Location, Location, Location—Not!

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virtual workingOne of the traditional signs of corporate success has been the corner office.

Yet today some of the most successful communication executives don’t have an office at all. They work from home, the airport, a visitor’s cubicle at headquarters, the back of a cab, a corner Starbucks or a beachfront cottage. Today’s networking technologies make it possible to tackle almost every aspect of a communicator’s job far from the CEO’s office—if she still has one.

If you’re setting up a corporate communication department today, it’s time to think outside the box—or the cubicle—when it comes to locating yourself and your coworkers. Proximity to the senior management team is not necessarily the same as access to the senior management team. What you need to do your job effectively today is access.

In some companies (and for some executives) access may still mean planting yourself in a plush office at C-level along the same corridor with the chairman, CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, CMO and others. You may need to be nearby if your leader leaves the confines of his thickly carpeted suite. If you’re lucky, he practices Management By Wandering Around (MBWA) and has a habit of wandering your way.

Yet today’s top executives are rarely in their own offices. You’re more likely to find them in a meeting room, at a customer’s site, at a sales office, at a hotel, at home or in transit between those points. You don’t need to be sitting in your office waiting for a face-to-face meeting that may never take place. Increasingly, top executives stay in touch with their teams via cell phone, e-mail, videoconference, instant messaging (IM), texting and more. No matter where they are, they know how to reach their leaders—including their communicators—from any spot on the globe at any hour of the day.

That means in today’s connected world, it really doesn’t matter where you choose to set up your home base or that of your communication colleagues. My 30 marketing colleagues on the strategic alliances team at Cisco work from 11 different locations around the globe, including Bangalore, India; Paris, France; and Boise, Idaho. Most of us are based at our San Jose headquarters, but the best place to find one of us on any given day is not in a cubicle—it’s online. A quick glance at our instant messaging software tells me if someone is currently connected to the network. If they’re not, I start a conversation with a text message to their cell phone or ring them up.

Still need to meet face-to-face? If I’m in a Cisco facility, I can book a TelePresence video conference. You’d swear you’re in the same room even though you could be halfway around the globe. The ultra high-definition video and directional sound are unbelievably crisp. You can connect up to 36 TelePresence locations into a single meeting.

If I’m not at a Cisco site, I can use the webcam and software on my laptop to connect “face-to-face” with colleagues anywhere on the Cisco network. And my handheld smartphone lets me take my office anywhere I can get a cellular signal. When I spoke at the IABC Africa conference in Johannesburg in October, I could quickly access Cisco’s intranet during breaks in the program.

There’s a tremendous competitive advantage to building an “office-less” communication team. No longer are you limited to hiring from the local communication talent pool or spending your limited communication budget on relocation expenses. You can hire the best person for the job anywhere in the world instead of settling for the best available local candidate.

You can extend your “hours of coverage” if you have team members located around the globe. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll often find messages from my European colleagues asking me to follow up on an issue. In turn, toward the end of my business day in California, I can involve my teammates located in Asia.

Your organization can save serious dollars when it moves away from assigned offices and cubicles and adopts an open office environment and work-from-anywhere telecommuting policies. Silicon Valley companies like Intel, Sun, Cisco, Google and VMware have all moved away from cubicles. Intel’s director of corporate services, Neil Tunmore, told the San Jose Mercury News that “on any given day 60 percent of the company’s cubes are empty because people are visiting customers, telecommuting, vacationing or in meetings. Employees work in their assigned buildings only three days a week on average and spend 20 percent of their work hours telecommuting.” Other companies have discovered that flexible office arrangements increase collaboration and productivity.

I consider myself lucky to work in Silicon Valley at a company that uses its own technology to improve employee collaboration and communication. Yet more important than the technology itself is the mindset that encourages us to find new ways to use the technology to collaborate. We’re encouraged to try new things. What worked yesterday may not be good enough tomorrow.

I think it’s incumbent upon all of us as communicators—not just those of us in high-tech companies—to push our organizations to adopt these new ways of thinking about communication and our jobs. Work is not about an office or a cubicle or your physical location. Work is not a place you go. Work is a thing you do.

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