Ajay Yadav sees every day as a new opportunity to make positive co-living experiences easier to find. He's guided Roomi through its debut in New York and expansion to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, with other markets and services launching in 2016. Ajay also serves as a Lean Startup Machine mentor, advising early-stage startups during crucial growth points.
Founders may find themselves traveling to solve any number of business challenges, such as sourcing materials, finding streamlined manufacturing capabilities, or raising capital. I travel both within the United States and around the world in order to help us expand to key markets. Building local expertise and strategic relationships helps me understand the legal, operational, media, cultural and capital challenges that might accompany our entrance to that market.
However vital it is to the growth of your business, travel is a disruption that can challenge your ability to work productively. No matter whether you're in a five-star hotel or crashing at a friend's place, it's not home. You may sleep poorly, have trouble finding a good workspace, spend more money than you'd like, or make a cultural mistake. I take frequent trips that last between 10 days to two weeks, which means I have to learn how to work on the go without excuses. Here's how I've found the greatest success on the road:
Before you even think of taking off, there are a few things you can do to help ensure that your time away from the office is efficient for both you and your team. Preparation will save you time, energy and money.
- Build autonomy into your culture: Good leaders know how to delegate rather than micromanage. When your team is confident and self-sufficient, they can continue to make decisions to move the company forward even when you're unavailable for a final decision. Early on, I wanted complete access and control over our services and accounts, but I soon realized that this would require too much dependence on me as we started to scale. Letting employees lead (and allowing them to make mistakes) has not only led to better innovation, it has also made my team accustomed to managing their own workflows, eliminating their fears of responsibility.
- Plan travel strategically: I usually confirm all meetings prior to booking travel to avoid wasting time. Planning my meetings in a centralized location and coordinating where I'm going to stay eliminates or reduces travel time and allows me to walk to my meetings. Walking around the places I'm visiting gives me a chance to experience the city, clear my head and do some strategic thinking, while getting in some exercise, regardless of how hectic my travel schedule is.
- Equip your team in advance: I always work with the team before I leave to ensure that they have the assets, resources and clear goals they need to accomplish their objectives while I'm gone. I also set parameters for checking in, reserving some time when I'm available to the team--even if there's only one hour of reasonable overlap during extreme time zone differences. As we've grown, we've added department heads who help the team figure out challenges and make urgent or difficult decisions.
- Work ahead: Since most of my time traveling is spent in meetings with potential advisors, investors or partners, there is little time to get other work done while on the road. I make sure that I complete all my other work before I leave, especially the crucial things. Trying to get it done while traveling only creates anxiety. This also frees you up for the inevitable last-minute or urgent situations.
On the Road
When you travel, there is so much that's out of your control. Trying to control every detail is exhausting. You're not at your home, so you're not as comfortable and you may feel "off" all the time. Remember, it's temporary. Go with the flow as much as possible.
- Take advantage of help: Now, I have an assistant who helps me schedule travel, gives me directions, and updates meeting arrangements. I didn't hire her until I felt like I was spending too much time and energy organizing my own calendar. For early-stage founders who don't have the capital, new (cheap or free) software and on-demand staffing resources are a huge help. I used to use Amy, x.ai, to cut down the scheduling emails.
- Work on the cloud: Because we have remote teams, the cloud helps us keep everything synced. I don't carry my computer all the time, but I can still access everything on the go through my phone or iPad. This also reduces the risk of losing files if a computer is lost or stolen.
- Work with jet lag: Don't resist it. This advice about travel and jet lag has changed my whole experience. Why force your body onto one schedule only to change it back again? Of course, meetings need to stay on schedule, but you can be flexible with your personal habits. If I'm really tired, I'll take a nap. If it's the middle of the night and I have a lot of energy, I'll work.
- Find reliable internet: In order to save money, I often stay in cheap hotels or hostels, where it's not a guarantee that reliable internet will be available, much less free. And even though airlines charge exorbitant fees for internet, flying time is still precious work time. Research online or contact the airline to ask whether the plane is equipped and you can purchase internet in advance at a special rate. You can also look into local co-working spaces. Since we are a WeWork-based company, I can book a conference room in a sister WeWork to ensure that I have a quiet place (with coffee and tea) and faster, reliable internet. In a pinch, Starbucks (which is practically everywhere now) is great.
- Make travel seamless: Especially while away, I want to ensure a few things happen: people and services are getting paid and I'm involved in communications. Justworks does a great job making sure that everyone is getting paid automatically and employees can ask questions about their benefits. With Abacus, you can easily import expenses through linking your credit card and approve charges instantly, so that employees don't have to wait long to be reimbursed. Slack has opened up communications between different departments or teams, so that whenever I do have internet, I can see the conversations I've missed.
These approaches have made me a better, more productive leader on and off the road. What would you add to these pointers?