From the Highlands to the high seas and gigs to shotguns, can any technology really replace the value of face to face time and a handshake?
With only five working days to the IT Directors Forum (Saturday to Wednesday), our MD Steve Hodges has shared some very interesting and apt thoughts on interpersonal communications. Over to Mr Hodges…
The last two weeks have been, well bonkers. The candle has well and truly been burned and both ends and I think I have even had the heater going in the middle. Now those of you who know me know that this is great news, I love it. Life at 100 miles an hour suits me just fine but I did take some time, while sitting on my BA Flight to Jersey to write this blog.
Why Jersey, well we have a technical challenge with one of our customers on the island but also, a greater need to deliver some TLC and some positive PR for the IT team of our customer and my technical teams. So armed with a couple of laptops, some cables, a spare PC and a replacement firewall, it is me ‘all talk and no tech’ who it is most appropriate to send. But it has got me thinking about the past few weeks. I have been for a meeting in Belfast, and the partner I met has since returned to London to meet with me and a client. I have flown to Inverness to meet up with one of our much valued customers (all our customers are highly valued at Astro) only to fly home to Gatwick and then get on a train to Mansfield, I have been to Newport for dinner with one of my sales guys to see two customers, which was following a strategic planning session with another customer near Chichester and then next week, I have dinner with a client in London Monday night followed by preparing for the annual ITDF even which is on board the Cruise Ship Aurora and gets us in front of 50 clients and prospects, in face to face meetings over three day… somewhat ironically boarded at Southampton but them anchored just off the coast of Guernsey!! Channel Islands here we come again…
“…I am busy and I like it, and I am seeing my customers and I love them.”
So what is my beef? I am busy and I like it, and I am seeing my customers and I love them. Well I don’t actually have a beef, but it prompted an interested debate with young Joe Wing (Astro Business Development Executive) last night who was at my apartment preparing a tender response for one of his clients. Joe was talking to me about all the tech I could be using instead of running around like a mad thing. We sell StarLeaf and LifeSize video conferencing, I have an iPhone with FaceTime, we have a 50 seat conference bridge on our IP Cortex and I have my LinkedIn account and even have a couple of customers on Instagram. But still I choose to get up at 4am and spend hours on the road, in the air and on the high seas only to return late at night, and fit in the day job in between. Why am I not “eating our own dogfood”?
Well I think I am, only I am using it to achieve the things I need to achieve WHILE I am out and about, so that I CAN have the time available to sit with my clients grab a cup of coffee or a meal and shake them by the hand. I have my laptop near-permanently syncing my email and shared folders, I have my phone, I use StarLeaf to catch up with the guys in our Newark office when I need to, we use SLACK IM, iMessage, text messages, email, IP Cortex conferencing, iPhone instant three way calling, our CRM system ZOHO and Sage with SageDrive giving me access anywhere to my reporting and information. In terms of being ‘mobile’ I am as mobile as can be.
This meant that I can work without issue in the airport lounge with access to all the information, applications and people that I need. I can sit here on this flight and not lose any working time, I can keep in touch with my Servicedesk, our SEV1 alerting platform and people without an issue, meaning that I am free to travel around and spend time with those people for whom Astro believe, it is important to fully engage and be everpresent for.
“However, in the main the response we get from engaging with our customers more fully is unmeasurably more effective and more appropriate…”
We do use video conferencing with our customers and we do have voice conferences where needed. However, in the main the response we get from engaging with our customers more fully is unmeasurably more effective and more appropriate than if we used technology in place of that handshake, smalltalk and interpersonal rapport building time.
Now I mentioned that we use tech more internally than externally, which is true. We have two offices, we have some staff based permanently at cusomers sites and others who work from home, from Dartmouth to Darlington. But, even then, from time to time it is nice to have a high five and a hug and really catch up. This weekend four of the team and I went to a gig in Tunbridge Wells (The King Blues and the incredible warm up punk band Riskee and the Ridicule) – it was great fun. They all stayed at my place and then Monday we met up with my Head of Delivery and Operations and went out for a couple of hours to the Dartford Shooting Ground and attempted to knock some clay disks from the sky (with varying results!!). It was brilliant. Even when we are all very very busy, the value in getting these guys together either in large or small groups is immeasurable. I don’t see many of them for weeks on end and while we are in very regular communication via one of the plethora of technologies available to us, you just can’t beat that quality time!
Next week we will meet up with a number of our customers before embarking on the IT Directors Forum, we will then spend three days on board the Aurora in scheduled meetings, at the bar, in the casino and even on Karaoki, enjoying progressive and relevant business conversations as we spend some down time catching up. It is an event like no other and if you get the chance to read back through Steve Smith’s blog articles from past events, please do. It will give you an insight into exactly how it works. But the same principles apply to this as they do to my examples of spending time using tech, to free up time to do the interpersonal stuff face to face. Everyone we meet will be a leader in a technology role in a major business, but they still choose to give up three days of their valuable time, to sit through hours of meetings, presentations, break-out sessions and discussion forums in order to get some quality time with their peers and the supply chain.
“Only a few years later we are living that world and if used in the right way, technology can enhance the quality of our human interactions…”
So what is my point? Well as a technology business that focusses on service and solving business challenges through the use of technology, and not flogging devices, applications or services just for the sake of it; I believe we do eat our own dog food, we do make use of appropriate technology and we do improve efficiency and effectiveness through appropriate use of the tools of our trade. But, we do it so we can spend more time doing what is important to us, and actually interacting with people. Our people – our suppliers and our customers – rather than using it as a shortcut to keeping in touch.
A good friend and peer once showed me a video about ‘The new world of work’ which focussed on mobility, accessibility and flexibility of how, where and when we work. It was very accurate, and insightful. Only a few years later we are living that world and if used in the right way, technology can enhance the quality of our human interactions by affording us the time to engage, rather than dilute our relationship by using it in place of quality face to face time.
Just my view, but valid I think. And, it sets me up nicely to follow up with my view on anti-social media! But that is for another day!
“… I am really looking forward to the IT Directors Forum. It is a truly amazing event delivered a team of consummate professionals. I can’t wait!”
Thank you Steve. While on the subject of the IT Directors Forum, and inter-personal communication in particular I had a flashback to the IT Directors Forum of 2014 when Mr Hodges and I were knocking on our old friend Mr Smith MBE’s cabin door at 4am Thursday morning asking him if he wanted to come out to play because all our other friends had gone to bed. Having two Steve Smith’s check in at the same time in 2014 (having travelled to Southampton in the same car) caused so much confusion the organisers Richmond Events to give me my cabin number in advance of check in. They fear for Mr Smith MBE’s well being, to be precise, they are terrified of accidentally putting Mr Smith MBE in the same cabin as Mr Hodges. They do not want anyone jumping over board having kept a clean sheet for so many years. On a serious note, I am really looking forward to the IT Directors Forum. It is a truly amazing event delivered a team of consummate professionals. I can’t wait!
IT Directors Forum Spring 2016 blog Part 1
IT Directors Forum Spring 2016 blog Part 2
IT Directors Forum Spring 2016 blog Part 3
IT Directors Forum 2015 blog – Carry On Cruising Part 1
IT Directors Forum 2015 blog – Carry On Cruising Part 2