Improving employee and customer experience with telepresence robots

Many entrepreneurs and employers share a common fantasy:
"I wish there were two of me."
One solution to this physical limitation that is gaining steam is mobile telepresence technology. Here's what happens when you mashup Skype, an A.R. Drone, a Segway and an iPad:

              by Suitable Technologies                   Double Robotics

The key innovation here is remote control mobility. With tools like WebEx, Google Hangouts and others we can connect face to face either in fixed locations or on the go.

Now lets say you want to break free from the conference room monitor and take a look around the office under your own direction. What's a teleconferencing business person to do?

Enter the telepresence robot. Take your iPad and attach it to a stick on wheels. Control the height and movement of said stick on wheels with a pc or second tablet. Mobile broadband and wifi make it possible to control the device from anywhere.

Products like Beam+ and Double Robotics put all of the tools I mentioned on an adjustable RC device. Several companies have entered the space but these two are leading the way with products that are within reach of small business users.

How can you be a be a better employer with a tool like this?

Managing multiple locations: Do you spend an inordinate amount of time driving between your various locations to oversee and help your staff? Activate your telepresence device instead. Now you can walk an employee through an issue with equipment or other procedures and be right by their side no matter where you are.

Customer Service: Sometimes only the boss will do. Your staff member has done all he or she can to appease a patron. They demand to speak to the owner. Of course you'd be happy to listen but you are in a different location. Dazzle your customer and turn them into a referring client. Roll up, greet them on a Beam+ or Double Robot and address the issue. Score one for the robots!

Site walks: Any time you feel like it,  you can walk the production line. If your sales team schedules a facility tour for a prospective client you can join in whether you are on site or not.

Flexible work schedule: Allowing knowledge based staff to work remotely is nothing new. With mobile telepresence they can work in the office not just in the cloud. Moving about the office and interacting with co-workers is key to effective work. Great ideas and team culture come from connecting in real time. Telecommuters never have to hear "you just had to be there" again.

Training: Allow a remote office team member to be in the classroom during formal and impromptu training sessions.

Random inspection: Peek in on your team when you are away. Not in the big brother or sneaky sense. Sometimes to get a true feel for how people are handling tasks you need to see them live in the moment.

IT Support: Even with all of the remote access chat support sometimes you need to show IT the physical problem you're having with equipment. Giving remote support staff the ability to "sit" next to any person in the office to trouble shoot an issue saves time and gets people back to work faster.

Trade Shows: So, you have three sales people at three trade shows and only one technical person to support all three of them. Put a telepresence robot at the other two trade shows. When prospects ask technical questions have your key employee bounce from show to show. You will score points for the face to face interaction from your team whether they are in the building or not.

In the near future these nifty devices won't supplant traditional web conferencing. They will serve a need for those who want to work around the office and not just in the cloud.

How would you use a telepresence robot in your business?


Employ better with Los Angeles job board Workpop

If you're staffing up for a grand opening or replacing an employee who just left, Workpop may be the right tool for you. Workpop is a job posting platform who's focus is on bringing cool technology to local employers. My first experience using the platform was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The few down sides I found will be cured as more people use the site. Here's my take as a hiring manager.

Setting your account

Employers and job seekers alike can use existing social media accounts or an email address to set up an account. Every feature they offer today is included. Post as many jobs as you'd like for the always attractive price of  $Free.99!

Building a company profile

The user interface feels clean and simple, yet complete. In addition to your company description employers are encouraged to include pictures and short video in their profile. Hiring managers can also include a photo along with a bio. It is like the designers at Workpop are reminding us that companies don't hire people, people hire people.

Creating a job posting

Simple is the word of the day here. Follow five easy steps and you are ready to publish your opening to the job board. The post will include the company profile, description, required skills, compensation & benefits, duties, and job title.


Here is where the fun starts. Email notifications come in as candidates apply. Upon clicking the link to view new applicants you are sometimes greeted with a video cover letter.  Right off the bat you can see how the person presents themselves and communicates. As smaller employers you know that every interaction consumers have with your staff is key. The video feature is optional and gives candidates the opportunity to make an impact before the interview.

Other vitals like a resume, contact information, skills, and schedule availability are all standard. Sorting is made easy with three buttons. You have the option to reject, mark the applicant as a maybe, or send a message with the built in IM feature.

Paying it forward

As a hiring manager I take my ability to impact a person's life seriously. Many of the people I hire are recent college grads who are seeking their first professional position. I will often take the time to give feedback to a candidate I have interviewed but can't hire. If you are so inclined, Workpop gives you the chance to do that right from their site.

When rejecting a candidate at any stage in the process you are prompted to offer feedback. I am told that this feedback will be summarized and presented anonymously to the applicants who are hitting a wall. This is a great idea. Hopefully Workpop can grow and maintain the percentage of employers who take the time to share insight with people they reject.

There is also Facebook interface to refer a listed position to a friend. As an employer this can be an easy way widen your net.  You can list the position on your Facebook page. Your staff who are so inclined can refer their friends to apply as well.

What was lacking?

The short answer is not much. Expectations were reasonably set from the start. Here is what I am look for next:

Workpop needs a larger pool of candidates to choose from. I don't know any of their numbers. I can only say that I received nine applications in two weeks of the post being live. This will only improve with time. To be fair this is not much different that my experience with Craigslist.

Where is the offer button? On your employer dashboard each position is listed along with basic stats (new applications, maybes, rejects, offers sent, and a total). When I drill down to view an application I don't see any place to indicate that an offer has been made. So how would the offers column on the dashboard change? The option may be there, it just isn't obvious.

Small employers often don't have or want to pay for specialist to write job postings for them. (Here is a freebie Workpop). Add a feature that allows candidates to provide feedback to employers on the attractiveness of the job they post. Good employers conduct exit interviews when employees leave. If participation was reasonable this could give employers insight on attracting more ideal candidates from a larger pool of prospective employees.

Will Workpop help you employ better?

Over all Workpop is adding value to employers compared to the current batch of incumbents. This is especially true if you are hiring in or look for a job in the food service and retail industries. As Workpop grows there will be more people in their ecosystem and premium features to keep them in business. Workpop offers an easy to use way to list jobs and manage applicants. They have woven in a way for you to help your fellow man with constructive critique. I will be looking out for more good things from these folks in the months to come.

What do you think of Workpop and the features they are offering local employers?

Top 10 reasons to be a better employer this year

Happy New Year! This is the year you start your business or take it to the next level. Unless you are an independent freelancer your plan for success will involve others. Of those involved in your growth process, the closest to you will be your employees. Here are ten reason being a better employer is critical to a prosperous year for your business.

Scale requires talent:

You can only impact so many lives or grow so large by yourself. We all want to disrupt a market, even if it is just our neighborhood. Share your vision, be selective with who you allow to put their stamp on it, and don't go it alone. 

Happy employees are your best sales force:

"So what do you do?" This is one of the top ice breaking questions that is asked at parties. How are your employees going to answer? If you have made your vision & mission clear you will attract employees that embrace and embody that vision. Those same people will speak passionately about their job at YOUR company. Words like disruptive, impact, and career will be apart of their answer to that age old party question. Passionate answers get people's attention, which leads to interest. As Blake portrayed by Alec Baldwin schooled us in Glengarry Glen Ross those are the first two steps to closing the sale. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Now get them a cup of hot coffee!

Retention cost less than acquisition:

Think about the time and money spent on each step of hiring a new employee. Consider the lost productivity when you don't have anyone filling a particular role. When you add it all up it will always cost more to add new people that it does to retain good ones. I'm not even talking about great employees, though that is the goal. Keep your standards high, offer a better than average compensation package, and stay focused on the vision. It will cost you less every time.

Lower your insurance cost:

Health employees cost less and produce more, period. Demonstrate that you are a stakeholder in your employee's well being. Take time to establish structure that promotes safety and health. Your health insurance, workers compensation insurance, and general liability premiums will decrease over time. Happy employees show up, are less likely to fake or exaggerate an injury, and don't sue you.

Free yourself  for strategic growth:

If you are still making all of the sales calls, responding to every customer issue, and refilling the copy machine you can't execute on the big picture. Find the best people for each area of the business and let them own it. The right staff will help you balance charting a course for the future with keeping the sails full of wind now. 

You don't have all of the answers:

Some of the best procedures and products have come from employees. While you may not have the resources to let employees work on personal projects on the company dime, you can listen to them regularly. We are no longer in an era where employers can simply state the tasks and demand that employees carry them out mindlessly. We have computers for that. Leverage their abilities and brain power by listening. Many great Google products you can't live without were pet projects of employees.

Your employees equal your customer UX

No matter what product or service you offer the world, the following is true. The state of your staff directly and overwhelmingly impacts user experience. Create a great work environment, give extra breaks to people who are not physically or emotionally at 100%, send them home for the day with pay if necessary. A restaurant can't afford the negative word of mouth.  Limited customer interaction you say. Do a search of strange image in animated movies. Ask the folks at Disney undisciplined and angry animators have cost them money and goodwill. 

More eyes and ears create more opportunities:

The better quality people you have on your team the better your hearing and sight will be as an organization. Since you are transacting deals that with propel the company forward you can't see and hear everything. Good observers who are empowered to report back and take action are immensely valuable. They will save your biggest client, spot opportunities for new ones, and help the company innovate. 

Dead weight can drown you:

Great employers get rid of mediocre employees quickly. Amateurs always cost more that professionals. If someone doesn't meet your standard help them move on,now. I know they are 'good' at their job, fun, and loyal; but they aren't passionate about your vision. Help them find some place they can bring passion to someone else's or maybe their own vision. When an employee is not the right fit this is an instance where the hiring process will cost less than keeping an existing staffer.  

People are your profit center:

Figure out  how every person you hire should add revenue and or cut cost in your business. Know the dollar amount that position equals then create the job functions around that dollar goal. Now your paradigm has shifting and you can hire without fear of the expense. You will be set up to only hire the right person at the right time with this filter. When you begin to view every single person in your organization as a profit center productivity and profits will soar. 

How will you be a better employer and grow in 2014?