Corporate travel databases: give morale a shot in the arm

“Corporate,” “database” and “morale” usually don’t show up in the same sentence – at least not without some sort of negative word nestled in there. Images of tedious data entry are conjured, which does nothing for your state of mind while on the road. Yet, these words can be joined, and the resulting concept can be a gold mine for any company with legions of road warriors. Every employee accumulates knowledge while traveling. They learn which restaurants are best (and worst) in a particular city, and they develop coping strategies that their colleagues may find useful.

The curse of a travel-heavy company, of course, is that the employees don’t see each other often enough. When they do, talk turns to business first, and many of these tips remain hidden. A single place where the collective wisdom can be stored and shared can make business travel much more enjoyable tolerable while fostering communication where it might not exist otherwise.

I’m still stunned by the fact that I only saw the corporate travel database in action once during close to a decade of frequent business travel (frequent = around 40 weeks a year). It was pure genius, worked well and was used regularly. With the social media tools now available, it’s even easier than it was back then to implement the concept. Rather than a “database” in the traditional sense, a company could use a Facebook page, LinkedIn account or even a simple message board to share ideas, experiences and advice with coworkers.

So, how do you get a corporate travel database off the ground?

1. Someone needs to own it

No project gets off the ground in Corporate America without a “champion.” Clear it with whoever has the rubber stamp before pulling the trigger, and become the first contributor. Post regularly, and tell people about it – especially those who are going where you’ve already been.

2. Identify likely helpers

Find the eager beavers who will join the cause – every company has a few. Everybody wants to be heard, and this is a save and easy way to gain a voice.

3. Publicize your successes

As people take advantage of these shared tips, let everyone know, especially if there was a business impact. For example, “John Smith’s client loved dinner at Pomodoro Rosso … we was so tired of restaurants in midtown.”

4. Get granular

Simply being redundant with TripAdvisor and other user-generated content sites won’t help you out. Think local, unusual and relevant to the travelers in your company. You’re looking to solve a problem. So, find and contribute real on-the-ground intelligence. Late-night bars that will be open after a day of marathon meetings, for example, are both valuable and had to find when you’re new in town. The names of restaurant managers who are sympathetic to a little palm-greasing can be gold when you need a table on short notice. Every detail counts.

5. Respect boundaries

Know your company’s policies, and abide by them. If you use Facebook for your travel-sharing tool, be sure access is tightly controlled. Also, management needs to be on board, and the “right” people (different in every company) have to be kept in the loop. If your tool is developed properly, you’ll have one hell of an intelligence file. Just think of what would happen if it got into the wrong hands!

So many companies fail to tap the collective knowledge of their employees in so many ways. While a corporate travel database may not boost sales or share business information, it can help with morale and client entertainment (and, ultimately, relationships). Knowledgeable people become more productive, especially when they don’t have to cope with the quirks of a strange place while figuring out the intricacies of a new project. And, it’s always good to have at your fingertips the info you need to blow off a little steam. In the end, performance goes up, and people feel better about their jobs.

We have the tools at our disposal, and there’s no shortage of information. The only thing missing is the effort that pulls the two together.

Five ways to make business travel easier

If you are a classic Corporate America road warrior, you know the drill. Get up well before dawn. The wheels go up as dawn breaks, and once you land, you face a 12-hour workday followed by a client dinner that goes on forever. It’s a miserable existence, and anything that makes it easier is gold. I used to live this grind – 40 to 45 weeks a year away from home – and I picked up a few tricks along the way.

1. Don’t sleep (too much): I cut down my sleep time on planes because I realized how much personal time it cost me. If you have two legs on your trip (i.e., a layover somewhere), only sleep on one of them. On the other, read, watch a movie … somehow make that time yours.

2. Take care of your body: make some time to work out, even if it’s short. If you don’t, you’ll get fat. Seriously. I became awfully tubby with remarkable speed. More important, you just won’t feel as alive … and you need all the vitality you can get. Bodies are made to be used – give yours what it wants.

3. Unpack: it’s too easy to live out of your bag. Psych yourself out by using the drawers. Set up the desk to be used, with your laptop, any books you have and maybe even a framed photo. Your surroundings won’t feel as institutional. And maybe, just for a moment, it will almost seem familiar.

4. Get a portable hobby: start a blog (anonymous is smartest for the Corporate America types). Learn to knit, jog or take up online chess. Do something to engage your mind away from work. You’ll feel like you’re taking home with you on the road.

5. Don’t sweat minutes: it’s tempting to manage every last minute of your free time to get as much as possible … but this is the route to insanity. Don’t rush yourself in the bathroom or get pissed when a waiter takes an extra three minutes to bring your credit card back. Hell, three minutes is only .0003 percent of your week.