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 ?


Learning Organization

Peter Senge must be very happy with the growth and proliferation of Social Media and social networking platforms. After all , the gentleman pioneered the concept of Learning Organization decades back in 1994

Let me take this concept of Learning organization to next level.

To my mind, in future the word organization would be replaced by word “Networks “.Let me highlight Key characteristics of Learning networks

1. Mashup of people with diverse skills, experience, competencies and capabilities
2. Woven into a matrix to solve key business issues / challenges on real time basis.
3. Real time Flow of information & valuable content embedded in context.
4. Co creating and consuming value together to achieve aligned business goals and objectives
5. Enabling participation and contribution and transparency on solid foundation of systems thinking.
6. Powered by Analytics for meaningful callouts, opportunity areas, insights to make it an iterative process.

Succintly Social

It is about

1. Deep Rooted Philosophy
2. Culture, Values
3. Transparent
4. Open
5. Collaborative
6. Networks and Relationships
7. User Generated Content , Emergent , Digitization
8. Word of Mouth Publicity
9. Listening, Engaging, Sharing
10. Co-Learning , Co-Creating, CO-nsuming , Co-inventing, Co-innovating, Co-mmunity.

If your product, service, campaign, initiative, program has above features then you are leveraging the Social space . There are variety of Web 2.0 platforms which amplifies and scale up these conversations .However, The best of breed / web is yet to emerge.

Social Hotspots

I just coined the term “Social hotspots” ( Inspired from Lynda Gratton ) ! Social hotspots occur in collaborative spaces when people are aligned to common shared GOALS and when Social Neworks & Social platforms are the enablers & act as catalysts to fasten the process.
See diagram below and tell me from which quadrant do you think it is easy to move to Q4 ? if Innovation is what Business want in present times .

Apture : Collaborative Media Tool

In my quest to search new tools to facilitate the process of Learning much more interactive, today i have discovered a fairly amazing tool for both educators, bloggers and learners alike. I am not sure how many bloggers are already using it or how many elearning professionals are already aware of it, the fact that it allows search for variety of media without having the need to leave the site is unique. In my view, it is going to be the next big thing in Social Media World.