Editor's Page

Dec. 21, 2004
Your office is no place to be productive.

This issue's cover story is about manufacturing on the 'Net -- how leading companies are creating new market strategies and management tactics to adapt to a fiber-optic-speed economy. And yet, successful as many of these firms are, I wonder if their human-resource strategies have kept pace with the anytime-anywhere concept of digital work and collaboration. Consider the story of an executive with a leading consulting firm I met over dinner last week. Knowledgeable and well-regarded in his field, this exec worked and lived happily with his wife and infant in his hometown Midwestern city -- happily, that is, until his employer offered him the chance to head up one of its premier consulting practices. Stimulating intellectual challenge, terrific career move, mind-boggling financial opportunity -- all located, unfortunately, more than 1,000 miles from where he and his family had built a life. After much soul-searching, the exec told his company that while he desperately wanted the new position, he wouldn't -- couldn't -- move. His decision, he said, was final. To which his company replied, in effect, Who said you had to move? This firm -- unlike most companies -- recognizes that productivity is no longer geographic in nature. With the advent of mobile telephones, voice mail, e-mail, and e-business, executives now can be as creative, efficient, and in-touch on the road as they are at headquarters. In fact, for management positions that rely on external contact, executives are far more productive and valuable off-site than they ever could be in the customer-free atmosphere of the home office. For my dinner partner, this enlightened attitude took the form of the new job he coveted -- without a move. Still living happily in his hometown, he now also maintains a nicely decorated office 1,000 miles away. He visits this space every other week or so, for two to three days at a stretch. (His desk and chair are used as a guest office for visitors in his absence.) The rest of his time is spent mostly with his customers and occasionally in his home office, from which all the usual electronics -- phone, fax, PC -- keep him connected with colleagues and the world at large. Despite lip service to the importance of management flexibility in a digital age, most companies never would have agreed to this creative arrangement. Yet consider what would have been lost: My acquaintance would have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime promotion, and the company would have lost forever the new profits created through the expanded responsibilities of one of its most talented consultants. But isn't there resentment, you ask, on the part of other employees? Probably. And so my consultant friend had a whiteboard installed in his office, on which he hand-wrote the following message in grease pencil: I'm out of the office today, either:

  • Calling on prospects, trying to find new customers, or . . .
  • Visiting customers, trying to sell new business.
What are you doing sitting here? Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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