Like so many people I’ve been working remotely for the past few months. Which means that since I only recently joined the Cloud Communications division of NTT Ltd., I’ve yet to meet most of my colleagues in person. Despite this, I can honestly say it’s not been a hinderance to getting my work done.
As Marketing Manager for Northern Europe, I have colleagues in several countries with whom I work closely – and regularly work with further-flung global colleagues too. So, whilst I would not have expected to meet them all face-to-face that often, in usual circumstances I would have met my UK-based colleagues in person and had a regular office to go to.
A very different kind of experience
My remote experience with the company began before I had even joined. All the various interview stages were conducted from afar: initially a phone call, then a couple of video meetings, and ultimately a video call in which I also had to make a presentation.
There are certainly some pros and cons of meeting remotely and not in person, and I was initially a little unsure about being interviewed in this way. Would I be able to ‘be myself’ if only staring at a screen? How well would I be able to ‘read’ the other person? Would it all be a little too clinical, without any opportunity to build rapport? What’s more, what about all the signals and vibes you pick up when you physically go to an office environment? How would I get a feel for the organization and the people that work there?
That said, the interview process did offer some upsides too. There was no need to plan for and make an unfamiliar journey. No need to worry about finding a parking spot or finding the right building. None of that waiting in reception, being shown to a meeting room and wondering where to sit. Tea, coffee, still or sparkling water? All those choices!
Meeting on neutral ground
The fact is, I really enjoyed taking part in the interview process from my own home. In some ways, it felt more ‘even’, more of a two-way process, because we were effectively meeting on neutral ground. I was well-prepared and more relaxed because I was in a familiar and comfortable environment. Well-prepared and settled in, I was able to more easily able to draw on aspects of my experience I wanted to highlight, notes to hand, questions ready to ask, everything laid out where I wanted it.
Presenting was as simple as clicking a button to share my screen without worrying about hooking up wires and cables, pressing the right input button on a remote control. Given that so many presentations can be made this way – and doubtless will be even more so in future – it would have seemed almost archaic to travel to present in person what could be so seamlessly shared from afar.
A good fit
Given that you are reading this article on the company blog, there was a happy ending! The company and the role is a good fit for me, and vice versa. Over the past few months, I have been settling in and learning more about our compelling Unified Communications, Cloud Voice and Digital Events solutions, and launching my first marketing campaigns. And, as expected, it’s brought me into contact with colleagues not just based in the London office, but with those based in our many regions around the world, including the US, Singapore, and beyond.
Some people – outside work, but also within the organization – have felt sorry for me having to onboard virtually. It’s had its challenges, but there have been plenty of positives too. When you are new in a job, there is often a lot to learn, and yet, effectively I have had the whole of the organization to be able to ask – and the chat function within Microsoft Teams has made it very simple to see who is online and available to provide a simple answer to a pressing question. I’ve found everyone very helpful and responsive – and it’s a great way to effectively and efficiently get hold of information you need.
Instead of being told, for example, have a look in this folder or that folder, you can share links to exactly the right document – perhaps a training video, recorded and stored using Microsoft Stream, or another piece of collateral. It’s really helped reduce the time it takes to get up to speed.
Occasional distractions and disturbances
What about getting to know people personally? Well, onboarding from home has still given me the opportunity to get to know my colleagues, if not in person, but still on a personal level. For one thing, when I am in a meeting with a colleague, we are effectively guests in each other’s homes and there is often the opportunity for some conversation about how we are finding things in this strangest of times, checking in on each other, and supporting each other. You also get the occasional distractions or disturbances from pets and other family members and they can make for welcome and amusing moments too.
I’ve also managed to get regular time with senior members of the organization – that in a regular office environment might not have been possible. With little or no travel going on, each working day has plenty of potential opportunities to find a timeslot to connect with those you need to. What’s more, it only takes a moment to spot that someone you have been meaning to catch-up with is available and to drop them a quick message – no need to dial a number, or walk to another office, to see if they are there.
Increased access to content
Another great advantage from everything being virtual has been the opportunities with our partners. In usual circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have the budget or time to attend some of their events. However, this year, I had the opportunity to sit in on sessions at both the Microsoft Inspire conference – the biggest partner event of the year, and usually held in Las Vegas – and also the Microsoft Managed Partner ‘kick-off’ event online. This has given me great access to content I might otherwise not have got to see or hear about, and through all the different available ‘tracks’ and breakout sessions, to follow-up on areas of personal interest either live or on-demand.
Using the ‘record meeting’ function in Microsoft Teams has also proved invaluable for productivity. Not everyone can make every meeting, and this option has meant it’s easy to catch-up with meetings on-demand, and the content you missed. It’s great how Teams is so well integrated with the Sharepoint and the whole Office 365 suite so that video meetings, files, presentations and more are all shareable.
Finally meeting colleagues in person
Having joined in the summer, I was just in time for the company’s Summer Party. Sadly, this was not a time when we could all meet safely, share food and drink, and socialize together. Nonetheless, thanks to some creative ideas from our social team, we were able to enjoy a fun-packed evening, with a range of activities.
It might sound as if my whole life is being conducted via the screen – and to an extent that’s what it has been like; for me and for millions of others. More recently though, I have made it into the office and finally met some of my colleagues in person. Usually, there would be some apprehension around that first day in the office and especially with the social distancing in place but having used video calls throughout the whole onboarding process, it felt I had known my work colleagues for years!
Strong connections even without meeting in person
The working relationships that I have developed, and the rapport that I’ve built, albeit remotely, is real and enduring. I don’t think you can pay any higher tribute to the power of technology than, not only can it make meetings happen and enable productive working, but it can also help bring people together and strengthen human connections.
We’ve yet to see clearly how the new normal will take shape. Whether or not a complete return to the office will ever happen, or whether this is the start of something new, we’ll have to see. I would say that there’s more acceptance and understanding in a great many companies now that remote or distributed working – where an organization’s workforce is working from a range of locations – is not the poor relation to meeting in person in the office.
This, if anything, is the positive thing to come from the enforced remote working – and should help many more companies recruit and retain valued members of staff who perhaps need to gain a little more of a flexible working pattern, with perhaps fewer days in the office when they can demonstrably work highly-effectively from home.
On a personal note, I’d be very sad if I was never able to attend meetings or conferences in person. There’s something about the energy that can be in a room that is not ever going to be the same when you are connecting from afar. To those of my colleagues I have yet to meet, I look forward to doing so in the future – and maybe one day being able to shake your hand and share a drink.