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Advice to Yahoo's Mayer: Use UC to Bring Parity to Remote and In-office Working

It's been pretty widely publicized now that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer issued an internal memo that gave employees a "come into the office or quit" ultimatum. I read Mel's blog on this topic where she questioned the wisdom of this decision, which seemed especially odd considering that many of the Yahoo tools such as chat, presence and email should actually make remote working easier.

I kind of understand where Mayer is coming from. I do believe that, if not managed correctly, remote working can be a silent killer of productivity. Remote users often feel socially isolated from the rest of the organization and don't speak up or participate as much as individuals in the office. However, the solution to this isn't to just cut off remote working. Instead, look for tools that can close the gap exists in the world of UC.

Mayer also argues "speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," but many of the studies I've seen indicate the opposite. Making the BEST decision for the company is based on an organization's ability to harness the collective knowledge of everyone globally, not just people located within an hour's drive of San Jose. So to CEO Mayer, I offer up these UC tools.

* Chat. Is there a more social tool today than chat? One could argue Facebook, but chat is often used to replace "water cooler"-type conversations. What often starts off as "yt?" evolves into a longer discussion where problems do get solved. Think of chat as a replacement for the sidebar conversations. Also, because chat is used in our personal lives, people build relationships and even friendships via chat, and create a tighter bond with fellow employees, even when they're located across the globe. One other element of chat is that some workers, particularly shy ones, may be more inclined to express opinions over chat versus an in-person meeting.

* Video. Real time video quality is so good now that it's very easy to interpret facial expressions and body language, making it almost as good as being in person. One of the innovations coming to video, though, that could make it even better than being in person is having the ability to record video meetings.

Think about the traditional corporate meeting. We'll meet in a room, discuss stuff, take away action items and then go to the next meeting. How many of us forget stuff as soon as we walk out? What about that person that misses the meeting? How do they get caught up? The ability to record a video meeting, catalog it, tag it and play it back, means we can focus on content in the meeting instead of note taking. Then we can play it back and review it when we need to. The person that missed the meeting can do the same and then provide input later and understand who said what.

* Remote whiteboarding. While not really thought of as a UC tool, remote whiteboards are an effective tool to augment in-person or remote meetings. This can be done with virtual or physical whiteboards today, and unlike physical whiteboards, the content can easily be captured, distributed and recorded. No more taking pictures of the white board with the smart phone or writing "do not erase" and then hoping to go write the stuff down the next day.

* Web conferencing. Most people think of Web conferencing as a tool for one person to present to many, because that's the way it's primarily used. I know several companies, though, that use it as a way of capturing real-time feedback, similar to a whiteboard. Start with a document or PowerPoint and then "pass the ball" around as needed to make real time edits. As soon as the meeting is over, the company has a fully updated document. Juxtapose this to everyone in a meeting having a printed sheet of paper, making notes and then someone trying to aggregate it at the end. I would advocate that Web sharing be used even with in-person meetings for this very ability.

* Presence. The concept behind effective collaboration is to harness the knowledge of the best people, and presence can help do this better than trying to round people up in a physical meeting. Let's say you needed to speak to a technical engineer about a customer problem. Presence allows you to quickly see who's available and who isn't available for discussion, message the best person and then bring them into a conversation. That best person could be in a different region or time zone.

Making these UC tools the norm does require a culture change in most companies, but my belief is that working from home can be just as effective or more effective than being in the office. If Yahoo is trying to do things differently, establish a culture that best fits future workers--not past workers. If you've got workers that are going to waste time at home, dragging them into meetings in the office isn't going to help. Instead give home workers the right tools to build relationships and collaborate effectively, and you'll have a more productive workforce than ones you force to commute up and down 101 on a daily basis.