How do you connect people in traditionally offline environments?

How do you connect people in traditionally offline environments?

Summary: We're used to using the computer to collaborate with colleagues. What if your job means you're hardly online such as with restaurant staff? What are the tools that help an HQ coordinate and connect offline locations and teams?

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TOPICS: Collaboration, SMBs
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I've been obsessed with building a corporate culture. When I worked at Microsoft, I took it for granted. E-mail newsletters making it easy to stay on top of updates, logos everywhere creating a feeling of identity, intranets for communication, stated company values, and etc.

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How do you connect people in traditionally offline environments?

A big part of culture advancement is feeling connected to your colleagues. Understanding what they're working on, why they're working on it, what challenges they're facing, and whether there are opportunities to engage help foster employee curiosity, feedback, and company well-being.

In a corporate environment, people sit in front of computers and have their e-mail active 24/7. In many other workplaces, people are nowhere near desks or computers for the majority of their day. This is where I hit a gap; as someone who is connected every minute via my smartphone and computer (Lord help me if I am somewhere with no Internet connection), I can't figure out how to enable members of my team to stay in touch with each other.

At my restaurants, there are full-time service crew, bartenders, chefs, managers, etc. They're on their feet all day, whether it's amongst the blazing heat of the kitchen or talking with customers in the dining area. How do I get them all connected? Is there software that helps me and the folks in the office enable collaboration between the offline team?

I can only think of a brute force method--printing out memos and newsletters and distributing them to be read by the people in the restaurants. That's not interactive though, people can't respond to a printed piece of paper.

In a recent column I talked about using a Facebook group to foster communication. That helps, but it's tied to an employee's personal account and they access it outside of working hours.

Any suggestions?

Topics: Collaboration, SMBs

About

Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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6 comments
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  • How about ...

    1. Put the menus on tablets. Involve the staff in the menu design process.

    2. Put the ordering system on tablets. That doesn't necessarily mean staff losing their jobs (depends on the style of the restaurant) ... it might if you were a operating a fast food section ... or not if it was just an aid to a swanky joint where customer-waiter interaction was key.

    3. Computerise the table booking system: display the names of important customers on a big screen in the kitchen (gotta be careful about confidentiality here though).

    4.If it works:

    - now add things like staff suggestions and all that other corporate BS
    - mail me so I can tell you were to send my consultancy fee ;-)

    Bon appetit!
    jacksonjohn
  • ... and if you are (hoping to be) big ...

    5. Leave the tablets for the kids (of all ages!) to play with.

    - Quiz:-how long does it take to hard boil an egg?
    -
    ...
    - what are the ingredients of a Caeser salad?

    6. Are there any cooking games?

    7. Write an ebook e.g.
    http://www.carluccios.com/
    EVERYBODY contributes!!

    Hey ... my fee just went up ;-)
    jacksonjohn
  • ... or maybe ...

    8. Being a sports fan ... I like sports bars. Can something similar be done at a restaurant?
    More discreetly ... in individual booths perhaps?
    jacksonjohn
  • They're already connected.

    "At my restaurants, there are full-time service crew, bartenders, chefs, managers, etc. They're on their feet all day, whether it's amongst the blazing heat of the kitchen or talking with customers in the dining area. How do I get them all connected?"

    Actually, they have the BEST type of connection - direct, face to face communication with customers and with each other. The kind that sometimes corporate probably needs more of.

    "I can only think of a brute force method--printing out memos and newsletters and distributing them to be read by the people in the restaurants. That's not interactive though, people can't respond to a printed piece of paper."

    This is the kind of problem I see in many corporations - lots of one way communications to the bottom, but no communication to the top. And to be honest, such an arrangement hurts a lot of people.

    You mention Facebook - but another alternative may be LinkedIn. That could be a viable at-work alternative that is designed more for corporate environments.

    Other alternatives include corporate hotlines they can call and feedback forms they can fill out.

    To be honest - if you really want to get to know your business, get out of the office every once in a while and talk to the lower level employees and customers. As much as technology is a very cool and useful thing, it's not the ultimate solution to everything.

    Although - I've always thought it odd that restaurant workers generally *don't* get things like email accounts. Why not give them the same tools as Corporate? Why not let them communicate up the chain?

    All that being said - most restaurant employees don't really have the *time* to talk to Corporate, even if it's available. Food is a very, very busy business, and restaurants are generally understaffed.
    CobraA1
    • Solution 1

      Setup a VOIP system with hand-free devices for your employess. Please take note that the VoIP system MUST be Voice recorded enable and also being Voice-to-Text enabled. This will allow you to have an immediate responce no matter where they are within the restaurant. It also can be extended to out of restaurant; even they are at home as long as having an Internet access......:)
      alexhlkoh@...
  • Each Carries Either A Phone Or Tablet

    A phone might be easier to carry, and the smaller screen may be sufficient for status updates.

    Have a home-screen widget displaying continuously-updated status relevant to that staff member, e.g. state of orders for tables under their responsibility (for waiting staff). Why not provide a paging button at each table as well, which can automatically notify either the responsible waiter, or any available waiter? Easier than customers having to try to catch somebody's eye.
    ldo17