Working Remotely: Manager Skills

Empty OfficeGreat post in Wired about the continuing debate over teleworking vs. working on-site and both sides make valuable points.  Working remotely allows one to be more productive while working on-site enables be on to engage in more spontaneous planning and other creative activity.

The right way in this is a middle way that allows for employees to be where they need to be as needed. Kind of an open-office where meetings are a mix of online and face-to-face, sponsored activities for team-building, and the tools and metrics for managers to set goals and measure success.

The greatest challenge for remote working is not the employee but, rather, the manager. Many managers are not equipped (with skills and tools) to manage this kind of work flow. They also do not have the intuitive skill to communicate with a remote worker, making sure that he/she has the tools and information (both technical and social such as news from the office) to feel part of the work organism that is the modern work place.

At the end of the day, it is easier for a manager to lean out of their office and see their employees, whether that does anything or not is a different matter, than it is to actively engage. And therein lies the difference between good leadership and bad.

Advertisements

WFH

I engaged in a lively and interesting debate online (via Facebook) about the pros and cons of working from home (aka, WFH). It centered around Yahoo’s announcement that, effective this June, employees will no longer be able to work remotely.

Those who were against a WFH policy felt that it promoted slacking and disrupted a cohesive team environment. Those in support of a WFH policy (and that includes me but I do believe there have to be some standards) felt that it flew in the face of the same technology that companies like Yahoo provide and that requiring people to return to a 20th-century work environment was a morale killer of the first degree.

A few made comments that working remotely reduced accountability and performance, though no one could provide any data to support that assertion but they were quite emphatic about this nonetheless.

That last point got me thinking that the reason why some don’t support a WFH policy is that either require having people around just so that they can be productive (which sounds like an issue in itself) or that they do not trust that people outside the office are working as hard as they are (but is working hard working smart?).

So really the issue around a WFH policy is not so much WFH but ensuring that goals and performance measurement is transparent so that everyone, inside and outside of the office, can see everyone’s contributions. Actually, a real-time ticker of success (showing revenue contributions, bug fixes, etc. would be a powerful motivation and accountability tool).

Of course, if a company doesn’t have a valid measuring toolkit and its goals are not well thought-out, then maybe everyone should come into the office…to pick up their last check and head to greener pastures.

We Are All Millennials

We’re told that Millennials in the workplace bring a values-oriented focus to their jobs, looking to see how their contributions play against the wider goals of the organization and requiring that their colleagues and their managers participate accordingly.

They ask why they are doing something and they want to know what they will get from doing it. This article in Inc. likens Millennial participation in the workplace to video games and that makes sense given how even Generation X (my generation) grew up in a video-game heavy environment.

In games, the hero is given a mission and that mission is explained against the backdrop of the bigger picture (“Frodo, take the One Ring to Mount Doom and you can save Middle Earth.”). Along the way, the player gets rewards, grows in strength, and gains more knowledge. By the end of the game, the hero has hit his/her max level and the game is over. Until the next one.

In today’s workforce of shorter tenures and roles based on project timelines, this actually makes sense but not just for Millennials. All of us will be playing multiple “games” of varying length with consequently shorter timelines for rewards and feedback.

We are all Millennials in that regard and employers will do well to play that game too. This way we can all beat Sauron and save Middle Earth!

Employees Really Do Waste Their Time At Work

That’s according to Russ Warner, CEO of ContentWatch – a service that allows companies to snoop on and micromanage their employees so no surprise that he was quoted in the Forbes article of the same name.

Of course Russ’s job is to sell his services to paranoid executives who think that their employees are fundamentally servants who are stealing the silver behind their backs. And in some cases, that may be right – in the sense that some employees in some companies truly do aspire to the role of Slacker-in-Chief.

However, the vast majority of people (and by vast, I mean to say that I have nothing to back that term up except my own experience) are looking for ways to be the best, to contribute to their team, and to make their company special.

So if that is case, then why are employees allegedly slacking off?

The answer:

They are under-utilized, disenfranchised. If they are relegated to rote-work, not asked to be part of the wider culture, and do not have a compelling reason to care beyond their immediate job needs, then you can expect that they will seek other avenues for connection.

So what is the solution?

If you’re a poor leader, you’ll spend valuable time and money on blocking access to the outside world while probably going after your employees individually, either driving them to find other ways to “steal your silver” or driving the good ones out the door.

If you’re a good leader, you’ll spend valuable time to create an open environment where everyone is not just engaged with with their team but with you and the company as a whole. Learning and listening, creating new opportunities for improvement and business success because now you have the entire business actively engaged in your vision and goals.

No software needed.

May I Sponsor Your Battle-Axe?

World of Warcraft is one of the most popular MMO’s ever. With over 11,000,000 players as of 2010 its membership fees alone can generate $800,000,000 annually in gross revenue (assuming player retention of one year – I have no data on this). Average playing time is just over 22 hours per week (compared to the average 36 hours per week that people spend working).

More impressive is that the game itself helps forge virtual relationships through its use of kinships and team play. These relationships become as real as those forged in what some call “meat-space” (i.e., real life). Friendships and deeper relationships have been made and broken in its virtual halls, with gameplay spilling over into non-virtual time due to pre-login planning and scheduling, post-event analysis, and other activities that support this virtual life.

There are other games too, each with their own passionate players who expend the same number of hours (Lord of the Rings Online, EVE, Age of Conan, Dark Age of Camelot, and, Everquest) in their quests to defeat evil or grow their personal empire. As Seth Godin said in one of his TED talks, our world now consists of tribes of our own making, each with its own rules and culture; and each one a fundamental part of their members lives.

For marketers, this is an amazing but yet perilous opportunity to engage with people who live in these worlds.

Amazing because the opportunity to co-brand and even engage with people who are providing undivided attention in a cradle-to-grave environment means that every engagement has a higher probability of resulting in a warmer response to that effort. By tying a brand to a much-loved activity, companies can forge longer-lasting relationships.

It is also perilous because one mis-step can result in serious backlash from tribe members unless that brand is well schooled in both the ethos and standards of that world. Ham-fisted ad placements, intrusive messaging, or incompatible offers will shut out that brand for good (“Hey WoW players, stop by Askander Hammerfist’s tavern for more information on how we can save you money on your auto insurance…”)

The next frontier of brand engagement will be when smart marketers and willing MMO’s connect and work together to create opportunity for their members and partners.

One day you may be swinging a battle axe sponsored by Nike!

A Fee to Avoid A Fee?

Airline travel used to be fun and I used to look forward to the trip more than the destination. But alas no more…
Now many airlines are making money from their own operational failures by leveraging fees on unwary passengers is just an indication that they have lost the important component of the business-to-customer relationship.
Instead of taking a bold re-assessment of their business model and executing a strategy based on creating long-term customer relationships, they are replacing lost revenue via an obscure and non-transparent fee structure in addition to their existing ticketing revenue process.
The airlines argue that this is necessary because passengers are fickle and extremely price-conscious. That may be so, but it is in fact very possible to maintain minimum service standards that are customer-focused and still have enough left to fuel the aircraft and pay the staff.
The real challenge is an unwillingness to engage in organizational self-reflection and a fear of trying something new.
Which is conversely why Southwest Airlines is doing so well. Sticking to core values and executing on high standards has resulted in Southwest being both profitable and well-liked by its customers. Something that the rest of the airline herd should consider now that it has an example that being different and good pays off.

The fact that many airlines are making money from their own operational failures by leveraging fees on unwary passengers is just an indication that they have lost the important component of the business-to-customer relationship.

Instead of taking a bold re-assessment of their business model and executing a strategy based on creating long-term customer relationships, they are replacing lost revenue via an obscure and non-transparent fee structure in addition to their existing ticketing revenue process.

The airlines argue that this is necessary because passengers are fickle and extremely price-conscious. That may be so, but it is in fact very possible to maintain minimum service standards that are customer-focused and still have enough left to fuel the aircraft and pay the staff.

Something that the rest of the airline herd should consider now that it can see that being different and good at what you do pays off.