In this day and age, we are all pretty much connected constantly – to our families and friends, the news, and to our jobs. Laptops, smartphones, smart watches, Bluetooth in our vehicles, and almost limitless wi-fi make it easy for us to have communication and information at our fingertips at all times. Unfortunately, this can sometimes make things more difficult than it makes things convenient. There is often an expectation that someone should be reachable and responsive 24/7, and that they can always just “take a quick call” on their cell phone or respond to a few emails, even if they are traveling for work or otherwise. This is a misconception, and there are important limitations to the amount of work that a person can or should do if they are traveling.
The most important limitation on working while traveling is safety. If you are driving and do not have hands-free abilities on your phone, you should not call or text. Not only is it illegal, it is extremely unsafe. No work call or email is worth your life or the life and safety of anyone else. If you are walking in an unfamiliar area, a crowded area, or crossing lots of intersections, you should remain alert and focused on your journey and your surroundings. Distractions like picking up a call or reading through emails or texts can cause incidents such as walking into a street before the crosswalk has changed, accidentally stepping off the curb or into a hole or other obstacle, or bump into others or your surroundings causing a fall and injury to yourself or someone else.
Another important consideration for working while traveling is your actual focus on the work that you are doing. Are you really going to be able to listen carefully to what a client or coworker is telling you if you are on the phone while hurrying through a busy, crowded airport or train station, or are yelling into the phone over the sounds of a city street? Do you really want to send a rushed emails with typos simply because you want to respond immediately but cannot look at what you are typing because you are also walking somewhere? Can you take notes or look up relevant documents if you are taking a call from your vehicle? Do you really want to have to call the person back to go over information that was already discussed simply because you could not give your full attention or focus to that call the first time, when you could have waited a few hours and made it a more productive call? Special additional considerations can come into play for certain professions, including attorneys, for taking calls publicly. It can be very important that others cannot overhear your call, even if it seems like it is not a big deal, due to things like attorney-client privilege, trade secrets, or other information that should be shielded and kept private.
Another consideration for when to draw the line on working while on the move is that sometimes it is just plain rude. We have all likely had the experience of sitting in a coffee shop trying to enjoy a cup of coffee or sitting on a bus when all you can hear is someone speaking loudly into their cell phone for an extended period of time. We have probably all cringed at the person who shoos the waiter away at a restaurant because they are in the middle of a call, or been irritated at the person standing in front of us in a checkout line who does not move along with the line because their head is buried in typing an email or message. While society has become much more accepting of public cell phone use, it is still important to take a moment to consider whether the situation is appropriate for a call, or whether you will be disrupting the peace and quiet or posing a nuisance to those around you.
Often, there is pressure to continue to take calls and respond to emails while traveling simply because the technology is available to do so. You may worry that coworkers, customers, or clients will think you are being rude or ignoring them if you do not respond right away. You may feel that if you are not constantly working, you will be seen as a slacker. There may be concern that you will miss something time-sensitive if you do not read every email as soon as possible. There are some ways that you can help alleviate some of these fears and concerns and allow yourself to focus more on safely traveling until you get to a destination where responding to work calls and emails is appropriate. Give a heads-up to those that you work with closely that you will be out of town, and give them information about your travel plans, such as what time your flights leave and land, and when you expect to arrive at a hotel or meeting place. Let them know if you will be driving and unable to read or respond to emails. If you have a work calendar, be sure to mark not only the event that you are traveling to, but also the time that you will be en route to that event, and whether or not you can be available for calls or emails during that time. You can create an automatic email response stating that you will be out of the office traveling for a period of time and may not be able to respond to calls or emails right away, but providing another contact at your office who may be reached in the event that there is something urgent. Set a time during your travel to check emails and return calls, such as maybe getting up an hour earlier to do so, or when you first arrive at an appropriate location in the airport once you are checked in and waiting for a flight. Finally, use good judgment and be firm with people who may try to make you feel guilty about not returning a call or email immediately. Most people will be understanding if they are made aware that you are not available due to travel or other obligations for a period of time, but even if they are not, it is not worth risking your safety or wellbeing to placate them when it is not an emergency.