The Revolutionary Assistant

The Revolutionary Assistant aims to be a partner to her manager. Fetching coffee and typing memos aren't her focus - she's fighting the good fight day by day with the boss, and she's getting things done.

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Revolutionary Reference

Revolutionary Reference

We've amassed years of administrative assistant knowledge here on this site, and it's time we share it with you.
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Revolutionary Quotes

Revolutionary Quotes

To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy. (Will Durant) Public speaking will get both you and your manager farther in your career.
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Video conference and desktop sharing are a breeze with FuzeBox. Save your company money on meeting travel using this great tool!
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Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Planning meetings across the globe? World Time Server is the best tool to ensure that you're not getting anyone out of bed to meet!
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Meeting Chit-Chat: Distraction or Productivity Enabler?

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that are telling people what I have long known: connecting with your co-workers on a social level enhances productivity.

I’ve had a few jobs in my time, and the ones that I loved the most are the ones where I had warm relationships with my co-workers.  Why?  Because while I loved doing what I did, I loved it more when I was doing something for someone I really appreciated and respected.

If your manager thinks that chit-chat and socialization doesn’t belong in the meeting room, tell him to think again.

Chit ChatChit-chat boost happiness – And happiness is a boost to productivity.  I was most productive when I was at a company I loved with people I admired, and one of the reasons why I came to be in that place was because I’d been permitted chit-chat with them.  In this day and age, people don’t go out after work with their co-workers for drinks, and there aren’t too many company softball teams to join.  Pre-meeting conversation is one of the few ways you can help your co-workers establish these closer relationships.

Chit-chat promotes trust – Again, those admiration and mutual respect cards come into play again.  I work better with people that I trust, and one of the ways I came to trust these people is because I’ve learned about their backgrounds and the things that are important to them.

Chit-chat allows your manager to celebrate others – If he’s not already using meetings to give nods to employees who are doing fantastic work, he should be.  But some chit-chat gives him the opportunity to learn that his employees are doing triathalons, have kids that have graduated on Harvard’s dean’s list, and so on.  Celebrate everything, it makes people feel special, and that makes them want to do better work.

Chit-chat breaks restore focus – There are lots of studies out there that indicate breaks from work restore focus.  If you have a longer meeting, set up a break and allow the conversation to flourish.  Chances are likely they’ll be able to get back to work afterwards refreshed and ready to go.

If your manager feels like chit-chat is going to creep in on valuable meeting time, schedule it into the agenda.  If you plan it, let it happen, and then get on to other subjects, you’ll still get the same value.

Long live chit-chat!

Next Post: Wednesday, June 8

Is The New Boss Going to Make a Good Partner?

This Revolutionary Assistant blog is all about being a good partner to your manager.  But, let’s face it, not every manager is going to be a great partner.  It’s not new news: there are managers out there who are really lousy bosses.Bad Boss

The primary reason that people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their managers, and if an assistant doesn’t like her manager, that can make for a very bad situation.  So, when you interview for a new position, how can you tell if you’re going to get along?

First things first: think about the type of manager you’d be most successful supporting.   Do you enjoy a manager that is very hands-on and guides you every step of the way, or do you want one that gives you a task and lets you figure out how to accomplish it?  Do you want a manager that advocates a flexible work schedule and understands the importance of work/life balance, or would you rather someone who is as Type A as you are?  Put some thought into the personality characteristics a manager might exhibit that would make you most happy, and the ones that would really get your dander up.

Then, off to the interview you go.  Here are some more things to look for:

Does this manager’s team get good results? – A team that’s disengaged from its manager doesn’t usually produce good results.  When it’s your turn to ask questions in the interview, make sure you cover things like, “What are the goals of the team?” and “Are you tracking to achieve those goals?”  If you find out that the team is way behind, that should be a red flag.  Managers who don’t have good teams won’t likely be good partners to their assistants, either.

Does this manager have integrity? – Chances are you won’t just be interviewed by the manager herself, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to some other people on the team.  When you do, try to get a feel for this manager’s integrity.  Does she care about the team?  Is she able to get them charged up about their mission, and do they want to do a good job for her?   Use indirect questions to figure out how the team feels about the manager, and do the same to find out how the manager feels about the team.

How’s this manager’s employee retention? – If employees are leaving this manager in droves, that’s a bad sign.  How can you tell if a manager has high turnover rates?  Well, for one, you can ask about the last person who held your position.  Did she leave the company, transfer to another department?  You can also ask questions about his team, what kind of positions make up that team, and what they do…and then use that information to look up his LinkedIn profile and the profile of those who seem to have worked for him.  Reach out to a couple of these folks and ask what it was like to work with this manager.

Does this manager have a singular focus…and it’s him? – If the manager talks about all the things that he’s accomplished, and where he’s going with his career, then he may not be too concerned about the careers and the happiness of his team.

Don’t ignore your gut feelings – You can get a bad feeling about a manager when she’s not engaging in dialogue with you, when she’s dodging questions, and so on.  If you get that foreboding feeling when you’re talking to a prospective new boss, pay attention to it!  These are warning signs.

When you’re an average working Joe, a bad manager can make for a very long work week, but when you’re a Revolutionary Assistant, it can be agony.  There are no guarantees that you’re going to get a great manager, but these hints can help you avoid some of a bad boss’ more obvious characteristics!

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 25

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Revolutionary Assistant!

Video shotsI can’t believe that the Revolutionary Assistant is five years old today!  We’ve had a lot of fun making videos, writing and researching articles, and hopefully making better assistants out of our many loyal readers!

Of all of my favorite moments, I have to say that making our Professional Relationships puppet video was among the best.  New to the world of filming, I wrote a script for the video that required one long, continuous shot.  My sister and my husband, both theater professionals, were the puppeteers, and my multi-talented brother-in-law was the puppet creator and director/editor.

I finally got all my lines right after 37 takes.  Yup, you read that right!  It took 37 takes.  My sister’s and husband’s arms were SO TIRED holding the puppets up over the cube wall for hours.  Of course, they flubbed up on their lines sometimes, too.  And more than once, my brother-in-law yelled “Cut!” because one of them had brought their puppet up from a horizontal to a vertical position over the cube wall, making it look like Dracula was rising from the grave!

So, Revolutionary Assistants, I present to you my all-time favorite video, written in a Panera Bread and filmed in my sister’s living room.  It’s proof that when you have the right, most spectacular team for the job, you can do anything…

…in 37 or so tries…


Next Post:  Wednesday, May 11

Are Administrative Assistants Becoming Obsolete?

The Revolutionary Assistant celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, and I looked around to find that I’m still championing the manager/assistant business partnership, and still asking that question: Are you Alfred, or are you Robin?  The reason why I continue to ask it is because the Alfred assistant is becoming obsolete.

Allow me to explain. I use DC Coretro worriedmic superhero Batman and his support system – butler Alfred and sidekick Robin – to explain the difference between someone who assists and someone who partners with their manager.  To recap our very first post, Alfred assists Batman by polishing the Batmobile and getting the Batsuit dry cleaned.  Robin partners with Batman by standing at his side, fighting the bad guys and providing solutions to the problems they encounter.  The assistant who’s more like Robin increases her manager’s reach.  The assistant who’s like Alfred…well, she’s eventually victim of a reduction in force.

A 2013 Oxford University study examined just how susceptible today’s jobs are to computerization, and they discovered that an astounding 47% of them are vulnerable.  So it stands to reason that assistants who concentrate only on getting the coffee and keeping the calendar up to date are in danger of being replaced by technology.

How do you take steps to ensure you don’t become obsolete?  Here are some hints!

Read this blog – We’ve spent the last five years talking about how to be a better partner to your manager.  Check out our videos and our reference section to answer specific questions…and have a good laugh!

Take the scary step – If you’re going to work every day and you’re not just a little bit scared, you’re not doing it right.  Learn something new, take on a new responsibility even if you have no idea how you’re going to do it.  Being a little scared is a good thing.  You’ll figure it out, you’ll learn, and you’ll become a more important cog in the organizational machinery.

Make your work important to others – If you’re not working for someone’s benefit (like your manager’s), then you might as well not be doing anything at all.  If your manager doesn’t find your work important, and his direct reports don’t either…reassess your situation and make a career move. They should feel like you’re making them bigger and better than they are alone.  You should feel fulfilled in making their lives better.  If those aspects of your service are not connecting, you either need to fix it or move on.

Find someone to challenge you – You know those people in the office, the ones who make your stretch your thinking to new levels.  Spend time with them, and force yourself to make new connections and be more accepting of new ideas.

Update your technology skills – I’m not talking about Microsoft Outlook here!  Don’t be the person that always has to ask for help plugging in the projector or getting the new software to work.  Be the person that gets asked.  Read up on available technology in computer periodicals and hang out with the young folks to see how they’re using their phone apps.

Get some business knowledge – I read the Harvard Business Review every month, because it helps me understand the challenges that my manager and my company face.  Social marketing and big data are not a part of my day-to-day work, but understanding trends helps me keep up with the conversation and offer viable solutions to problems we’re facing.  If you’re not into the Harvard Business Review, get a subscription to Fast Company, Inc., or Entrepreneur.  Or follow them on Twitter, and you’ll be able to read a lot of their articles for free.

It’s time for assistants to step up their game and go from ordinary to revolutionary, and from Alfred to Robin!  Don’t run the risk of technology taking over your job…use these steps to stay relevant (and employed!)


Next Post:  Wednesday, April 27

More About Working with Those Creative Types

Okay, so not too long ago, I did a quick blog entry about how to work with your graphic department. If you give them the right kind of direction, you’ll get back something that’s close to what you’re looking for. And, boy, it helps if you speak the right language, otherwise the art in front of you might be light-years away from your concept.

Well, it just so happens that I was reading my Harvard Business Reviews again, and in one of the magazines was an article about how to work with a creative person. Lo and behold, even more great information I could share with you!

The article talked about a scenario where the creative department of a toy company was presenting their latest concept, a car-and-racetrack game. One of the people in the marketing department pointed out that he thought the car needed a monster. The comment was disregarded by the creative department, but later it was determined that a monster was indeed what the game called for. But at this point, deadlines were missed and more production costs incurred.

Creative peopleSo, how could that feedback have been given so that the artist in this equation didn’t ignore it, wasn’t annoyed by it? The authors of “Collaborating with Creative Peers” offered these suggestions:

Offer suggestions that are broad, unfinished ideas – By proposing a broad, not-totally-thought-through suggestion, you leave the idea open for an artistic person to explore. Conversely, if you propose a very complete and well thought through concept, a creative person might think that you’re putting your creative stamp on it, and be less likely to offer suggestions of his own.

Don’t get too excited – As a creative person, I tend to like it when people get excited about something I proposed, but authors Kimberly Elsbach, Brook Brown-Saracino and Francis J. Flynn suggest that you could be sending messages that you’re going to take the idea over. That could cause the creative person to withdraw, thinking he’s not needed anymore or that things won’t be done his way.

Give them time to think it over – Artistic team members like the opportunity to walk away with feedback, chew on it a bit, and figure out how to incorporate it into their work without losing their own artistic stamp.

These suggestions might make it sound like a creative person is very controlling, and that’s certainly not what this is meant to imply. The left-brained assistant wants to organize and arrange and isn’t necessarily tuned in to the creative mind, but the more effort that’s made, the better the relationship will go. The artist wants to keep some level of control over his ideas, see it come to fruition. If he sees that (a) you understand this, (b) that you don’t want to take over the idea and own it, and (c) give him time to digest feedback and suggestions so he can make them his own, then he’s going to be more willing to work with you!

Next Post:  Wednesday, April 13

Open Workspaces – Couldn’t They Be a Little More Closed?

My office is in the midst of a remodel right now, and the plans are to take away my 72” cubicle walls and make them 48” so I can see all 45 of the co-workers sitting around me. I’m so thrilled about the new layout that I’m wondering how many days I’m going to have to work at home in order to get something done.

Now, I have some of the world’s best co-workers and we’re not likely to go around interrupting each other throughout the day just because our walls a little bit lower. But when a recent Gallup survey shows us that only 11% of workers consider themselves truly “engaged,” and noise and lack of privacy are workers’ chief complaints, why do we keep pushing for the “open, collaborative environment”?

Open office spaceThe words alone make me shiver.

It’s not just about the noise, though the noise in an office with no cubicles to absorb and block is bad enough. Back in 2010, author Patrick Skerrett (HBR, November, 2010) analyzed fifteen different noise studies and concluded that noise disrupts concentration, decreases productivity, and increases stress. It also isn’t good for blood pressure and your cardiovascular system.

My coworkers default to earbuds, and sometimes full-on headphones, to beat the distracting noise and ward off would-be intruders. Often, they aren’t even listening to any music, they’re just blocking out the cacophony of phone calls and copy machine conversations going on around them. Our HR person retreats to a closet with a phone in order to have private conversations with company employees. That’s a nice option for her, but if my husband calls to let me know the dog had an accident on the carpet, the whole office knows about it.

People’s need for privacy is as instinctive as their need for mixing and conversing with others of the human race. But in a world where information sharing has become so imperative, is team work and collaboration prized above all else? Or can there still be consideration given to the more introverted co-worker who is more productive when she can produce something she’s proud to put her name on?

The answer is a fairly simple one. In a world where every person has a slightly different working style, offices should provide open work spaces and places where people can find some privacy and get work done. “The question is not whether we need privacy in our office spaces,” writes Shane Ferro in his Huffington Post article “To Work, Open Offices Need to be a Little Less Open.” “The question is how to configure the space so that workers can move to the right type of environment for whatever task they happen to be working on.”

Studies have been done by office design firms Coalesse, Steelcase, and Knoll to try to determine the best combinations of space that allow creativity to thrive and workers to keep their sanity. The answer seems to be variety. As Donna Flynn, Director of Workspace Futures at Steelcase, puts it, “A big insight from our research was that the way each person controls distractions is very different.”

When an office remodel is underway, an assistant is often involved and policing the situation. A Revolutionary Assistant can get involved, do her research, and offer suggestions that ensure privacy and open collaboration areas are available for a variety of work styles. After all, the objective is to help elevate productivity!

Next post:  Wednesday, March 30

Managing Successful Global Teams

I’d worked for several “international” companies before, but never was I so integrated with a global team as I was when I worked for Google. I found myself constantly communicating with people in India, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, London…my co-workers were everywhere. But we definitely always felt like a team. I may have had to wait for a few hours to get an answer to my questions, but none of us felt left out in the cold.

Other companies are growing and becoming global, and managing those teams don’t always come easy. But, don’t fear! I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again and an article I found in the October, 2015 issue reminded me how my manager got the most out of his global team…and how you can help your manager do the same.

Help your manager create a sense of unity for the team – In my current position, we just purchased a company that’s on the other side of the country. Granted, they’re only a few time zones away and still a part of the United States, but I’m bent on making sure we know each other and become friendly. When you’re dealing with different cultures, this is very important. Set aside a few minutes in every meeting to talk about what’s going on in each others’ worlds, focus on what’s unique about each other’s culture. The idea here is to create balance, so no one feels like someone else has more of the manager’s attention.

Make sure your manager is accessible to the whole team – This might mean your manager taking Internationalcalls during off hours, especially if he has teams in Singapore or India, but all team members should feel they have as much of the manager’s attention as they need. And allow for unstructured conversations here as well – talk about that work commute whether it leads to your door or to a door halfway around the world.

Is everyone understanding and being understood? – In the midst of an exciting conversation, it’s easy for someone who doesn’t speak English as her native tongue to miss some of the conversation. In your duties of taking minutes, this is an excellent opportunity to stop the conversation, summarize, and make sure everyone in the group understands what’s been decided.

Exercise redundant communication – As an assistant, you can assist your manager in making sure that messages are heard. Follow up after meetings and conversations with emails that restate the mandates and decisions the group and your manager arrived at.  This will confirm that everyone in the group understands the direction in which the team is headed.

Being a part of a global team is a very rewarding experience. I remember celebrating Indian holidays on video conference with our team in Dehli, or asking our Australian counterparts what my day was going to be like tomorrow. Learning about the rest of the world is great fun, and working with a diverse set of people to accomplish great things is even better. As a Revolutionary Assistant you can help guide your manager to success with an international group.

Next post:  Wednesday, March 16

Performance Reviews: Is It Time For Your Self-Review?

It’s that time of year when you sit down with your manager and talk about last year’s performance and objectives, how you did, what you accomplished, and what you didn’t. If you had a good year, you look forward to the conversation and if you didn’t…well, it’s going to be a long meeting.

If you want to take the opportunity to remind your manager about the great job you did last year, you need to take advantage of the self-review. The self-review allows you to put a comprehensive list of your accomplishments in front of the boss, include metrics, and add color commentary.

How do you approach a self-review most effectively? Here are a few hints you can put into action:

Emphasize your accomplishments – But don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Think about your accomplishments from your manager’s point of view. How did your work impact the team, the bottom line? Once you’ve taken that approach, sit back and think about all the things that fall under the “other duties as assigned” category, that your manager won’t necessarily think about when he or she goes to jot down his performance review thoughts.

Make sure you include your failures – Leaving them out will just make you a little less trustworthy. But definitely include them, and play them up as recognized opportunities. If you say, “This went horribly wrong because I wasn’t on my game,” your manager could agree with you and ding you on her final appraisal. Better that you tell her, “This happened, and I took it as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. When the situation came up again, I was able to avoid similar outcomes by doing X.”

Use the opportunity to make a wish list – If you’d like to see things change next year, this is the time to start talking about it. Need to take a class in a particular software, bring it up! Want to add something new to an ongoing project you’ve been working on? Bingo! Self-reviews are the perfect time to do mention items like this!

Don’t take the time to coperf reviewmplain or blame other people – The self-appraisal is about you, so keep it focused on you. Sure, there might be a guy in marketing that wouldn’t cooperate, and now you can’t get your job done. That’s a different conversation. Focus your self-review on what you COULD accomplish.

Understand how your manager will use the appraisal – Will he or she look at it at all, or is the self-review something that’s required by HR but disregarded in your department? Don’t waste too much time if you know he won’t look at it at all. If you know he’ll use it or even cut and paste right from it, make it easy for him to do so.

If you’re looking to get a nice raise at merit time, don’t gloss over the self-review portion of your company’s performance appraisal process. This is your one opportunity to affect your rating and your review, so embrace the opportunity. It could mean the difference between a good raise and a great raise!

Next post:  Wednesday, March 2

Getting What You Want From the Creative Department

Creative people are a different breed, aren’t they? I can say that because I’m one of those creative types, and I can tell you that when my boss says, “I need this to stand out more” or “I want this to really look sleek” he has a very specific idea in his head of what his document/presentation should look like.

artistAnd I don’t have a clue.

I can’t tell you how much easier it would be if he said, “I want the font to be bolder” or “I want it to be blue instead of red.” Those are things I can understand. Sleek? Well, that can be interpreted a variety of ways, and I bet my idea of sleek is different than his is!

If you want sleek and you’re not getting it, here are a couple of tips from me on how you can get fabulous results from your creative department:

Give them time – I’m often asked to write scripts and shoot videos that drive home an operational point to our field staff. When I get these requests, they’re often accompanied by the requisite “I know whatever you do, it’ll be funny/cute/great, and I need it by Friday.” Well, here I have absolutely no specifics to work with, and I have three days to get it done. The creative idea you’re looking for me to provide often does not pop immediately into my head or, if it does, it requires more than three days to execute. The more time I’m given, the better the final product will be.

Set up time to provide feedback often – Presumably, you’ve taken my advice and given your creative person some time. That being the case, set up time to talk with him or her a few days from now to see how the project is going, or to get some preliminary ideas. Maybe even see a few drafts.

Be specific about your feedback (and kind) – I was told once to “get rid of that third-grade font.” Not only did a bristle at the bluntness of the remark, I have no idea what she actually did want. I had to pursue her, and probing led to the discovery that she didn’t like sans-serif fonts, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone marching into her office asking for more. Never mind that I was offended by the idea that I was trying to appeal to third-graders…

If you can help the process by saying, “I’d like to see a fancier/bolder/more delicate font” that’s something a creative person can act on. If you’re thinking of something in a specific color, say so. If you want to create a feeling with the art, articulate that. Or find some examples that are similar to what you’re looking for, and share them with your creative person. That helps, too!

Remember that they know their job better than you do – Creative people are well schooled on what they can and can’t do with company logos, brand messaging, colors, etc., and they know how to work within those parameters. Marketers get angry when they’re asked to do something outside of those brand parameters. Also, they’re good at making things pretty, and if you give them a little latitude, they’re going to come up with something better than you dreamed it could be.

Being a creative person in a corporate world is a lot of pressure. I, for one, am always worried that I’ve had my last good idea and that I’ll never come up with something original again (it hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always tomorrow!). Don’t make their jobs even harder by being unkind in your opinions and vague in your feedback, or it’ll take even longer to get what you want!

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 17

Travel Tips for the Not-So-Experienced Business Traveler

Happy TravelerThe not-so-experienced traveler is getting harder and harder to find as the world becomes a smaller place.  Even I, as an assistant, am required to travel five or six times a year now, and each time I head to the airport I end up learning something new,

If you, or your manager, are only infrequently called upon to travel, then some of these hints might be just what you need to make your trip a productive one.

Pull your boarding pass online – I think almost everyone knows this now, but in case you don’t, it’ll save you loads of time.  Have your flight confirmation number handy and log on to your airline’s website twenty-four hours before your flight.  After entering your information, you can print or send a boarding pass to your mobile phone. Better yet, check in and grab the seat you want for your flight, and then opt to print your boarding pass at the airport kiosk.

Try to avoid checking in luggage – For the same reason you don’t want to check in to your flight in person at the airport, you also don’t want to check your bag.  Checking your bag at the counter costs you time and nowadays it costs you money, too.  Then, when you hand it over to them, they lose it and you end up with no clothes when you arrive.  Pack everything you need in a carry-on sized bag (22″ X 14″ X 9″ – check your airline’s website to confirm). And if you’re worried about how you’re going fit everything in and keep it from wrinkling…

Pick a color for the trip and stick with it – You can never go wrong with black. But if you’re all about purple, go with it. Make sure you can mix and match your clothing, and if you can wear something more than once, definitely do it!

Bring just one pair of shoes with you – If your clothes are all the same color, it should be easy to match a comfortable pair of shoes to them. If you have to bring more than one pair, wear the bulkier of the two pair on the plane.

Pack to minimize wrinkling – If you want to avoid ironing or sending your clothes out to be pressed, then pack jackets and shirts on top, and tee shirts and night clothes at the bottom of the suitcase. If you want to make sure a jacket doesn’t wrinkle, turn it inside out and roll it around some tightly folded tee-shirts and night clothes. Or, my husband swears by rolling up his clothes. He says that it spares him the wrinkles and takes up less room in his case.

Choose your outerwear to go with all your travel outfits – …and then wear it on the plane. It’s the bulkiest thing you’ll carry with you, and it’s much easier to travel with it on your back.

The less toiletries, the better – You can always use the hotel’s shampoo and conditioner. Buy small containers of contact solution and other necessities. I’m probably breaking the law when I tell you that I never put my little bottles in a Ziplock bag, because I only have one or two. If you find yourself with twelve, reevaluate!

Don’t wait till the last minute to pack your chargers – You’ll forget them if you do! In fact, if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling, invest in a second set of them and just leave them in your bag. You won’t regret it. And by the way, make sure all your electronics are 100% charged when you leave so you can be productive on the flight.

Pack your “personal item” with all the on-plane necessities – I carry a “wristlet” with all my money and cards, which makes it easy for me to transfer from a purse to a tote bag for a flight. I can fit my laptop and tablet into my tote, so I can be productive on the plane. But, if I choose not to be productive on the plane I have a pocket for my laptop in my carry-on. As long as I’m not checking my bag, I feel comfortable leaving it in there.

If you’re an experienced globetrotter, then this blog entry probably hasn’t helped you out one bit! But if you’re new to the travel scene or if your manager is heading out on a trip for the first time (I see it at my office all the time) then hopefully these hints help make your trip more successful!

Next post:  Wednesday, February 3