High Performance Virtual Teams

Much has already been written about working with virtual teams.  The CEO of Yahoo recently touched off a firestorm with her recent edict that telecommuters must abandon their homes and get to an office or risk losing their jobs.  Since I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes, I can’t comment as to whether or not this move was necessary, but I can say that managing a remote workforce does pose a number of challenges.  My experience is that with a little forethought, and the right tools, telecommuters can be as productive (if not more) than their office coworkers.

1. The Right Tools Are Essential – If telecommuters don’t have the following equipment then they (and you) are in trouble.  In my opinion, the “must have’s” are:

  • Laptop or Computer
  • Business Application Software
  • Camera & Microphone
  • Headset
  • Telephone or Cell Phone
  • Conference Bridge
  • Printer & Scanner
  • High Speed Internet Connection
  • Web Collaboration Tools – Instant Messenger
  • Access to the Employee Directory

You may be wondering, is all that really necessary?  Well, actually yes.  Essentially, if an employee has all of the same access to physical resources that they would enjoy in the office, then they won’t be constrained.  In fact, it’s extremely wise to ask someone who is considering telecommunicating whether or not they are equipped for success.

2.  Leadership – Having a clear chain of command regarding where telecommuters can turn to for help is essential.  Leaders have to be accessible to telecommuters at a moment’s notice.  Why?  Well telecommuters don’t have the luxury of sitting outside your office, or catching you as you walk by the photo copier.

3. Coordination – Telecommuters should be provided with a clear understanding of the overall goal.  Moreover, each team member must know what they are expected to contribute, understand the timelines, and know the detailed plan for given tasks.

4. Communication – Everyone should be updated regularly regarding status – Get the group together for brief conference calls, E-mails, Instant Messaging, etc.  With proper communication – telecommuters will feel like they are just as connected as their office- going peers and their bosses will not need to question their productivity!

5. Perks – About the only time telecommuters really feel disconnected from the rest of the company is around social activities.  Since they aren’t available to go out to lunch with co-workers, or have a drink after work they miss out on some important bonding. Therefore, I suggest that you sponsor a weekly office lunch, and let telecommuters expense their lunch as well.  And, put the speakerphone on wherever you are gather so that they can be a part of the social interaction.  Be sure to avoid discussing work, but have thoughtful questions for the group, so as to keep everyone engaged.  Some examples would be; 1. What hobbies have you had that people might not know about?, 2. Where have you vacationed that you most enjoyed and why? etc.

If you follow this advice, you’ll have a very productive, and connected telecommuting workforce.

Don’t Jump the Shark

The other day I was reading an article that quoted an Apple Executive who mentioned that Instagram had “Jumped the Shark”. Perplexed by what this meant, I did a quick Google and found a Wikipedia reference to the term. In summary, the saying is derived from the 70’s hit Sitcom “Happy Days”. The show was a smash hit for many consecutive years, but the writers eventually ran out of creative ideas for the show, so rather than coming up with innovative stories and dialogue (i.e. Innovation) they instead resorted to stunts to keep audiences attention. In one episode they had “Fonzie” water skiing wearing his trademark leather jacket jumped over a penned-in shark. That episode was the beginning of the end for Happy Days.

Just a few weeks ago in Australia, RIM – maker of the once-dominant Blackberry devices, also Jumped the Shark. For many years, RIM was the 800lb Gorilla of smart wireless devices. Their Blackberry Enterprise Server set the standard for e-mail and calendar integration. Blackberry was completely caught off guard by Apple and Google Android phones, and their attempts at innovation lacked originality and they never quite regain their footing, and they find themselves slipping further and further behind. Someone in their marketing department thought it would be a brilliant idea to send a busload of protesters to an Apple store in Sydney holding “Wake Up” signs. This stunt was designed to create a viral buzz, and get everyone wondering “what” we are supposed to wake up to? Almost everyone believed that Samsung was behind the stunt since they’ve been innovating like crazy. But Apple quickly got to the bottom of things and found out that RIM was behind the whole affair. Why? To promote their new operating system 10 – Yawn. They haven’t quite figured out that customers want fast, snazzy phones, with powerful software and application choices – not just an operating system.

If you are in marketing, resist the temptation to take desperate measures in lieu of real innovation – it won’t work and the tragedy is that you will likely only tarnish your brand further.  On the other hand, if you aren’t in a position to influence marketing and your company resorts to Jumping the Shark type stunts instead of focusing on Real Innovation – that should be your wake up call to Jump Ship before you get bitten.

Being flexible makes a lasting impression

I’ve been having some banking challenges these past few weeks.  For whatever reason, I maintain two checking accounts with BOFA, one interest bearing, one not.  The other day I received an e-mail from BOFA notifying me that my checking account had insufficient funds available to pay some fee – which honestly gave me this sinking feeling that I had been hacked.  I swung into action and abruptly closed the non-interest bearing account, who needs that anyway?  A bit more research and I discovered the source of my problem: my wife had inadvertently started using checks from an old box that was tied to the non-interest bearing checking account.  Yes, the same account I had so quickly closed.  Whoops

I explained my tale of woe to BOFA and was told, no problem Mr. MacIsaac – we’ll remove that $35. overdraft fee from your account.  I was grateful and asked them to re-open the account which they did right away.  The trouble is, they couldn’t transfer funds into that account until 24 hours which was the time required to update all their systems (computer thing – ugh).  I looked in the register, 6 additional checks outstanding (GASP!).  I woke up the next morning and immediately transferred funds into the account to cover the outstanding checks – too late, 3 more checks triggering overdraft protection and new 35. fee’s for each check – ouch.  I dutifully called the bank again and further explained the situation.

  • Second overdraft: $35 Fee – No problem, we’ll remove that (I’m thinking, wow – that’s really nice of you)
  • Third overdraft: $35 Fee – No problem, we’ll remove that (I’m thinking, seriously?  I’m the one that screwed up)
  • Fourth overdraft: $35 Fee – No problem, we’ll remove that one too (I’m thinking – BOFA is the greatest bank in the world)

I actually said to the customer service representative – I really don’t remember you guys being so great with customer service, what’s changed?  Well Mr. MacIsaac, we’ve created a special group within the bank that’s completely dedicated to our most valued customers.  Since you have been banking with us for so long, and since you have been such a great customer, we are empowered to make special concessions for unique situations that might arise, and I guess you could say this qualifies.  I certainly would, thank you for that explanation and thank you for all of your help.

I concluded that call thinking, what a great bank, what great service, who can I tell how thrilled I am with my bank?  So I sat down at the computer and started writing this blog.  Great customer service, empathy, understanding and flexibility makes a lasting impression….