Rustica Lamb is an owner and general manager at learning and development firm Bloom Learning Solutions.
Can you talk me through the kind of travel you do?
We started the business in 2012, and from the beginning it was set up so it could be run from anywhere with a laptop. My husband and I have a nine-year-old daughter, and when she was five and then again at age seven we took her up to Bali to spend time studying at an international school called Green School, which teaches children to be global, sustainable and environmentally aware citizens. And next year we're actually moving to Bali for her to finish her middle and senior schooling there. Because I've known from the outset that those were our personal plans, every decision about the business has been made on the premise that I ultimately physically wouldn't be in New Zealand.
More generally I do about four overseas trips a year, and I'd say 75 percent of those are for business.
For example, I just got back from London where we received a silver award as startup learning provider of the year at the 2016 Learning and Performance Institute's annual awards, and next week I'm going to Wisdom 2.0, which is a mindfulness in business conference in San Francisco. Then in August we'll be spending a month in Bali, before going to Sumatra to look at the orang utans, and in November we'll be back in Bali for our annual planning session.
What are some of the challenges you've encountered as a business owner who frequently travels?
Time zones are a big issue, but you can't really do anything about that! Team communication is another. We have an unusual business model in that all the team are contractors to Bloom, so when you add frequent travel to that mix maintaining communication and creating a sense of team is challenging.
We did an internal culture survey at the end of last year and one piece of feedback was that everything was in my head, and some of the team didn't know what was going on from week to week. So now I do a weekly video on a Friday to update everyone what's happening in the company, and also with personal stuff. I record it on my iphone anywhere I am - last week was in Hyde Park in London - upload it to our team channel on YouTube, then email the team to tell them it's there. The whole thing takes 10 minutes, and the feedback from the team has been great. We also do quarterly face-to-face meetings with all the team in Auckland, and this year we're adding a fun event to those business catchups. After our next one in April, we're doing a high ropes course together.
What other tools or strategies have you found helpful to keep business as usual running smoothly while travelling?
Technology is a big one. We moved from Skype to an online videoconferencing system called Zoom, which we've found brilliant. We also use the Google suite of apps - Google Docs, Google Calendar and Gmail. Everything is cloud based, so from a collaboration point of view it's fantastic. And I'm currently trialling Slack, which is an app for team communication.
Also, one of the common factors I've observed among highly successful people is that their daily routine includes getting up early to exercise. I go for a run every morning, and I keep up my exercise when I travel. So when I got off the plane in London, I went for a six kilometre run, and also found a gym a five-minute walk from where I was staying and got a week's pass. It takes discipline, but it's worth it.
On the other hand, what things have you learned to avoid to keep things on track during travel?
On the technology front, developments are coming in thick and fast and I have a tendency to say 'this looks great, we're going to use this now', whereas the poor team is saying 'another thing to learn?!' So I've learnt not to get overexcited about all these new technologies, and have a good set of criteria for adopting something new.
Another thing I've learnt is the importance of finding team members who are culturally a good fit for our way of working. As an owner of a business I think you need to look at your star performers and pinpoint what the qualities are in those people that you really like, and also look at the ones that didn't work out and say 'what are the things we didn't like?' so you can turn those lessons into a list of qualities you look for when recruiting.