In Her Words
No replacement for the high-touch factor
By: Stacy Elliott
Is it just me, or does it seem like the volume of travel required at most jobs these days makes it nearly impossible to have a two-career family? I had an impressive career prior to having children, but my husband and I quickly realized that with all the travel involved in both our jobs, it was going to be impossible for both of us to continue working while having appropriate childcare for our boys. Neither of us had extended family close by, and we didn’t feel comfortable expecting a nanny to burn the midnight oil because one or both of us might get stuck for hours or days in some travel nightmare.
We made that decision four years ago, and I managed to get creative with my company and work part-time from home – with only a limited amount of travel. But as my husband’s career has advanced, so has the amount of global travel miles he’s racking up. Each time he’s stuck in Germany, Brazil or Los Angeles, I’m reminded of how tenuous it would all be if I weren’t holding down the fort at home.
So many companies have come so far with telecommuting and flexible work schedules, so why does the amount of travel required continue to escalate? In my husband’s case, the world has gotten smaller and more accessible. This is great for business, but tough on families. I often compare notes with my girlfriends on how many family vacations were either cut short, canceled or abandoned because our husbands had to bail for last-minute work issues. Rather than being an anomaly, it’s pretty much the norm for all of us at least a couple of times a year.
My mother finds it all appalling and reminds me of this frequently. While she adores my husband, she can’t imagine how anyone could cut out early on a family vacation to get back to work. Coming from her 1950s mentality, she’s equally vocal and indignant about the amount of time we spend working. The paradox in her point of view is that my father was a commercial airline pilot and missed the majority of holidays every year. I guess she figures that was his work – to travel. Today, we not only have to endure the endless travel, but we have to be fresh and ready for a full day after having flown all night to get to that important meeting.
Ironically, my husband works for a telecommunications company, so one would think they would be burning up the phone lines rather than the airport security lines. I routinely ask him why a company that sells phones wouldn’t be more inclined to use conference calls to get more work done. He reminds me it’s because people need to get together in person to make sure things are properly debated and discussed. He says it’s the collaboration, personal elements and high-touch that matter, and those things are hard to accomplish over a phone.
While I don’t necessarily like his response, I can’t really argue with it. In fact, it’s the reason I’m here, at home. In no place is it clearer than in a home with children that the personal elements and high-touch matter would be impossible to accomplish over a phone.
Tell us: Has too much travel affected your career choices?