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Previously this week I've been sent on a one-day business trip along with a 4y senior colleague, Bob. We work at a consultancy firm in IT and the aim of the trip was fixing some issues at our client's workplace (three hours by train from the city where I live and work, that, of course, are outside working hours).

There are few reasons I'm dissatisfied with the experience. Apart from being somewhat formative for me and keeping good client relations, it has been a wasted time for me.

Now, the client is requesting Bob's presence for another day in the next week (mentioning his name specifically). Bob has tried to shift the whole business trip on me, and when our manager told him this is unfeasible, he is still suggesting to bring me along.

Now I've already raised my concerns with my manager about the previous experience. The question is:

How can I make clear that I would rather avoid the whole thing?

  • Bob has more seniority on both the product and this client
  • On the other hand, I'm a junior with expertise on a small share of the product
  • Most of the things that I could solve for our client could be done remotely in 15 minutes
  • When faced with unforeseen issues, I'm not able to answer properly to the client. This of course it's my problem, but it would reflect badly on all my team.

Edit - on travel time: I've been asked about my previous statment, so I'll clarify: travel time is most outside working hours and is unpaid. I do get reimbursed for the ticket cost. The cllient doesn't expect us to do a regular 9-18, so we were able to get in later (10:20) and get out a little earlier (17.40) on the previous trip, thus 1,30 of the total six hours was compensated.

Edit - on the opportunity itself: I realize what is at stake for both parties here, and what I could possibily learn/gain from the experience; but I'm questioning wheter this is in my best interest judging by the previous trip.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 25 '18 at 6:40
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I think the issue you have is that you don't want to spend 6 hours per day on a train and then arrive at the client where you're essentially the 5th wheel for another 6 or so hours depending on what tasks the client gives you. That's a waste of money for you, your client and your company.

If you normally work a 9 to 18, and on those days you work a 10 to 17 with another 6 hours around that, but you're only actively working for the client for 30 minutes of those 13 hours, your client still pays you for 7 hours while you only work 30. that's a waste for the client, because you were effectively not needed and they could have saved the cost of a billable day.

If you get sent to the client for 7 hours and your boss pays you for a full 7 hours but you only work for 30 minutes, that's a waste for your company, because you were effectively not needed and they could have saved the cost of sending you there.

If you have to sit 6 hours on the train and effectively have to spend time for your company, but don't get paid for those 6 hours, that's a waste for you, because that's nearly an extra day of work that you can't spend at home or wherever you want.

I can totally understand that. There are effectively 2 routes for you to go here: Either you try to convince your boss that your presence is not needed, OR you try to reduce the waste of money for everyone.

Reducing the waste of money would in this case be:

  • For the client: actively involve yourself in the consultancy tasks. Don't just passively stand in the corner, because I don't think that's why Bob is so adamant he wants you to join him. Listen to what's going on, asks questions and suggest possible ways to do things, stay on the lookout for problems that might arise and try to preempt them. The more you learn, the better. Leave a good impression for the client and ensure that you aren't just spending 30 minutes of your day actually doing things for them.

  • For you: Try to convince your boss that your travel time should be billed and reimbursed, even if only at half the normal billable rate. Checking a lot of sources online, pretty much every consultant who travels more than 2 hours per day to get to a client factors in a travel time billable item. Spending 6 hours per day to get to your client without getting paid for it is unheard of.

If you can't get your travel time reimbursed as such, you should ask your boss if it's okay to work on the train for normal billable time rates. This means you can still provide value to your employer during those 6 hours, but it's not for free, and they can still charge it to whatever client you're doing the work for.

If you can't get your travel time reimbursed and you're also not allowed to work on the train, then it's only fair that while on the train, you don't do anything for your boss: you don't talk to Bob about work, you don't do any work and you don't prepare your tasks for when you arrive. Read a book, watch movies on your phone, play videogames, Do anything but work. You're not getting paid for it, so your boss shouldn't have any expectations that you're actually doing stuff for him while you're on the train.

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How can I make clear that I would rather avoid the whole thing?

You could just go to your manager and say "I think this trip is a waste of my time, I'm not going." Of course your employer may well respond with "I think continuing to employ you is a waste of our time, I'm not going to do it any more."

On the other hand, I'm a junior with expertise on a small share of the product

How do you expect to ever get beyond not knowing anything about this product and client if you refuse to participate?

Most of the things that I could solve for our client could be done remotely in 15 minutes

Yes.. but this would negate the opportunities, both for you to acquire some technical knowledge from Bob and as you put it "keeping good client relations"

When faced with unforeseen issues, I'm not able to answer properly to the client. This of course it's my problem, but it would reflect badly on all my team.

It's not like you're on your own, Bob will be there to provide more knowledge as appropriate. Saying "I'm relatively new to the role so I'll have to check that with Bob" doesn't reflect badly on the whole team. Everyone was new at every job once, people understand that.

There are few reasons I'm dissatisfied with the experience.

It was a business trip, not a day trip to an amusement park, what do you want? a refund?

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    All good arguments to go to on the trip. Now he just needs to make sure he doesn't go to work for an extra unpaid 4.5 hours and it's settled. – Hans Janssen Nov 23 '18 at 14:16
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    @Geliormth Ideally yes..but a strategy for that will depend on things like the OP's locale, their employment status, contract etc. Happy to update my answer with some info on that if the OP can provide the info. At the time of writing the OP's stance was very much that the travel time was secondary. – motosubatsu Nov 23 '18 at 14:25
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    @Geliormth If I'm a salaried employee and I've been sent on one trip that took a little extra out of my day for travel, I'd not expect to be paid for that time. Expenses as pertains to travel tickets of course. If I were on an hourly wage it might be different. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 '18 at 17:19
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit but I would expect to take time of in Lieu after wards. – Neuromancer Nov 23 '18 at 21:07
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    @Neuromancer For a couple of hours on one day? Nah mate! – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 '18 at 21:26
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From the boss' point of view, the client insisting on a specific employee, rather than on anyone who can work on their issue, is a problem. Bob might leave, be sick, be on vacation, or be requested by two clients simultaneously. For keeping the client happy, your employer's bus factor is currently one, and that needs to change.

In addition to you learning to deal with the client and the client's problems, the client needs to learn your employer has other technical employees, not just Bob. One of your objectives on the trip should be to learn enough to be able to do future trips without Bob. Use some of the time on the train, as well as at the client site, to learn from Bob, including asking questions about what you need to study next. Another objective should be to convince the client that you are learning enough that in the future you will be an acceptable Bob-substitute.

Success will be when you can handle one of these trips solo, possibly with some phone calls home to get help, and the client is happy with you doing so.

  • It seems like Bob is the one trying to get OP to take over this client. so it's not the company trying to reduce its bus factor; it's Bob trying to shift an unwanted duty onto a newer employee. – stannius Nov 27 '18 at 17:10
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I think this issue is your overlooking the reason that you're being invited to such business trips.

As a junior there is a whole learning process in not only IT but being able to communicate with clients and problem solve efficiently.

If you find that you do not know the answer, you can pass it on to your more senior colleague or say something alone the lines of:

Sorry I don't have the answer to that but I'll take it back with me and I'll email you a response as soon as I have the information.

I feel that going is your best option.

If you do feel that you would rather not go just say to your boss:

Hi Boss, I've been thinking about this business trip and along with the concerns I've raised I really don't think it's beneficial for me to go on this trip.

If they respond with anything but an acceptance of your request... Just go. They clearly want you to go whether you think you should be or not. There'll be a reason behind it.

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I don’t know where are you located, but I’ll summarise some things you should consider:

  1. As it is mentioned in another comment, this is work and sometimes we are tasked with things we don’t want to do. You should learn that. Also support trips to clients are usually better handled as a ‘team’: it shows dedication and investment from your company to solve the issues even if you are not strictly needed. To get to know your clients in their premises is also invaluable to build reputation and trust on yourself and not many people get this chance.
  2. We are talking about work. And this is to be compensated. You don’t travel to your client as a hobby and I don’t think his offices are some kind of famous tourist destination. Travel time is working time and shall be compensated as such. On top of that you should get compensated for expenses related to travel (what they call diets) depending on country and company policies. You shouldn’t accept to travel on your own time under no circumstances.

As an example, in Germany travel time is working time and starts counting from the moment you exit your home the day of travel and your hotel the days you are outside.

So my recommendation in this case will be to offer yourself for the support but only if your travel time is working time and you get diets for working on the client’s premises as those are standard conditions for that type of work.

  • As far as I know that is generally not true for Germany. Unless you are ordered to work during travel, travel time outside of your working hours is not considered work time. Or has this been changed recently? – kapex Nov 23 '18 at 16:05
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    The time you drive to your employer is unpaid. The time it takes to get to a client is paid. arbeitsvertrag.org/fahrzeit – xyious Nov 23 '18 at 17:40
  • @xyious exactly. I'm used to not go to the office when I go to the client. In this case it starts counting from the moment when you leave home. – eballes Nov 23 '18 at 17:46
  • Yeah I honestly can't imagine a situation where my employer can force me to do something and not pay me for it. – xyious Nov 23 '18 at 17:59
  • @xyious If I understand the article correctly, that only applies if you have no regular place where you work and it's part of your job to travel clients - then you get paid for traveling. That is also mentions in this article (from the same site, just a few month older) but if you have a regular place of work it does not seem to be that clear whether you get compensated for occasionally traveling to clients outside of working hours. – kapex Nov 23 '18 at 18:58
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If you have really made your mind to not go, you should directly approach Bob and not your manager and ask him

“I don’t think I am learning or helping anyone with my presence at client location. Do you really need me there? If not, I would rather support you remotely”

If he still insists then it may be just wise for you to follow him and not argue much. This way you are directly talking to the person who is responsible for your trips and not burning bridges by escalating to your manager.

Having said this, as others have suggested, there may be career implications by not going (missed learning opportunities) or even resisting going. You can only judge yourself how serious the impact of this would be and if it is worth saving the travel time.

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    @Liquid Cant stress how important that last paragraph is, 100% agree with this, refusing to go could have potential career implications, the message it is sending to your bosses because you dont deem it worthy of your time is hardly going be positive, you have been asked to go for a reason, embrace it. – UIO Nov 23 '18 at 10:54
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You should be proud that the company is sending you to represent it on a business trip with a customer. Marketing can only go so far. The time you spend with your customer, whether is one hour or half day, goes a long way into gathering feedback, improving the relationship and opening the way for further business: sometime the issue you were called in for can be solved in five minutes, or could only be solved by somebody else. But being there, showing your presence and full attention, is invaluable. And any good company would never send just "anybody". One day trips like this are a great opportunity for you to show your value to your employer. Make the most of them. To make it clear you want to avoid "the whole thing", first you need to sit down to your manager, figure out your career progression in the company and understand how these business trips will affect it. Maybe he won't care. Maybe.

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1) You should go on the trip. It provides an experience for you to present yourself to the client (Bob isn't the only one working on their project, and it's important that you're there too). It also provides an experience for you to learn from Bob and to network with him and also with your client.

2) You should, carefully and tactfully, mention to your boss that the client's office is really far away, and 6h travel time plus an 8-hour work day is not reasonable if this happens on a regular basis (it seems to have happened twice in a short period of time, so perhaps they are developing a pattern of behaviour). You should encourage your manager to ask the client to not require these sorts of business trips so regularly, or, alternately, if they want you onsite, then you should request your company to put you up in a hotel for the duration of an extended trip rather than taking the train for 6h per day.

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If the business decides that someone needs to go (perhaps as part of a contractually obligated SLA?), then whether or not you would enjoy the trip is irrelevant.

It's called "work". Sometimes it involves doing things we don't want to do.

With that said, we are employees, not slaves. If it is possible to solve the customer's problems remotely, then show how that could be done - in other words, if you don't want to go, your best strategy is to find alternative ways to solve the customer's problems with the aim of making the trip unnecessary.

Just be prepared to be told that (even if your suggestion works, and certainly if it doesn't) you might have to go anyway. Sometimes consultancies have to keep their customers happy by sending people to visit, even if the actual visit itself doesn't appear to achieve anything. The company exists to satisfy its customers in exchange for money, not to keep its employees entertained.

  • Well thanks. I wasn't aware that work doesn't always involve things I don't want to do. – Liquid Nov 23 '18 at 14:11
  • No problem, glad to help. – BittermanAndy Nov 23 '18 at 14:13
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    "we are employees, not slaves". You're not an employee if you don't get paid for a 3+3 hour trip you don't want to make... – pipe Nov 23 '18 at 14:42
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    According to the OP, the travel expenses, and half the travel time, are paid. Knock normal commute time off what's left, and it's costing him maybe an hour or two of unpaid time, occasionally. That's hardly "slavery", in fact it's a perfectly normal part of many jobs, especially in consultancy. – BittermanAndy Nov 23 '18 at 15:00
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    @BittermanAndy According to the OP, a quarter of the travel time counts as work (OP gets paid for a full day and works apparently 6:30 at the client). That's an extra 4.5 hours, which is quite significant when done once a week. That travel expenses are on the company should be completely expected and not worth noting. – David Thornley Nov 26 '18 at 22:55

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