July 14th, 2014
Technology: the Great Leveller
As the leader of a small or medium enterprise looking to expand internationally, the questions never stop. Should you open offices and hire in areas you’re targeting, and how would you manage the people if you did? How can you visit all the potential customers in a profitable way that ensures building the relationships necessary for long-term success?
The good news is that technology enables us to address many of these conundrums. Tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Lync, Basecamp and many, many others promise it’s easy to reach out to employees, customers and partners around the globe at the touch of a button and the blink of a webcam. The somewhat-less-good news is these tools seldom deliver what they promise.
Webinars are often dull and lifeless. Remote teams often use the basic tools, like email and instant messaging, but ignore other solutions like SharePoint or Microsoft Lync, so wasting money and resources. These problems are bad enough when everyone shares a location, but when they are your lifeline across the globe, these are major barriers to success.
You need to remember that technology alone won’t solve your company’s communication issues. Trite as it sounds, communication is only as effective as the people sending the message and the willingness of the recipient to understand it. Human beings determine the success or failure of your growth efforts, and they’ll use technology to do it (or not).
When choosing the tools you need to communicate across distances you need to ask yourself some hard questions. You want to not only have the most effective, fastest means of communication – but that’s just data transfer. You also need to develop trust and good working relationships and that’s much harder to do with the push of a button.
We build trust and work patterns through constant exposure to other people, in as many ways as possible. How do we do this in traditional workplaces? We see each other every day. We know little things about our co-workers from our daily interaction. We know who supports Man U. Someone is a U2 fan, someone else likes hip hop, or raga, or klezmer music. These impressions add up.
Working remotely, there are tools that can help you achieve those same goals, but they don’t happen organically. They must be implemented thoughtfully and well. Here are some tools you should be using, and how to get people to use them well.
Webcams are the simplest, most inexpensive tool you can use to help quickly build relationships, inside and outside the company. True video-conferencing solutions are terrific, but can be expensive and inconvenient.
Anyone with a laptop computer built in the last five years, or a cheap usb webcam can see who they’re talking to. Whether these are colleagues or customers, the ability to put a face to a name radically increases trust and the quality of communication. Additionally, many of the platforms to use these tools are, in fact, free or very low cost.
While bandwidth may be an issue in some parts of the world, allowing (and even encouraging) people to use these tools is maybe the fastest way to help them bond. Remember, though, that with time zone differences you might have some people looking not quite at their best.
Shared file sites and social networking. Whether they are simply shared file sites or more robust tools like Ning, the ability to have “FaceBook” type team sites is incredibly valuable if you want people to share information freely, ensure consistent messages and help people get their work done without overly relying on the manager.
Webmeeting tools . We have dealt with conference calls for decades, but people still resist using more robust tools that can get so much more done . By using Lync, or WebEx, Adobe Connect, or any of the dozens of other collaboration tools, you can accomplish so much more than a simple conference call.
Not only can people hear each other (and using VOIP it’s actually free), but they can see each other, chat, work on documents in real time, record the meeting for posterity and so much more. Also, make sure people are coached and have a chance to learn and practice before being sent loose on unsuspecting victims.
It’s important, though, that people are taught the many available features of these tools. 80% of users take advantage of only 20% of the tools at their disposal. Don’t assume the technology will speak for itself. It never has and never will.
As the leaders in the organization, you have three major functions in helping your company develop its communication and technology strategy.
Pay for the right tools. Listen to what your people need, and find ways to facilitate behaviours you expect. Return on investment is more than simply cost savings. It’s also measured in productivity, low employee turnover and closed sales.
Build remote team communication skills into the DNA of the company. Make technology use a core competency and make it part of management expectations and performance reviews. Offer training in both the technical skill and leadership thinking to bridge the distance.
Use the tools yourself. The biggest factor in the quick adoption of technology in the workplace is if the boss uses the tool themselves. As an added bonus you can save yourself a few trips through airport security while serving as a good example.
If you’re not having conversations with your team and customers about how, how often and with which tools they want to speak to you, you’re missing out. There’s no time to waste.
Wayne Turmel is writer, speaker and former stand-up comedian. He is the founder and president of Greatwebmeetings.com, a Chicago-based company that helps organisations and their people on four continents learn the communication and presentation skills to sell, train, present and manage their teams using any web presentation platform. He is the author of a new book, Meet Like You Mean It: A Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings, and also writes the Connected Manager column on Management-Issues.com.
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