(Reuters) Sat Aug 6, 2011 12:58am EDT - Fourteen years ago when Chuck Robbins started at Cisco, “you had a desk and you put your name outside the desk.” Now after more than a decade, the workstyle at the company has changed nearly beyond recognition, becoming incredibly accommodating to remote teams. And Robbins has thrived in this innovate environment, rising to the position of senior VP and running the organization’s sales team for the Americas.
What lessons has Robbins learned from leading through this transition a company that was not only an early adopter of flexible working, but which also builds a number of remote work solutions? He shared his wisdom with WebWorkerDaily.
Do experienced managers of co-located teams just magically make a smooth transition to a virtual workstyle? Not according to Robbins, who is a big believer in training, and not just on the technical challenges of web work.
“The technology actually tends to be the easiest part of this whole thing,” he told us, adding that the success of web work is often inhibited by “cultural acceptance by the leadership team that this is how we operate and it’s OK. Some companies equate productivity with being in the office, so I think, first of all, we have to make sure that we provide our leadership with education on things around, how do you manage a remote workforce effectively? What are the things you need to do differently when you can’t walk down the hall and grab them? We give that kind of training.”
Robbins’s pro-training philosophy extends to tech tools as well. He explains that team members are also trained in how to make the best use of the video conferencing solutions Cisco offers, answering questions like, “What sort of things should you be thinking about when you’re presenting to a customer over video and you’re not in the room and everybody else is? Or if you’re in the room and somebody else is remote, how do you make sure you continue to engage them?”
Video may play a big role for Robbins’s team, but email doesn’t. “Email is becoming the least favorite mode of communication with our team,” he says. Instead of sending individual messages, Robbins’s employees have “a new platform that we actually designed called Quad. It’s named after the college campus quad where everybody gathers. Think of it as Facebook for enterprise. People can build communities around different topics and they have their profile and their status and then we have integrated instant messaging.”
“New technology that enables single number reach for our sales organization,” is the final piece of the puzzle for Robbins’s team. “No matter where you are somebody doesn’t have to keep up with what phone numbers to dial. They dial your office and it rings whatever device you need it to ring,” he says.
In addition to tech and training, Robbins relies on an outcome-based management style to keep his team running smoothly. To succeed as the manager of a virtual team, “you have to move to outcome-based performance, and to the extent that you can, outcome based compensation,” he advises. “That cultural thinking that, if you’re at your desk from eight to five, then you’ve been productive is no longer valid, so you’ve got to figure out how you create outcomes and metrics where you can determine success.”
All of these pieces have come together to create a deep change in attitudes towards flexible working at Cisco, Robbins concludes. “When we first started working from home, for some reason we didn’t want people to know we were working from home. You didn’t want the dog to bark or the kids to come and say something. You were always trying to mute if the dog was coming around. Today, if you’re working from home and your kid walks in, you tell them to say hello to whoever you’re talking to on the other end because it’s such an accepted thing.”
Think something similar won’t be coming to your company anytime soon? Think again, insists Robbins. “Any companies that don’t think they’re going to have to buy in to this approach, I think they’re going to be in trouble. For the first time ever we have conversations with companies about how to build their remote worker infrastructure and their collaboration capability in a way that will enable them to recruit the next generation workforce, because they believe that will be a retention issue. It’s become a strategic recruiting tool for many companies.”
© 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
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