On July 25th, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “The Boss Wants You Back in the Office” (subscription required to view article). The article detailed how IBM, once a national leader in the work from home movement, is moving back to having people report to an office for work. In the July edition of Commercial Integrator, Tom LeBlanc, the publication’s editor, wrote an article titled “I’m Angry at IBM.” In it he argued that “the premise that employees need to be together in an office to collaborate is antiquated.” Tom continued in the article to write about how technological changes have made remote collaboration equal to in person.
I have issues with Tom’s article. First, I disagree with the premise that in-person collaboration is antiquated. As a manager and leader, there is no question that meeting in person with your co-workers is more productive than remote collaboration. It provides you time to get to know each other on a personal level, allows you to read body language better and, in my opinion, allows you to deal with conflict more directly. No doubt there are times when in person is not possible and remote collaboration is needed. In those cases, I think the technology is a great tool.
My bigger issues with the article however strikes at a pet peeve of mine. In Tom’s article he makes it clear that part of his frustration with the “back to office movement” is that it will potentially slow down the sales of collaboration equipment. I do not like it when technical people (usually salesmen) try to sell you products based on how they perceive you should be doing work. As I read his article, I was frustrated at the premise of anyone deciding how others should be working. I see similar approaches at conferences. Every conference I go to, I hear a presentation from a sales person telling the audience about how “good” instructors don’t teach the “boring, old fashioned way.” They go on to reference studies their companies have done to prove how much better learning will be with their product. What they don’t realize is that instructors and administrators don’t want to be told by a person who has never done their job how to do their job. Yes, there are a lot of great technologies that enable and enhance instruction and learning. However, they should be presented in a way that says “here is what you CAN do” rather than “here is what you SHOULD do.”
The same is true with workspaces. As technology integrators, we should be providing solutions that solve customers problems. We should not be telling them how they should be doing their work, and then try to sell them technology that fits our dictated work style. When integrators do this, they are actually doing themselves a disservice. Customers who lose trust in you if you continue to sell them things that they don’t actually use.
Conversations with customers should always start with “tell me about what you are trying to do,” not “let me tell you about this new technology.” You will sell more immediately, and you will sell more in the future.