More Remote Challenges

The vast majority of employees at CKE Restaurants Inc. work in the company's nationwide restaurants as district managers or in the field as real estate, marketing, human resources or training people, says Tom Lindblom, director of IT at the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based operator of 2,300 Hardee's and 980 Carl's Jr. restaurants.

Lindblom provides the infrastructure to enable them to all work productively -- "anything from communicating directives from senior execs to discussing new project rollouts or marketing campaigns to selecting restaurant sites," he says.

One of his favorite tools is a Web presentation and collaboration product called PictureTalk from Pixion Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. It facilitates Internet presentations and collaboration using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint. "No matter what's on my desktop, I can share it, and it's highly secure" Lindblom says.

Lindblom acquired PictureTalk six months ago to assist with computer-based training. CKE trainers used to fly from site to site, teaching people for eight to 10 hours straight before flying off again. Now they break the training into a series of shorter electronic classes, each done in real time with an open phone bridge for two-way discussion. The trainer downloads a 1.2MB client application, but participants need only a browser. "Everyone participates, no one has to travel, and no one has to leave the office," Lindblom says.

He soon began to see other uses for the system. For presentations to field personnel, presenters used to e-mail materials ahead of time and then hold conference calls for discussions. "But people may skip ahead or not be paying attention," Lindblom says. With PictureTalk and a voice bridge, they're all literally on the same page.

Producing a new product guide at CKE involves people from purchasing, development, training and operations -- all in different locations. The old process used time-consuming e-mail cycles, as texts of documents were read, edited and amended, and re-sent, Lindblom says. Now one person opens the document on his desktop, and everyone can edit and see the changes in real time. "If you don't like the change, you speak up," he says. "At the end of the call, we have a completed document, everyone has participated in real time, and we've gotten rid of a tremendous amount of e-mail time."

CKE also employs videoconferencing heavily for one-to-one, one-to-many or point-to-point communications. "But if you have 10 or 15 people in different places, that becomes a lot less effective," Lindblom says.

It's also less inclusive. "Our operations management people are usually in the field visiting franchisees, so the bandwidth to do video is not available," Lindblom explains. "With PictureTalk, even with a dial-up modem, you can participate, so we can include everyone from suppliers, vendors and franchisees to employees. They're all part of the team."

CKE has invested less than $100,000 to enable up to 100 simultaneous PictureTalk users. Lindblom thinks paying upfront is preferable to paying for actual usage, because without the incremental costs to consider, using it is a no-brainer. That and ease of use have fostered an important cultural change at CKE. "The tendency is to isolate or exclude remote users," he says, by sending them a copy of a draft and asking them to call in changes. "But that's not treating someone as an equal. This makes it so easy to include people and puts everyone on the same level."

Unifying a Global Team

In the past decade, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Wipro Ltd. has grown from a regional code developer to an international IT services company. CEO Vivek Paul is facing the challenge of nurturing a unifying corporate culture across time zones and nationalities. "Twenty-four percent of our workforce is in a different country many time zones apart," he says. "Yet we're working together in an integrated fashion on a customer's problem. That presents a challenge in terms of management, communication, work output, quality and consistency."

To meet this challenge, Paul uses a consistent methodology, clear objectives, a unified culture and communications mechanisms, all supported by the appropriate tools and infrastructure.

In terms of methodology, Wipro has achieved the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model Level V certification, as well as ISO 9001 certification, "so there's a consistent methodology in terms of the way work gets done," and that acts as a unifying force in the company, Paul says.

To clarify objectives, Wipro embarked on a Six Sigma effort two years ago. Six Sigma's Voice of the Customer tools capture stated and unstated customer needs and provide a unified vocabulary, Paul says, so everyone is clear on what has to be done.

Two years ago, Wipro also invested in a Web-based employee portal that combines human resources self-service tools with a proprietary collaboration tool called Challenge W and a knowledge-sharing network. The human resources tools have been a great success, Paul says, saving the company $1.4 million the first year and allowing it to grow by 40% without adding any human resources staff.

Challenge W is Wipro's cultural glue. "As we were growing, new employees would have a different boss, a different location, perhaps a different language, so the only consistent Wipro they will see is our intranet site," Paul explains. He wanted that site to communicate "the company we want to be. We tried to capture the soul of Wipro," he says. The site promotes working and playing together. There are occasional webcasts and live chats with Paul, and his weekly message highlights how Wipro values have helped an employee solve a problem. There is support for project collaboration, special-interest groups on technical subjects, affinity clubs and message boards. There are celebrations of career milestones and birthdays, polls on issues of internal interest and even a place to buy and sell personal items.

Challenge W proved its value when Wipro lost four employees on Sept. 11, 2001, Paul says. The site became the place to share concerns and information in the early hours. "It allowed us to engage everyone, and everyone had the same experience," Paul says.

Despite its features, the portal wasn't an instant success, he acknowledges, because people were already using multiple informal intranets throughout the company. "People like to communicate in their own particular way," he says. "We found the initial inertia was pretty high, and that was tough."

Getting over that inertia involved equal parts persuasion and hardball. "I expressed my unambiguous sponsorship [of Challenge W]," Paul says. "And we did little search-and-destroy missions and closed up the rogue servers so we were the only show in town."

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon