For two years, I was a frequent business traveller, flying around 800 miles a week. The company booked flights, hotels and parking on my behalf. I filled out an expenses form for smaller costs. It was all very easy.
When the finance director went on maternity leave, an operations manager absorbed her role. It’s a family-run business and members of the senior staff often doubled up roles to fill the gaps, so a move like this wasn’t uncommon.
Little did we know, an innocent, doubling-up exercise would make work really challenging.
One week, I was booked into different airport parking. It was 20-minutes away from the actual airport but shaved £9 off the normal price. It was simple enough to accommodate; I’d set off 30-minutes earlier, park and catch a minibus to the airport. However, when I returned home and the minibus took a different route, I knew something wasn’t right.
I discovered my car had been moved to an unlit pub car park. The minibus driver, keen to get back to the airport, told me to retrieve the keys from a solitary caravan in the nearby, almost pitch black, field. Despite reporting this encounter, my car was still booked into the same car park on all subsequent business journeys.
Soon afterwards, hotel accommodation was also stripped back and 20-hour working days became the norm. During a typical travel day, I was up at 3am to make the transfer from the sketchy car park to the airport, board the 6am flight, work a full day, check in at roughly 7pm to fly home at 8pm, catch the mini bus at 9:30, back to the car park at 10pm and drive home. I was ruined for the rest of the week.
When I did need to stay overnight, hotels were booked very far away from the city-centre office to get a better rate. Again, it usually wasn’t a problem because they booked somewhere comfortable, but boundaries were often ignored. I heard that some team members shared rooms with managers! No sleep tonight, then!
I escaped relatively unscathed in this respect. Once I slept on a colleague’s floor. Pretty tame, if embarrassing and inconvenient. Another time my hotel was booked but not paid for, presumably forgotten on someone’s to-do list. At the time, I had no savings and my salary brought in just over £1,000 a month. Pre-AirBnB, I had no choice but to pay £175 for a hotel room just so I’d have somewhere to sleep. It was quite a sobering moment.
One female colleague stayed in a bed and breakfast so far out of town that there were no other guests, phone signal or WiFi. In the middle of the night, the proprietor – a character she likened to a ‘Hammer Horror’ figure – knocked at her door, for a routine check. There was an awkward conversation about breakfast, all things that could’ve been done at check-in. Without a connection to the outside world, no escape route (apart from the train back in town), and no safeguards to check she was okay, she had good reason to be troubled.
Another colleague was left stranded in Jerusalem. The local guide who was booked (and prepaid) to ferry her from pillar to the post, didn’t show up. Lacking local knowledge and an overseas-ready mobile, she flagged down a cab. With little more than patchy Manchester United small talk and broken English to aid her, the cabbie put his foot down and they hurtled through the streets. She had no idea if she was in the right place, or even if she was safe.
Four months later and exhausted, I handed in my notice.
At the time, I forgave all the mistakes because logically all issues that arose away from the office were out of my employer’s control. In hindsight, and with a few years more experience under my belt, I know that these hiccups were all avoidable.
If the person responsible for organising the business trip is even slightly distracted, careless, or apathetic, it can put you in uncomfortable and even dangerous situations.
Failed processes at the office should never compromise your safety out on the road. Employers should do everything within their power to keep the lines of communication open, and be able to transfer money quickly and securely. Most importantly, taking note and implementing improvements to the process when things do go wrong will save time, money and a lot of anxiety.
Real life office stories brought to you by FairFX, the expense management solution.