This page will give you practical steps you can take as a business to run your travel business remotely
– and get more efficient in the meantime 🙂
Key Takeaways on this page
- – Remote working is here to stay >>
- – Bosses need to get tech savvy and fast
- – Remote working is harder right now than normal – and to be successful you need more than just ensuring everyone has a laptop >>
- – How can I control staff I can't see
- – How to maintain / create company culture with a remote workforce
- – Technology you need
- – How Travel Agents can sell remotely – setting up a system to sell holidays remotely
Remote working is here to stay
I've spent my working life in various roles. My first job was working for British American Tobacco growing tobacco in Northern Zimbabwe. My bosses in London literally had no idea what I was doing most of the time – no internet, party-line phones ( the ones you share the same line with multiple houses – farms in our case, makes me sound old!). Not dissimilar to how home working has been viewed up until now.
When I trained as a chartered accountant I spent 3 years auditing small companies. Other than the work I produced at the end of the audit assignment my bosses again had no idea what I was doing on a daily basis ( including downing energy drinks while locked in a client office after a particularly big night out with my fellow trainee Edward – whoops – that was a one off though!)
The similarity? I was a remote worker for most of the time
The World Pre March 2020
Running travel and food businesses since 1996, both intensive on staff employment ( you can't actually implement WFH on a food business) I was determined in 2011 when I set up Net Effect that we were not going to have a physical office. Why? Because I'd seen first hand for 20 years how geography limited the ability to recruit the best individuals.
Back in 2011 we were seen as either ‘cool' – wow , you're a virtual company or ‘not a company' ‘oh, you work from home, not very established'.
The World Post March 2020
Having an office made you a ‘real company', that's not the case any longer and never will be again.
But why did Travel Agents not move before to remote working ?
REASON 1: We need to all be together in a shop?
I remember Graham Simpson saying to me when I first started as his Finance Director at Simply Travel ‘we did have a shop Steve, but we blocked off the windows after a few months because people kept walking in to talk to us about holidays and it takes about 10 times longer to sell to them face to face' A shop is great if it's in the right location, gets foot fall and acts as an advertising method, but if it doesn't, it's an expensive ‘nice to have' (the same now applies to offices)
REASON 2:Bosses not wanting to implement remote working
Setting up a company to work remotely involves being tech savvy.
Most bosses older than 40 ( that's a lot, right) are not tech savvy. They would rather have an IT department on hand – which strangely means that no one in the office outside of tech ever tries to get their head around being tech savvy.
Answer: There is no excuse now, you have to get tech savvy. Digitise or Die as renowned Travel User Journey specialists ‘Foolproof' say
REASON 3: Employees like being in the office?
When we took on a new Project Manager ( from Freedom/Thomas Cook before that ship went down) she said initially that she missed some of the ‘Water Cooler' chat and the ability to interrupt someone easily top ask them a question. We solve both those issues online and now, not only doesn't she interrupt anyones work flow, but can juggle being a Mum and working from where she and her family live, for a business she actually wants to work for, rather than it being ‘local' to her.
Ask anyone at Net Effect if they want to go back to being in an office. I can tell you the answer – No!
What our our credentials?
We all work from home. We have team members in different time zones. We manage over 200 clients and sell the majority of our work remotely. There have been occasions that a client has requested a meeting as they want to ‘see the whites of our eyes' – I suspect this WFH era will put a stop to this.
This WFH does not need to be a compromise:
- – We have a great culture
- – We are incredibly productive
- I am convinced that the world will not return back to normal post Covid-19.
- – Employees who spent 3 hours a day commuting won't want to do that anymore
- – Employers won't want to pay for big offices
- – Employers will want to recruit the best staff, why be limited locally?
Remote working is harder right now than normal – and to be successful you need more than just ensuring everyone has a laptop
It's an unusual time to start remote working and so for everyone, bosses and staff you've had to deal with:
– no systems have been set up for remote working, you've had to cobble some together based on systems that worked for you when you all sat in the same office
– You will probably struggle with focus because of the constant stream of news on Covid-19. In times of stress people usually prefer contact, rather than self isolation
– Lots of home workers spend some time working in cafes and hubs for WFH pro's. You can't do that right now
– Your whole household is home, so it is noisier than normal
– it does take weeks to settle into WFH. Just because you don't feel it's right now, doesn't mean it's not or can't be a great way to work in the future
So you'll need to keep in contact more with face to face Zoom's to make sure that everyone is coping OK and brainstorm ideas about how to work more effectively together. You'll need to look at your systems and software and analyse whether it's up to the job or not. You are responsible for making sure that employees work spaces are OK and that they can work effectively. Even though everyone has been sent home, having key workers who can advise and share best practise for WFH can help everyone get settled in much quicker.
How to Transition to home working – Tools of the Trade & get tech savvy
You think you need to be in the office in person
This is most often because all the systems that you have set up in an office are set up to be physically available. in the physical world that we have grown up in, it's easy to follow protocol.
Typically booking forms are printed out and filed in a cabinet. You need a premises for that. But what if booking forms were online and stored in the cloud? You wouldn't have to go into the office to retrieve them.
If you are moving your business to a remote environment then think of the things that you need that can't be in easy reach and then ‘digitise' them ( this is where you'll need to be tech savvy)
Filing Cabinets: What do you keep in them? Normally client records / booking forms / supplier contact details. All things that can be digitised and stored in the cloud. Convert paper forms to digital forms. If you still do need / use paper, use a service like https://www.ukpostbox.com/ to digitise forms
Accounting: Use a cloud based service like XERO or Quickbooks. We connect these to GoCardless ( a cloud based Direct Debit Platform) so that our clients are invoiced, billed and invoices marked as paid automatically. This reduces the need to have more accounting staff than the part time ( remote worker) we employ to do our accounting.
Receipts: We use https://www.receipt-bank.com/uk/ but Quickbooks also comes with a receipt scanner so that you don't have to keep paper records
Email: Most Travel Agents have legacy email systems that they download email to ‘Outlook' from guess what? A cloud based server ( they don't usually know this)
We use and only recommend GSuite and love it. It comes with Google Docs which can pretty much take care of all our document sharing needs
Most often I hear comments like – I'm too old to learn about online as if it's an option. It isn't anymore and bosses will need to get tech savvy so they can ensure they are putting the right tools in place to make their business work.
How will I know if anyone is at work or doing any work?
Some work can be completed at any time. But for client-facing businesses such as travel agents, you want to know that your sales team are ready and waiting to sell.
There are countless online scheduling apps such as https://wheniwork.com/ which lets you set up employee schedules.
But while everyone is at work how do you communicate?
We have tried lots of software over the years and have settled on the following to let people know when we are working:
1. We simply have set daily core hours. If one if us is not going to be available for 2 hours one afternoon then we set that in our GSuite Calender and normally tell each other as well
2. We use Gmail online for email. As we spend most of our time in email we use the instant messaging in Gmail which also handily shows us when someone is online. We also use Skype with our development team for managing ongoing projects and similarly can see everyone online. We only use Skype messaging for urgent messages and set up Skype Groups to be able to keep relevant people in the loop on discussions. Skype is free and easy to use and useful for WFH, has a great mobile app so you can take part without actually being at a desk ( the same applies for Gmail)
How will I know what is going on at the business?
If anything, you should be able to set up systems so that people know what they should do. No more ”she's gone into the bosses office, what is that about?)
– Gmail as our principle communicator
– Teamwork.com for managing all our client projects. This is by far and way the best project manager we have ever used
–Trello to manage ongoing ( non client facing) tasks. Trello is free to use and you can set up easy task boards like ‘to do' ‘pending' and ‘done' to manage tasks. It is the best task manager we have ever used and has a great mobile App
What about spontaneous conversations / water cooler chat
We find, and googling this will reveal the same. For bigger teams it is worth having a water cooler session once a week so that all the team can talk about anything they want. But we find to really get the same benefits at home we use whereby.com We could use Google hangouts / skype / Zoom, which we use as well, but for Water Cooler catch ups, we find Whereby.com to be the best tool. Why this is may be personal, but we all love it. You can be spontaneous because its a live browser experience that takes 5 seconds to start, no downloads. And we can start it with one person and if someone else wants to join, we just tell them the ‘room' we are in and they can ‘walk in' in 5 seconds, no software needed.
Technology you need
You won't have an IT department – you won't need one ( or the size you had before)
When there is no IT available then it is worth having the best computer available.
I only ever recommend Macbook Pro's. Once you take into account the cost of IT support ( or lack of need with a mac) then it's the cheapest option. I connect mine to two screens and then when I do have to move to a different location – I have everything with me.
A Good Microphone
If you are going to be talking a lot with clients then a good microphone will make you sound more like you are in the same room when you are on a skype call. It removes the ‘echo' ‘tinny' sound. I use a Rode Microphone, but the mike on a macbookprp is pretty good as well.
Aaron Parecki has some great tips for improving Remote Meetings without breaking the bank
Improve Your Audio
I tell everyone to download https://krisp.ai/ It automatically mutes all noise apart from your voice
Use Zoom for client meetings ( and everything else).
How travel agents can sell to clients from home
The world has changed – the silver surfers have even got tech savvy and now regularly Zoom their family so they will expect you to be equally savvy.
Staff will need training in how to talk to clients and sell to new ones. The future is video and those agents that get on with being able to talk to clients and prospective customers via video and be able to screenshare will win the day. This is a massive opportunity for smaller agents and travel businesses that can change the way they work quickly. Small businesses are more nimble.
But it does not happen automatically – just as you have office rules and training, so you must have ‘different' office rules and training for remote wokers.
1. They must be comfortable with the tech they are using. If that is Zoom for an online client consultation then they must know exactly how to use it. They must show calmness ( their client may not know the exact software sharing application you are using) and be able to easily use the software like they can a phone
2. They need to have a good webcam – we use Logitech
3. They should have a good microphone so that they can be easily heard – check that you are supplying a good laptop with a microphone, if not, research within your budget microphones
4. Make sure they have downloaded and can use background noise cancelling app – krisp.ai to stop all background noise such as pets and kids noises
5. Invest in a good CRM that works for your business. Now that everyone is remote working you will want a central place where you can update prospective client records with phone conversations / notes
6. Set up a sales group on Skype where agents can simply message the group they've made a new sale ( like an online whoop!) – it helps keep everyone in the loop as if in an office
Workflow for setting up a client sales meeting
Ordinarily, clients call you and email you. Sometimes that's enough. But what about those clients that like mine, want to see the whites of our eyes. Or perhaps the itinerary is quite complicated and it's best to go through it with the client.
We certainly find that we are most successful selling when we do one to one online scree and video meetings.
Use and adapt the following workflow to succeed in replacing client visits to your shop, with online Zoom Meetings.
- Get the tech right. In other words, read the above and make sure that you have addressed the issue of tech, trained staff and know it works.
- Decide if you can sell the holiday alone, or whether it would be good to bring in a specialist from an operator for part of the call. It is ordinarily not possible to do this in a physical environment but setting up a meeting between your client and yourself and the operator of the holiday will give you a much better chance of conversion than you have now. If you do want to use an operator, agree a time with everyone involved.
- Agree a time for the meeting and make sure that you send out a reminder the day before the meeting/hour before the meeting. Make sure you have the client's phone number so you can call them if they don't turn up as it could be tech-related.
- Dress Code / Office Tidy – make sure you look professional and that your background does to. Consider using Zoom's virtual background to hide any ‘mess'
- Prepare – write bullet points on a Google Doc ( consider creating a template for all staff to use for ‘selling' via Zoom. Having bullet points will ensure you don't forget anything. Call Centres have used these types of ‘prompts' for years
- Send the invite to your client with plenty of time. If you don't want to call them all the time to check if they received the email , consider using email tracking software such as https://mailtrack.io/en/ where you can see if a client has opened your email ( this is good for quotes too!)
- Get any additional material ready for screenshare – e.g. website pages, video, maps
- About 30 minutes before the sales meeting
- Log out of your other notifications to stop distractions ( eg if you use office skype, go on mute)
- Close any applications you are not using
- If you use Apple OS, open the notification centre and activate ‘Do Not Disturb' so that you don't get any embarrassing SMS messages popping up on screen during the session
- Use Owly if on a Mac to stop it going to sleep or starting your screensaver
- Make sure you have a full battery or are connected to your mains
- If you will be browsing the web, open a single blank browser window in ‘Incognito' mode so that you don't get any history popping up as you type
- Go to the Toilet 10 minutes before the meeting
- Have some water – your throat can go dry
- Hold the sales meeting
- After the meeting as finished, tidy up the notes you have written and then either copy them across to your ‘Quote‘ software or email what you have agreed with your client. Add notes and comments to your client account in your CRM
- If you've made a sale – record it in your CRM / Booking system and post it on your Skype Sales Group – Whoop Whoop!