Month: January 2012

What makes a great virtual team member?…time to practice what I preach


Today’s my last day in Northern Ireland for 6 months.  For the past 5 years I’ve managed a highly motivated part of the Learning Pool team who are absent from our Derry mothership & who work from home in England and Scotland.  Tomorrow I become one of them.  This past couple of weeks I’ve been really mulling this over & wondering what it will mean for me.  I’m also slightly worried that I may not be the exemplary virtual team member that I imagine I will, a carbon copy of the perfect remote worker in the image I have in my mind’s eye.

In my view, these are the qualities & behaviours of a great virtual team member:

·         superb communicator – in both directions – giving & receiving information; this applies equally to customers & colleagues

·         highly organised in terms of managing appointments, follow ups, phone calls, CRM updates, keeping your online calendar bang up to date

·         ability to work efficiently on the hoof (on trains, in cafes, at airports, in the car)

·         knack to really bond with people you don’t see face to face much – other virtual colleagues but also the people in the powerhouse or mothership – the people you need to actually do things for you that you can’t do yourself

·         planning your schedule to get the most out of each day by combining appointments & using common sense

·         gift for really knowing what’s going on beneath the surface at HQ, think that comes about by really listening to what your colleagues say

·         makes the best use of the available technology & doesn’t get bogged down in constant technofail

·         books travel well in advance to get the best prices

·         effective collector & disseminator of customer information back to the mothership team

·         self starter with a lot of drive

·         ability to complete & finish things (this one is tricky for me) in a fast paced & constantly moving environment.

From time to time I’ve been critical of how other people do some or all of the above.  I guess I’ll know by this time next week how I’m doing myself.  Any hints and tips from you, my dear readers, will be most welcome as always.

So what am I going to miss most over the next 6 months when I’m London based.  Folks – there’s no competition on that score.  The photo of Paul was snapped yesterday at Stansted airport.  He’d just finished a conference call with our tech team & is posting something up on Twitter.  As usual, we had a few right old laughs yesterday – despite both of us having a 3.30am start, a tricky meeting at the Cabinet Office and the usual mixed bag of rushing around London for meetings, juggling stuff as we go.  Along the way, and starting at 5.30am, we also discussed everything that both of us are working on, we did some long term strategic planning, we both chatted to a number of colleagues, customers and partners, sketched out a couple of new products or markets for existing parts of the Learning Pool portfolio, swapped the usual load of gossip (mainly about other entrepreneurs or businesses), exchanged views on the content of business books we are both reading (cuts down on individual reading time if your business partner reads it & gives you a précis of course), managed to have both breakfast & lunch in the most random of places, went through some sort of time/space portal at Stansted airport, took two plane journeys & two long drives each, but were emailing again when we got to our respective homes last night.  The relationship anyone has (should have) with their business partner is pretty intense and full on.  I’ll refer you to a previous blog of mine if you’re interested in reading more about this – it’s here

We’ve been working together like this for 8 years, we rarely disagree and you couldn’t put a cigarette paper in between us.  I guess that’s what I’m going to miss most.


Job Hunting? Be careful you don’t cross the line into canvassing…


It’s a dog eat dog world out there, especially if you’re on the hunt for a job.  I’ve written a number of blogs over the past couple of years offering advice to people looking for new employment opportunities or getting ready to attend interviews and I always encourage people to be as proactive as they can.  This means being alert to opportunities as they come up, using your networks, sending carefully crafted emails or letters & cvs to organisations you want to work for, etc.  As we all know, a large percentage of jobs are never advertised – so it’s important that you get yourself on the radar.

However, you can go too far.  When that happens you can be in danger of either being disqualified for canvassing or you can just annoy someone so much that they put you on the “no thanks” list before you even get a chance to shine.

Recently I’ve started to receive large numbers of Linked In requests from people I don’t know.  Many of them are people that are looking for work.  Guys – this isn’t going to do you any favours.  First of all, I only connect with people on Linked In that I have met in real life & know and like.  I joked when David Cameron joined Linked In that he needn’t bother sending me a request as I wouldn’t accept it.  It’s the truth.  In my mind, it’s pointless being professionally “connected” with hundreds of people that I don’t know.  Twitter’s the place for that.

Sometimes, before I click the “ignore” option, I do take a look at the person’s Linked In profile.  Call that what you like – nosiness, curiosity, even politeness.  I live in Northern Ireland so if it’s a name I half recognise or someone that I think I may have met, I look at the profile to find out more information.  Surely that’s the point of having profiles.

I don’t then expect that person to send me a public tweet thanking me for looking at their Linked In profile & saying they hope Learning Pool will be in touch with them shortly.

This is so wrong on so many levels:

1.       If we’ve advertised job vacancies, we’re in a process and using social media in this way to promote yourself to people in the company could be construed by some to be canvassing, and that can result in your application being disqualified from the process.  In Northern Ireland we work within very strict recruitment guidelines in order to meet legislation around equal opportunities in employment.

2.       I might sit in on interviews from time to time and I might meet people before we offer them a job, but it will be our team leads that are driving the recruitment process at Learning Pool not me.  If you contact me outside of the process, I am unlikely to know anything about the particular process you are in (we advertised 10 vacancies in the press on 27 December) and even if I was interested in your experience and skillset, I’m unlikely to mention you to one of our team leads – they’ll pick it up themselves as part of their shortlisting activity.

If you’re looking for a job & want to work at Learning Pool, spend time & effort instead improving your cv (most of the ones I see are dire) and writing a decent covering letter.  Or spend time getting onto our radar before we actually go out to recruitment – so that we already know you.  There are many ways you can do this – intelligent commenting on our forums, writing an interesting personal blog & making us aware of that, conducting interactions with us on Twitter or coming along to our events & chatting to us.

I know that many of you will have opinions or questions about this topic and I hope we can have some debate in the comments section.  As always, love to have your input.