The good news about the technology revolution is that people can work wherever and whenever they want. The bad news is that that has led to the dispersion of teams across geographies and time zones. Dispersion inevitably leads to communication and emotional disconnects. This article suggests ways to leverage different senses to bridge those gaps.
Brands, Technologies and Family Analogy
In their article on "The Role of Brands and Mediating Technologies in Assembling Long-Distance Family Practices" in The Journal of Marketing, Amber Epp et al suggest that as families get spread out geographically their rituals are threatened. This poses risks to the brands these families consume during those rituals. For example, families skipping their weekly taco night will consume less Tostito's Salsa.
Epp et al focus on the interconnected components of family practices including physical and mental activities, materials, and background knowledge. Geographic disruption has a different impact on simple versus elaborate and co-located versus physically separate family consumption practices which suggests different ways for brands to secure or modify their position. There are multiple, different ways to keep people connected.
Communicating with Geographically Dispersed Teams
- written words via letters, text, or email to convey information and make people aware.
- spoken words with tonality via telephone to help people understand.
- words, tone and body language together via video-conference to instill belief.
- live meetings leveraging all the senses to make emotional connections.
Things happen live and face-to-face that cannot with geographically dispersed teams. This is why Steve Jobs put all the bathrooms in the central area of Apple's new office building. This is why Google and Yahoo discourage people from working at home. This is why Vocus' headquarters is designed to have the look, feel and connectivity of a small town. All of them know the power of random, face-to-face live interactions.
Applying Epps et al's learning from brand rituals and geographically dispersed families to organizational rituals and geographically dispersed teams suggests four ways to keep those teams emotionally connected. It's all about leveraging different senses to encourage participation and engagement.
- Increase the frequency of simple co-located events. This is the easiest. You've got people together. They do things together. Do them more frequently. Excellence is born of habits. Practice behaving as a team. Share the same space. Share sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, whether it's a new setting, sound track, aroma, experience or food.
- Expand the impact of the most elaborate co-located events. Amplify the impact of big events by getting people involved before and after the events. They can help with planning and preparation leading up to the event. They can help with follow up and communication after the event. This is about leveraging the investment you're already making in elaborate events.
- Leverage technology so dislocated team members can join in simple events. Again, think across the five senses. Have a bias to video versus just voice calls. Make sure everyone has the same documents. Share the same brand of coffee. If it's a lunch meeting, make sure everyone gets the same lunch at the same time - no matter what time zone they are in.
- Explore the technological frontier to increase dislocated team members' participation in elaborate events. This is where creativity is required. The more elaborate the event, the harder it is for dislocated people to participate. Many of the ways for this to happen haven't been invented yet. But many are already here. Think in terms of people attending via virtual reality and the like.
Live beats visual beats audio beats written. Move up the communication chain as much and as frequently as you can and leverage different tools across different senses to bridge the remaining gaps. Move through awareness to understanding to belief towards the strongest possible emotional connections.