Working out Loud – Telecommuting

Hi Ruchi,

I saw your DM, but didn’t find your note in my email inbox. So am sending you this message so you have an id to respond to with the material you mentioned.

Like I mentioned when we tweeted about telecommuting several months ago, I’ve been a skeptic primarily because the engineering function – as I see it – is about face time, about whiteboard discussions, new ideas coming up as a consequence of quality of discussions, etc. There are times when one works alone, and there are times when collaboration can happen with loose touch points. But driver for innovation, imo, are discussions/brainstorming which many a time are unstructured. We in Cisco have access to some really good collab tools .. I believe the best ones available:-) .. and yet not quite good enough to support this level of interactions.

I do understand there are several other roles (and like I pointed out, at times even in the engg role) when working in more structured collaboration environments, loosely coupled teams, well-defined interface points, etc., work very well. And telecommuting is very well suited for these orgs.

And while I do not insist that the individual contributors in my org, I do insist that all the managers in my org show up at work every day. No telecommuting for them unless there’s an emergency at home, or a dire need of some kind. And maybe HR folks will see me as a slavedriver for that:) But then, I believe managers need to be available for their employees. To meet 1-1, to coach, to support in their development, to provide performance feedback on an ongoing basis. And while it’s  easy to argue that all of these can be done remotely, I’m of the opinion that these need the human touch, the ability to read body language.

Okay, I’ve painted myself as an old fashioned guy enough:)

I must say that the HBR article I pointed out over the last weekend did change my perspective slightly. And I know there may be other ways to make this work. Am still in the quest…


My reply to Sundar 

Hi Sundar,

Thank you for reaching out and entrusting me with your business situation.

I agree that managers have a bigger responsibility to develop team members, coach them , provide feedback so they need to be in office and interact face to face with team members.
So lets begin Telecommuting with Individual contributors.
In IBM though , culture and context is different. take my case for example , i have met my manager only once in last 1 year .
She is Mumbai , her team members are in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Pune, Kolkatta. So even if any of us go to office or work from home, one and the same thing since our immediate team members are in different locations. We are all part of Recruitment  HR team.

I believe, in today’s world, mostly in organizations – employees do Knowledge work, for the final output – both type of working is required . ie discuss work with team members , and then come back  to work individually and build upon the work.

What constitutes work is a good question to ask ?  ( hint – thinking, finding information, brainstorming, consulting, advising, creating, communicating, discussing, meetings  )

Now to make telecommuting work . Few ingredients are required

1. Trust – that team members will remain focussed on their jobs even if they are out of manager’s sight
2. Discipline – on part of individual contributor . To set boundaries and make working from home as disciplined as one is in office.
3. Loyalty and Passion – towards job
4. Meaningful work projects  – is a single biggest motivator
5. Techonlogy and collaboration tools – For document sharing, building knowledge repositories, real time chat, conference calls
6. Collaborative Mindset is the key.

After team members have met and working together for a while, one can start to collaborate virtually. As there is enough Trust within the team and chances of communication gap is reduced vis a vis a new team altogether where chances of communication gaps during virtual communication are relatively high.

If a prject team is 5-6 member team,

1. How does team share documents currently ? ( ppt, word documents, minutes of meetings, through email ? )
2. where does a new team member find the knowledge about a team projects ? – through manager or through online repositories ?
3. where can one find process , policy , guidelines documents ?
4. how often is documentation done within a team ?
5. beyond regular team meetings, how often does the team collaborate with members in the organization outside of team
6. who leads team meetings , discussions ?
7. what is the work flow ? who assigns work to team members ?
8. how often team collaborates , meets, brainstorms  on concalls ?
9. does any of the team member , leader currently blog ? ( read – work out loud tweets from John Stepper and Luis Suarez on this concept)

Do a little experiment – Ask one of your project team ( 5- 6 members) to work from home for a week. And record what all challenges they faced during the week .
Then we can brainstorm to mitigate the risks and solve those problems.

I am available at 9911112396 for a telephonic discussion.

Further resources on Telecommuting – Ruchi’s Magzine on Flipboard

HBR Article – Do you really need to hold that meeting ?