How do we build corporate culture, and mentoring, in a mobile world?

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I finished a report on Workplace Mobility a couple of weeks ago – specifically ‘how to maintain the commitment to mobility after the project team has moved on…’  It followed our research, and a workshop, with the Workplace ‘PIN’ (performance innovation network) group of real estate occupiers in the UK  Workplace ‘PIN’

I should say, I am a passionate believer in ‘mobility’ – enabling work to be conducted in many settings around the office, or away from the office with customers, or at home, or anywhere…and our research has shown clear benefits in a number of ways, for organizations and individuals alike.

But one area that needs some work – and a collection of brains, from different disciplines – is how the corporate organization creates and maintains its culture in a mobile world. And also, perhaps a subset of this, how does mentoring happen when people are less often together in the same space & time?

Lets take one of the best examples of a productive, flexible and mobile working environment, at Microsoft Workplace Advantage, Schiphol (NL). It really is a great environment, with multiple settings for working in different ways and with different people. People love it, and its won awards – deservedly so.

The key question I have – and I dont have any predetermined answer, as I’d like to know your views – is how do you pass on knowledge when people are less often together? Or rarely together, in one place, at one time?

I guess the first, and most important, group are the ’20-somethings’. Either fresh from University (in most cases these days), or perhaps transferring into a second job, and learning about the organization, what it does, how it does it. And also learning how to do their job – packed full of knowledge from University, but this is now the real office environment, and they have to learn how to get things done, how to persuade and influence…or just how to work!

In a traditional professional training, there has been a heavy reliance on mentoring throughout the structure. Graduates are mentored by qualified professionals, the recently qualified are mentored by the experienced, and the latter by the business directors or specialist partners.

People learn from many experiences, some even ‘subliminal’. Sometimes simple, like over-hearing telephone discussions, consciously or perhaps unconsciously listening to what was said, how a customer was dealt with, how questions were answered, and so on.

Most, if not all, people who have gone through a professional training will have experienced the pain (and repeat it on someone else, usually) of sitting with a senior person who red-lines and re-drafts your lovingly prepared report. Or cuts 30 of your presentation slides leaving the 10 she really needs….all good learning!!

Everyone remembers a good school teacher – in the same way, we remember experiences that taught us crucial lessons in our professional or business careers. So, how does this happen in a mobile world?

Cities like London, UK, have expensive real estate, so pressure to increase the DSR (desk-share ratio) will continue. This is accepted in mobile teams, like accountants (auditors) and management consultants. But can it ever work for bankers, business operations, software developers and the like?

Maybe the answer is mobile teams, rather than mobility for individuals? If the team is mobile, and can ‘camp’ in various places in groups of 2, 3, 4 or more, the corporate culture and learning experience is maintained. But where individuals are encouraged to be mobile, how do they maintain that link to the organization, and pick up the crucial learning and development that we all need?

How does this work in your organization? I’d love to hear your views

…. Paul Carder

  1. Graham Jervis says


    There are a number of issues here that you talk about and each possibly needs a different solution.

    1. Access to policies and procedures in order to correctly do your job.
    2. Technical knowledge to do your job.
    3. Behavioural norms for your organisation.
    4. Individual and group preferences and styles.

    1 can be dealt with through access to published knowledge and documents.
    2. can be accessed through online training material which is what already happens in many companies.
    3. does need human interaction and away days and group meetings are important. The role of social netwiorking could be important here.
    4. I think this still develops through collaborating on work whether remote or local.

    Initial thoughts….


  2. The Agile Organisation says

    Graham agree with your thoughts. A few of my thoughts from my experience.

    With mobile and remote teams the key is to ensure you make some time for “face time” both individually and group – the human emotional needs. And make sure that time is not wasted by organising, preparing and being proactive as that time will be precious – understand what you aim to get from it.

    Make sure everyone has the necessary e-tools, kit and process for accessing, communicating, sharing and learning in the virtual world.

    Make the most of online both in terms of “library” and “elearning” and collaboration.

    Make sure there is well understood set of corporate values – an understanding, helpful, sharing, open culture across the organisation whether teams are remote or static. For newbies allocate “e-buddies” and helpdesk support for those “how do I” questions. Managers and people should always make themselves available and keep in touch regularly on an individual basis for business and personal ie Social networking. Dont limit to your immediate team gather a wider circle across the organisation and beyond to ncourage innovation andcross fertilisation.

    A common brand can be a virtual online creation as well as physical in terms of workplace and kit.


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