Friday, April 30, 2010

Working Vacation: Do You Tell Your Clients?

I’ve been out of town for over a month. I spent some time in the Netherlands, Paris, Vienna, Prague, and London. It was an extremely memorable trip. But it wasn’t all vacation.

For several weeks during the trip, I was staying in a single place, more or less living a normal life. And that normal life involved working. During my vacation, most of my clients didn’t even know I was gone—I met my deadlines the same as I would have in the States.

There were some challenges, of course. I never had trouble getting an Internet connection—a rare thing on working vacations and one I’ve learned to expect. But the time difference was something I had to keep in mind; I was six hours ahead of most of the people I worked with, sometimes more.

And when phone conversations were called for, it was tricky. Phone calls to the States are difficult from overseas, even if you use Skype, unless the other person has it as well. I did one Skype conference call which went off perfectly fine. The next time I tried to talk to a client on Skype, the connection was terrible. I had to call her back on my European cell phone, and the minutes evaporated like an ice cube on concrete during a New Mexico summer. I finally had to make an expensive land-line call from my host’s phone, apologize and explain that I was in Europe. The client was very understanding, we finished the interview and the rest of the project went well. Looking back, I should have had an international calling card ready to use on the land line. Next time I have to make client calls from Europe, I’ll be better prepared.

I was reluctant to tell clients where I was—but when I ran into trouble because of it, it turned out to be better to explain things than to let them think I was a flake with a bad phone connection. What’s your policy when you’re on a working vacation?


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

Just an FYI: "International" calling cards that are bought in the U.S. are not so international once you leave the U.S. In other words, you can call out of the country, but calling back in with them is a challenge at best. I got no cell phone connection in Europe either. Even the members of my group who paid extra for international roaming got no service. I'm told T-Mobile and AT&T work, but forget about Sprint or Verizon. Fortunately, my trip was a non-working one; otherwise, it would have been disastrous. Glad you were at least able to get a reliable Internet connection. When I was in NYC for a month, you had to pay for an online connection just about everywhere. My conclusion: The world's not quite as connected as it thinks itself to be. ;o) Good to see you back to blogging.

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

I just got back from a conference in NYC and I was appalled that the hotel charged $15/day for internet on top of the outrageous price to stay there. (I made use of the conference wifi connection in the common areas and went to Starbucks a few times.)

It's sometimes tough to stay connected in a different state, much less a different continent! I try to keep my travel plans on the DL, but sometimes that backfires. I take it on a case-by-case basis. Now that I have a BlackBerry, it's a bit easier, at least in the states. One of the conference panelists suggested buying an unlocked local cell phone before going overseas.

Unknown said...

I don't know about internationally, but I have T-Mobile for cell service and I've never had a problem with keeping up with people on my BlackBerry. In fact, BlackBerrys have tethering on them too so I have actually been on a cross country drive and still able to connect to the Internet. I'm not saying I was downloading movies, but I could definitely work.

Taking a vacation in general, I think it depends on the client on whether you tell them you're leaving or not. If you know you're going to have to talk to them on the phone while you're gone, I suggest that you do. Just because if something happens and you can't make that conference call, they understand.

Kimberly Ben said...

I'll be traveling quite a bit this summer myself and plan to keep going with business as usual. It's always good to see other successful writers making it work. Hats off to whoever invented the laptop, cell phone and WiFi!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Kathy: Yep, you have to buy international calling cards in the country you're staying in--NOT the US. You can't use an American cell phone abroad, although you can buy disposable cell phones in Europe that will make international calls (it's expensive, though--I'd recommend a land line and calling card for better rates, or even Skype, but check your per-minute Skype rate against what they give you on the calling card to see what's cheaper).

Wow, maybe I should write a blog post on the technical side of working abroad.

@Susan: Yeah, my plan for Internet is always to know where the cafes are that give free wireless. A lot of places do. You can also get it in libraries sometimes--in NYC, for instance, the NY Public Library in Bryant Park has enormous reading rooms with free wifi. I think all the public libraries do.

@PJ--I think you're right, there's something to be said for keeping clients informed if there have to be phone calls. I ran into trouble with that and finally had to 'fess up. The person was completely understanding and the project got done on schedule, luckily.

@Kimberly--so true!