Beyond Our Borders: after “hola,” then what?

As I noted at the end of my recent blog post, I am on vacation in Barcelona, Spain. My 9 year old son and I take advantage of traveling by doing a home exchange – meaning we swap homes with folks in other parts of the world. Last year was Paris, this year we swapped with a lovely Spanish family who are now in our home and we are in their apartment. I have planned for months for this trip, but of course things come up I didn’t plan for or expect. Nothing life shattering or enough to impact the trip, but, I need to adapt, be flexible and be ready for contingent plans.

This reminds me of the many of you who work for large multi-national companies that frequently send employees abroad for conferences, meetings or to live for an extended period of time. Maybe you are one of the ones who keep a passport in your desk. As HR professionals, are you doing everything you can to help prepare these employees for both an exciting and often times stressful journey? For those of us who love to travel we are “up” for the adventure, however, there are still many things to contemplate such as language difference, culture, food, transportation and basic comforts.

Here are some things to consider the next time you say “Hasta la vista” to an employee:

1. Consider setting up a buddy in the new country. If your company has an office in the country, pair the American with someone who can be there to answer even the most basic questions. Having a buddy in any situation gives the traveler (or new employee to your company) someone to quickly bond with and get an idea of the rules of the road so to speak, rules within the company and city.

2. Send the traveling employee off with a nice organized packet of information about the location. What? Aren’t there tour books for those kinds of things? Yes, absolutely. However, I can tell you lugging around a 414 page Barcelona guidebook is not fun. I actually ripped some pages out of the Lonely Planet guidebook as I was tired of the dead weight. Make it easier for the working traveler. The packet should include, but not be limited to: local transportation, American Embassy locations, credit card emergency numbers, company hotline or other key numbers, places to exchange money and a recommended list of over-the-counter medications to bring. You are not being paternatlistic – many folks you are sending abroad hav never traveled before. I highly recommend also preparing a one-page sheet of key phrases – how to get to the bathroom, bank, foods, etc. When I went on a trip in college called Semester at Sea, we were given a “green” sheet that contained useful phrases and locations of things and it was a very handy document and I continue that tradition now.

3. Sleep. Please remind the employee traveler that it takes time to adjust to the time difference. Recommend some type of sleeping aide. Be sensitive to planning meetings immediately after the person arrives (depending on the lengthe of flight, etc.). Give the employee a day to get acclimated once they get home. You will have a rested and happier employee.

Any other travel tips for employees? Please pass them on.

Hasta luego.

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