Tuesday, 2 October 2007


Picture from the Guardian Steve Bell section. I bought a t shirt with the design from these people, who sell lots of others as well. Cool.

Not naming any names, but a company I used to work for was a firm believer in business travel for its workforce. I was based in its European head office in London, and many of the middle and senior staff within the lines of business would travel to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Milan and Madrid on a regular basis. Latterly, the 'emerging markets' were increasingly on the radar, and Budapest and Moscow (interesting to note that an HIV test is required for a business visa of longer than 3 months' duration for Russia) were added to the list.

Executives would make reasonably frequent trips to - again, not naming any specifics - the West Coast of the US. As I worked in Facilities Management, our department was a cost to the business (quite a significant one) and always in obeisance to the money masters and mistresses. "Budgets are tight!" the cry would always go up, "Tom (made up name) has told us that we have to come in flat, or even under, year on year." There were dire warnings that if we overspent in any area, no matter what, cuts would have to be made elsewhere.

All of these jeremiads were of course pure bullshit, and insulting to the intelligence of a trained baboon, but we played the game all of us, sombrely nodding our heads as we read yet another press release on the revenues, profits and share options of the company, whilst being unable to spend 5K on that essential chiller maintenance and made to look like a twat because of it. But there is no bitterness, as I'm sure is evident from this post, just a sense of confusion.

The head of our team - of our cost centre if you like - was a frequent business traveller and would journey to all of the cities above, sometimes as often as once each week. Or else he would hop from one to the other, spending a day, or even less, at each office. I'm not saying that his considerable talents weren't always strictly necessary in an in-the-flesh sense. Far from it. Though I did once travel with him to one of the offices (each of which, BTW, had its own manager or sometimes even a director) to assist with an office move. This activity is perhaps unique in an FM's worklife, in that a hands-on approach is often required to ensure that all the crap that can go wrong gets put right. Most of the rest of the time, like nearly everyone else, FMs are just, well, doing email basically. So, on this particular trip (where I made the mistake of going into Amsterdam for an evening with my friend James) what did our esteemed leader do? Email. Lots and lots of email.

Surely, in this age of video- and web-conferencing, in this age of the virtual presence, in this age of environmental consciousness, there's no need for all that air travel? Isn't it morally and financially corrupt to expend the vast amounts of money and CO2 involved? But then again, what the hell do I know?

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