marvin at rectangular.com
Sun May 6 17:09:40 BST 2007
On May 6, 2007, at 2:52 AM, Richard Foley wrote:
> And as you inferred the team/project needs to be managed
> whatever that might precisely mean in each individual scenario.
I think there are some common principles that always apply.
Nearly everyone if not everyone needs consistent human contact: voice
contact at least, and face-to-face contact when possible. Phone
plans with unlimited calling are extremely helpful, verging on
There has been much study of late as to how written communication
over the web tends towards incivility. Consensus seems to be that
this occurs due to the absence of certain cues which are present in
live communication -- body language, voice inflection, etc. The same
problem can impede the productivity of telecommuters, so an
enveloping virtual workplace environment must be aggressively
Whip-cracking is not needed so much as firm, clear, consistent
communication of expectations and appreciation, from both management
and peers. People have to *feel* that what they do matters -- that
failure to perform will cause disappointment and that success will
please others and bring rewards.
As a corollary, it's easier to manage telecommuters who can make
frequent appearances on site. In my experience one day a week works
well, and from what I see out there, others have reached similar
conclusions. (Some day I'd like to try video conferencing as a
substitute for the weekly meeting.)
Another challenge is coordination, but it's possible to turn that
from a liability into an asset. Having workers spatially dispersed
can enhance goal-orientation, because everyone has to continually
justify their employment -- just showing up and punching the clock
doesn't give you anything to show to upper management. I'm a big fan
of using a daily conference call to keep everyone focused and motivated.
> Part of the
> problem with telecommuting is that many managers don't trust
> themselves, or
> don't have the skillset, and/or experience to manage even partially
Another problem is simply a dearth of project managers. One
prominent company I'm aware of has a worker-to-manager ratio of 37 to
1. I think that's nuts regardless, but it's probably going to make
getting the best out of telecommuters next to impossible. Not
coincidentally, this company doesn't offer telecommuting as an option
(to the best of my knowledge).
> We all tend to put up with an awful lot of crap, in our daily lives,
> (hour long commutes on suburban trains is one example),
In return for freeing workers from such unpleasantness, you get to
insist on high productivity. You get to say: I don't necessarily
need more hours, or exactly these specific hours, but I need all of
your hours to be good hours. If you're having a bad Friday, work
Sunday. Take a nap when it suits you (outside of the "office hours"
where you guarantee availability to the rest of the team). Just do
good work and show it to me.
Management cynics take note: teams built around this ethos are no
less capable of rising to meet major challenges like product launches
because they're happier and they care more. People sometimes put in
extra hours out of ambition or stubbornness despite the admonition
against it, but in general, keeping knowledge workers fresh pays
dividends competitive with setting them up to work unpaid overtime.
"Bill Gates has been quoted saying that his programmers can program
for 72 hours straight, and I say, yeah, but their product is
Windows." -- Harvard sleep researcher Robert Stickgold.
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