Making mobile work

How mobile tools changed the relationship between Microsoft and its employees.

As the General Manager for International HR, I’m responsible for Microsoft’s HR Strategy & Operations outside of North America and Canada, working across 110 subsidiaries. That’s about 35,000 employees spread across many time zones. Our goals are lofty: Empower Microsoft employees globally to innovate, invest in collective success, and have outstanding career experiences. And those goals go for our own team, too.

Going mobile without losing touch

Like our US counterpart, we run into the mobile workforce challenge: How do we operate as a team when we are not in the same physical location? And beyond that, how do we develop respectful professional relationships when we lack the usual opportunities that a shared office or campus offers—the quick hallway conversation, the cup of coffee before a meeting starts, and so on.

It’s probably no surprise that we regularly rely on technologies that help us work remotely and through mobile devices—we even go social sometimes.

Facilitating teamwork"

By 2015, we know that more people will access the Internet through their mobile devices than through wired connections. These devices—phones, tablets, etc.—are such a help for those of us constantly out of the office or traveling among different offices. I have a Microsoft Surface, which I love, and we all have the brilliant Nokia Windows 8 phones. But it’s still possible to feel disconnected, even when you are dialing in or syncing up regularly.

It’s important to our team that everyone be connected and have a voice. Not just the “power users” and those who are naturally outgoing. This is one of the reasons I love Lync, which we use regularly for our leadership meetings: it brings together the extroverts and the introverts. IM appeals to the quieter team members and of course the audio and video tools work for the chattiest among us. We try to include plenty of time for further discussion using the lync white board to sketch ideas. It allows for an easier flow of ideas and we can make decisions as a team faster than if we are pushing an email thread through cycles (and time zones). And, the best part is that all of our whiteboard ideas and notes are saved in the cloud and we all can access them at anytime.

On the personal side, nothing lifts the traveler’s morale more than a good Skype session with family members at the end of a long travel day.

Strengthening professional relationships through social"

It’s easy to understand why social apps are wildly popular outside the office. But what about in the office? We need to get to know one another as people, too. Some of the same social sites we use in our private lives can help facilitate work friendships. Our informal (private) Facebook group functions as a combination gathering space/bulletin board, where teams can share fun experiences. If the Spain team had a group lunch, they post photos or videos and we frequently offer comments and bond as colleagues. For real time HR discussions, the teams uses Yammer to discuss top-of-mind topics, building on each other’s comments in a virtual discussion.

Even very high-priority work tasks can often benefit from a social twist. Not long ago, my boss, Sue Bevington, posted her quarterly employee communique. This is usually a fairly formal communication, providing feedback and guidance to the team as a whole. She could have sent a lengthy, carefully worded email or she could have booked time in an expensive video studio to produce a slick and rehearsed Churchill-esque “fireside chat.” She went another direction. She propped her handsome Nokia phone on a stack of books in her office, looked into the camera, and talked to us all like we were sitting right there. Five minutes later it was posted.

You can see how technology differentiates Microsoft as an employer and reflects our unique history, business, and culture. Today’s technologies really make mobile work.

More about