you’ll only make it worse … for everyone.