Summary:

We’re in the business of exploring and advocating the mobile future of work, but no matter how strongly we push the latest in remote collaboration tools and techniques, we still acknowledge that many people feel some things are better done in person.

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To be the strongest advocate for something, you need to know the limits of what you’re pushing. Fitness fanatics do better at converting gym novices to exercise if they avoid injuring them with excessive enthusiasm, and environmentalists probably win more arguments by acknowledging the complexities of lifestyle changes than by inflexible hectoring.

Here at WebWorkerDaily, we’re in the business of exploring and advocating the mobile future of work, but no matter how strongly we push the latest in remote collaboration tools and techniques, we still acknowledge that many people feel some things are better done in person. But what items should be included on a list of face-to-face interactions that can never be replaced by tech?

The latest edition of Stanford Business magazine offers some possibilities. A thoughtful piece by Jesse Hermann suggests several, including:

  • Imparting urgency. “Nothing focuses the mind like an idle plant,” writes Herman who relates a story about the manager of an automotive parts plant who seemed unable to grasp exactly how inefficient operations were until he got on a plane and actually saw machinery sitting idle for hours. “Once he lived it, the problems were obvious, and a solution was quick to follow. Theoretically, that all could have been resolved by phone, but theory gets complicated, and patience wears thin across borders, cultures, and languages. He had to be there,” concludes Hermann.
  • Discovering group dynamics.  Due to “the complexity of team dynamics” you sometimes “need to observe them firsthand,” says Hermann who tells the story of a manager who was beloved for avoiding bankruptcy at a troubled firm but whose performance had since started to slide. Only by observing him and his team did Hermann learn that “no one made a move without the GM’s approval or advance support. His gruff, authoritarian style, which had been effective in a crisis, was no longer adequate or appropriate.”
  • Speaking truth to power. Swoop in for rare, scheduled visits to your remote colleagues and you’ll likely get nervous, scripted responses from them, says Hermann. The best managers realize that getting good information out of junior team members requires them to “’de-imperialize’ their visits. They ask for formal reports but get on site for informal interactions. They recognize that familiarity leads to comfort, which yields informality in meetings so real information can flow.”

For much more detail on Hermann’s ideas and supporting stories, check out the thought-provoking article.

Do you agree with Hermann that there are some situations that just can’t be handled well remotely?

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