Time versus travel

8 May 2012
If you lived above a shop, as prime Minister David Cameron does, you might think that getting to see your family would not be too much of a problem. But in his recent Today programme interview on Radio 4, the PM bemoaned the fact that sometimes he only got to take his children to school once a month. Sure – he’s a busy guy. But he must see his wife and kids a lot more than many people do. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to travel too much in your job. These days most of us are not enjoying swanky business class (or better). It’s belt-tightened economy all the way. Thank God I’m short. Those cramped seats in ‘coach’ still offer me enough leg-room. I think those ‘compact’ seats and spartan hotel rooms are possibly trying to tell us something. They are saying: “Was this journey strictly necessary?” Now, I’m no techno-evangelist. There are limits to technological alternatives to face-to-face meetings – even if you are lucky enough to be able to use the high-quality (and pricey) real-time video conferencing over internet systems that are now available. There really is no alternative to looking into the whites of somebody’s eyes and pressing the flesh. But tight budgets and environmental concerns should be making us ask tougher questions about our excess mileage. Can one-to-one phone calls do the same job? What about reading contracts or documents first and only discussing them when everybody is up to speed? How about tighter time limits for meetings, avoiding overnight stays? Time is a limited resource too, like water and fossil fuels. We should use it more carefully. ☛ A business travel supplement appears with this issue Not-so private and confidential mail At the time of writing, at least one ministerial career is hanging by a very thin proverbial thread – and all because of a few stray and reckless emails. Over a decade since this new technology was made available to us all, we still seem not to have learned how to use it properly. Comments are made in emails that we would never make in more formal letters, or even utter out loud in meetings. We seem to think that emails are in some sort of ‘secret squirrel’ code, forever under wraps and unintelligible to anybody else. But clearly that is nonsense. Emails are formal texts as much as any other official document. They last forever and can and will be found. We should be more sensitive about how we use them. I am old enough to remember the excitement of receiving my first curly fax on heat-sensitive paper. Some SM readers will even remember wrestling with a telex machine. The point is that every new bit of kit has to be learned and mastered. It should not be taken for granted, no matter how clever it may seem at first. And employees should not be let loose on it until they have had proper training. No doubt we have all sent unwise emails in the heat of the moment. But these are not private messages. They are, in every sense, on the record. And we should imagine third parties opening them up and reading them before we press send. ☛ Stefan Stern is director of strategy at PR firm Edelman and visiting professor of practice at Cass Business School
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