Like many technology businesses that draw on top talent across geographies, the management team at startup FEM Inc. works out of three different locations. Thanks to Skype, they say distance isn’t a barrier to regular communication and collaboration.
A content discovery and recommendation platform focused on identifying and promoting positive and diverse portrayals of women in popular television, FEM Inc. spans both the tech and entertainment industries. CEO Rachel Payne works out of Los Angeles where she can build ties with the entertainment industry, but the company’s vice president of technology is in northern California, closer to high concentrations of tech talent. The vice president of research and development works from another location in southern California. To stay connected, the three founders hold scheduled Skype meetings every morning and afternoon.
Skype calls bring them to the same table in a way that phone conversations never do, Payne says, while fostering strong connections by enabling everyone to see each other and pick up on physical cues – something her team finds helpful when discussing new ideas.
“It is really hard not to be present when you’re sharing a screen,” says Payne. “When you can see each other, you can really gauge how engaged they are.”
Perhaps most important, Payne says that Skype lets her very small and very busy team work while they meet. Their twice-daily Skype calls last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half, during which time they may share files and mark up documents, make decisions and start to execute on them in real time, then set the agenda for the next meeting before they sign off.
Payne says Skype brings focus and efficiency. She offers these tips for more effective collaboration over Skype:
- Schedule meetings in advance and set an agenda. This helps communicate that a formal meeting is being conducted and discourages using the screen as a diversion from actual work.
- Become familiar with the tools and use them all. It’s easy to think of a Skype connection as a conference call with visual effects, but because Skype allows for real-time document sharing, it really is a completely different way of connecting, Payne says. Businesses will have more success keeping employees engaged during these calls if they use the different tools Skype offers, such as file sharing and instant messaging.
- Let different people take the lead at different times. “For some companies, the person who is remote is always on the receiving end,” explains Payne, who has found that Skype levels that paying field by bringing everyone to the same virtual table. It shouldn’t matter how far away they are physically, they should not only be seen, but encouraged to speak up.
- Allow the voice-only option on occasion. While regular Skype users like Payne say that concerns about attending to your physical appearance before connecting via video become less pronounced over time, she also believes that businesses should respect the fact that there are days when some remote workers would rather not be seen. Although FEM Inc. uses video effectively, they don’t require everyone to turn on video for every meeting. “Think of it as a virtual bad hair day,” Payne says.
Do you have any tips to make Skype collaboration even more effective? Tell us in the comments, or tweet to us at @Skype4biz.