WLP202 Tech Comes Second to Strategy

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Welcome to episode 202 of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, where today we’re revisiting the roles of tech - particularly chat-based platforms - in teams, and the relationship between tech and strategy… Interestingly much of which also applies nowadays within organisations we don’t think of as ‘remote’, and depends a great deal on how we agree to use the tools at our disposal (including our expectations regarding speed of reply).

Don’t forget to come and say hello to us on Twitter, @VirtualTeamW0rk and @PilarOrti… we love to talk to our listeners, and we talk about all sorts of interesting things, like a new feature in MSTeams which Pilar had a strong reaction to… Maybe there are some situations where text is better than a call, even when it’s urgent? Do join in and tell us what you think. We first talked about this with Marta Texidor from Yammer way back in 2015! So the debate continues…

Please bear with us as our website is being updated, we’re bringing you a refreshed look and feel and some great new content - what do you think of the changes on our homepage? We’d love to know what you think. Look out for more information soon about our self-paced learning programme to accompany the Thinking Remote book, if you’re serious about improving your remote leadership practice.


11.28 21st Century Work-life - Chris Slemp, Customer Success Manager at Microsoft

Chris Slemp

Chris Slemp

Today’s guest Chris actually introduced us to one of our favourite phrases, ‘Office-Optional’, so it was great to talk to him for the third time on our podcast.  Moving from a small consultancy to Microsoft recently gave Chris and his wife a chance to relocate to Scotland, and his work now involves helping people to be more productive with the tools they already own.

To support customers they use a blend of face to face visits but also online, and of course they use Microsoft Teams. Clients include organisations like police forces and local councils and other workplaces we might not think of as ‘remote’, but actually involve people in many locations, including non-office situations, reminding us that it’s not only knowledge workers who can benefit from these tools. The work is not location-dependent, so the communication should not be.

From a customer support point of view, it’s essential to understand and relate to roles outside of the IT dept, even if that’s the first point of contact. Technology needs to be a partner, not a supplier, to realise its potential these days, and help businesses solve their problems effectively. We should be driven by the need, not by the tech.

Even within Chris’ own team they had to evolve the way they used their own tools effectively, and improving meant an ongoing blend of coaching individuals and moderating and managing the conversation itself. Perhaps the problem is that the tools now look and feel so similar to those we use in our personal lives, where we’re used to pleasing ourselves what we do with them, and we really need a team agreement or a ‘collaboration constitution’ to nail down the way we’re going to do things in the workplace.

In a flattened organisation, tools enable visibility which enhances influence. Different communications styles may be advantaged by different modes, and we need to learn new ways of engaging effectively. Sometimes people are too busy to consume, never mind create, long responses…, so “TL;DR” - the person posting the right gif at the right moment might get more engagement than the one writing the long insightful text. Teams need different kinds of social glue, and the asynchronous space is still overly text-heavy, to its detriment.

Although, MSTeams is bringing functionality to record and stream voice calls and meetings, which creates automatic transcripts and even translations - AI is making this doable with increasing accuracy, and it means that audio becomes searchable on a par with text.

The future role of AI is a fascinating area, and at Microsoft they are talking deeply about the ethics as well as the enablement it can bring. Intentionality solves a lot of problems, as machine learning frees up a lot of time from administrative tasks, and might help us avoid repeating the mistakes already made in social media. But what about areas like sentiment analysis? Yammer is looking into this functionality, as well as a bot to recognise and respond to FAQs, for all those people who would rather ask than search.

Have a look at Chris’ site http://whichtoolwhen.com/ for more insight (which we first discussed back in 2017) into this and other ongoing essential questions. And keep up with Chris on Twitter too, to join the tech vs strategy conversation.


48.08 Tools: Otter.ai

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Maya and Pilar talk about text into speech, using this AI-driven tool, which also works well with multiple voices too.  

Instead of detailed notes on this segment, here’s the full transcript of our conversation instead, courtesy of Otter! See what you think. Not perfect, but definitely pretty impressive.


And a brief after-word: We did some research about the privacy angles of using Otter and similar apps… Here’s one take on it from Zdnet which was unsurprising, and the main thing is that you need to read the small print and make your own mind up, whether use of any given tool is inline with your objectives and stated policies as an organisation. This does also remind us why many organisations are choosing to keep their entire digital workspace within a single ecosystem. This is an important issue to which we shall doubtless return.


54:00 Wellbeing: Transitioning to remote as a journey of discovery

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At Virtual Not Distant we see this transition as an opportunity to dissect and discuss our teamwork, the ways we interact and work together - has this evolved unconsciously, or is this what we want to be doing? Have we got the courage to really examine this, and make bigger changes if we need to?

This is much bigger than which tool we use and how, and we should be scrutinising this on a regular basis, not just when things go wrong. What do we each value about each aspect of our work? It’s easy to assume others think like we do, and for both physical and digital workspaces to reflect the preferences of a minority.

You can’t really enter into this discussion without some self reflection on what helps YOU do your own best work. If you are very specific and clear about what you do and don’t like, what you value and enjoy about your work, then you can think about how best to replicate this online.

Transitioning to remote is a chance to reassess where we want to invest our energies and attention, as individuals and as a team.

You might be surprised by what you discover…


If you like the podcast, you'll love our monthly round-up of inspirational content and ideas: