I work in a truly virtual organisation. It hit home again the other day, when I thought about our national budget for paper (the white thin stuff found in printers and photocopiers). Let me clear up our size quickly to give the budget some context. In South Africa we have around 13 people for whom their work with TT.biz is their primary source of income. They’re scattered all over the country and sometimes parts of the world. It’s impossible to tell you where they’re scattered, because we have no offices. Anyway, back to the paper budget. Its a big fat zero. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I’m sure one or two slips squeeze through each year. But we use almost no paper. This article will never see any paper on our side. You may choose to print it, but we won’t. No need to. As soon as it’s done it’s going to be uploaded onto our web site.

Our virtualness has some very clear pros and cons. Saving the rain forests is one of the pros. Getting together to talk, create, build, innovate and grow is one of the cons. It doesn’t happen very easily, if at all. As someone who secretly wishes he could have an office to go to every now and again (it doesn’t have to be mine, going to your office could easily meet my need), connecting in a virtual environment is often close to top of my mind.
Finding solutions for our lack of community has meant we’ve had to go into discovery mode. Certainly we’d never have looked and found what we have, if we’d all been in the same geographic location. And that’s the beauty of what we’ve learnt. Being forced to work in a not so normal operation has meant discovery and innovation. Important note to self: forcing people to work in a different environment creates the opportunity for innovation and creativity.
While there are many tools we’ve discovered I wanted to mention 2 briefly (because they’ve been mentioned in this e-zine before) and then one we’re stumbling all over at the moment.
By now you must have heard of Skype? (get your free download from www.skype.com) With a good connection (ISDN and higher) you can talk to anyone else on a computer with Skype, any time, and anywhere in the world, for free. In fact you can talk to up to 4 people in a conference call. Last week we had a Skype-versation with a colleague in Cape Town as we sat with our clients in Pretoria. Working out the cost saving in this instance is a no-brainer, even if you don’t get remotely close to the exact amount. Bigger companies have had this technology for a few years, but Skype levels the playing field dramatically.
What do the CEO of General Motors in the US, the teenager who lives down the road from me, and the nun who lives in the monastery in the next suburb have in common? The all have their own blog. Blogging is taking the world by storm, and not just the personal lives of people, the business world as well. If you don’t have a blog, then its time you investigated getting one (we can help you). If you don’t know what a Blog is, then point your browser to http://www.tmtd.biz/?p=67
Our Blog (http://www.tmtd.biz) has enabled us to both share information, and given us a tool that has facilitated some great conversation. Not only with our own team, but from people we don’t even know. There’s a paradigm shift for you. Having people outside of your company contribute to the growth and development of your intellectual property. Amazing. Blogs represent the answer to the concept of democratising information. Blogs have allowed us to move from simply dumping static information toward authentic dialogue and engagement.
I’m afraid this very cool piece of software is not show-off-able. I can’t point you to a website to have a look (its internal for us). MatErix emerged when we were looking for a CRM solution about a year ago. We researched all the big gun’s solutions, and then called in Roger. Roger is our software techie. When we need complicated things done on our web site we call him. Having calculated that we were in for R100 000 plus to purchase a CRM package we asked Roger what he could do for us. Roger investigated that world of software called Open Source and came back to us with a R20 000 answer. We looked over the specs and Roger got the job.
MatErix (the name is obviously not ours, but the capital ‘E’ in the middle is) is essentially a customized open source programme that resides on a server somewhere in cyberspace, that allows us to manage our clients, post documents of interest for our virtual team, and as of June, manage projects between different team members. We’re still ironing out a few glitches, but the bottom line is that MatErix has allowed us to do things weve never been able to before.
We’ve only just begun
Working in a virtual environment can be a difficult transition for some to make. As we’ve discovered its not without its difficulties. We’ve also stumbled across, created, designed, tweaked and are using some great software in order to fill some of the obvious gaps.
To build an enduring and great company you can’t do without community very easily. Face to face time is critical in order to develop, struggle, grow, build and create. We’ve had to accept that it’s going to always be an area in which we will be weak. But have not simply surrendered. We are determined to find new ways, different ways of doing what companies have been doing since the beginning of time. We’ve only just begun in our search for a better way of doing things, understanding our strengths and our weaknesses.
Now please excuse me. I have to upload this article, skype our editor to tell him it’s done, and then check the latest blog information tha’ts just arrived via Feedreader.
Barrie is a partner of TomorrowToday.biz, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich streams of the new economy. He is recognised as a creative and strategic thinker with an ability to influence individuals and teams to explore ‘outside the box’ options. TomorrowToday.biz have several entertaining and enlightening multimedia presentations that explore themes relevant to leadership in tomorrow’s world.

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