Michael Sampson – How to Manage Your Business in a Recession #1 (Use your Collaboration tools!)

Interesting post from the always insightful Michael Sampson, discussing an organisation’s collaboration infrastructure and strategy can help it manage during the recession:

The January 19, 2009 print edition of Fortune magazine features an article entitled How to Manage Your Business in a Recession, authored by Geoff Colvin (pp.66-71). Inside, Geoff lays out 10 ways to weather the current economic storm. He starts:

    “Exciting as it is to be living through historic economic drama, you can’t just stand by and watch. You have to act–yet you have no script. So much of today’s turmoil is unprecedented that we can’t find much guidance by looking to the past. For managers across the global economy, as well as for Team Obama on its way to Washington, today’s great question is, What do we do now?”

Let’s take Geoff’s 10 principles, and analyze the implications for your collaboration strategy.

Amongst many other suggestions, Michael recommends starting (or expanding) the use of online meetings to reduce travel costs:

Expense Management for Meetings
Examine travel patterns for inhouse meetings, and estimate the time and cost involved for the next 6-12 months. Can you put in place new ways of “meeting” … new ways of getting to coordinated action without putting people on planes? For larger firms with clear travel patterns between major offices, perhaps a couple of telepresence suites make a lot of financial sense. Remember, it’s the cost of telepresence in comparison to the alternative that signals whether it’s a prudent financial investment, not the out-of-pocket cost per se. For smaller firms, the TANDBERG line of personal video conferencing equipment could be the way to go ($6-$9K each), or even an Apple iMac 20″ ($2k each) for video conferencing between two or more people. There’s another upside to having remote meeting capabalities too — the possibility of meeting more frequently … say every day for 10 minutes. That always does wonders for keeping people focused on the important priorities, and keeping everyone marching to the same tune. So yes, there’s a cost optimization benefit in recession times to having such equipment available and well embedded as part of employee repetoire, but there are ongoing strategic benefits that play out beyond recession times too.

Meetings that are more about co-creation of content than discussion and decision making can be supported through online meeting tools like Citrix GoToMeeting, LotusLive Meetings, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and many more (my personal favorite is Citrix GoToMeeting — it just always works!). Co-writing of documents, looking over an upcoming presentation, brainstorming about market opportunities, and more … all can be supported just as well through online meeting tools, for about $40 per month.

Michael also suggests a number of means of increasing the efficiency of doing business, including one of my pet subjects:

Get Out of Managing Projects in Email
With the volatility in the market, great employees can be head-hunted out of your firm by others, and you equally have the option of optimizing your employee ranks through layoffs and new hirings. If you are running projects in email, what’s going on is locked up in individual email inboxes. That makes it so much more difficult to induct new people into projects as they join your firm, or to pick up projects that exiting people drop on the way out.

You need … a collaboration tool that supports team projects, with all project artifacts in one place (documents, timeline, team profiles, tasks, calendar meetings and events, etc.), and the ability to add new people and remove departing people easily and quickly. There are a plethora of options … inhouse variants (Lotus Notes, Lotus Quickr, Microsoft SharePoint, Jive Clearspace, etc.) and hosted variants (Central Desktop, 37signals, Huddle.net, etc.). If you aren’t already, shifting the doing of projects to project collaboration tools such as these should be a top priority. You will face costs in getting these tools deployed at a technical level, as well as costs in training your people how to use the tools and make the best use of them.

Great to see Michael recognising Notes as so much more than just a mail client.

These difficult times are definitely an opportunity to take a close look at the way your people work together, both from a point of view of reducing costs and also of improving efficiencies by investing small amounts in new collaboration tools or by getting more benefit from the tools you already have – Notes being a classic example!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!