By Russ Levanway, President
We recently held Food Truck Friday here at CIO Central (as we call our San Luis Obispo office), a tradition that began a while back when we identified the need for more face-time with our clients. Nearly always, our technicians communicate with clients over the phone rather than face-to-face, so putting a face to the voice on the other end of the line has the power to forge a connection, even just a little bit. And Food Truck Fridays play a role in that effort.
Connecting face-to-face has been on my mind lately, too, when I consider how CIO Solutions integrates across four offices in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Fresno and Costa Rica. Events like Food Truck Friday help connect our company with the client, but in the same way that face-time also connects our company’s offices together to build a combined culture. It may seem like an oversimplification, but one of the most important actions we’ve taken to integrate the former TekTegrity team with CIO Solutions is encourage, allow, and facilitate our different teams and offices to work together.
One initiative our CEO launched right after the merger is called the Sister Cities program, in which pretty much anybody in any CIO Solutions position can choose to work out of any of the other California offices with their parallel team. (Apologies to the Coast Rican office, which isn’t as simple to integrate from such a distance!) There’s no rigid hierarchy or approval process—just a quick okay from a supervisor—and the employee’s hotel, travel, and food will be covered by the company.
Our thinking when we developed this program was that we wanted to see organic, in-person time company-wide, not just when a specific group meets up on a specific day. We wanted to encourage people to work out of another office whenever the mood struck; we wanted the prospect of spending a day or two with an alternate team to be appealing and easy for them.
Our Fresno office recently got a brand-new, beautiful remodel that a lot of folks in the SLO and Santa Barbara offices had heard a lot about. For Fresno’s open house, we had 17 people from other offices show up through Sister Cities. Not just for special events, though, people regularly take days in other offices: just recently, one of our technicians spent a day in Santa Barbara, service coordinators from Santa Barbara came up to SLO, and a rapid response person from Santa Barbara worked in Fresno.
Is this program challenging to offer? Honestly, yes. Encouraging staff to travel between three disparate offices all the time comes at a significant cost: travel, hotel, productivity. And then there’s the cost of exhaustion that a lot of employees feel after traveling.
BUT here’s the payoff: The company is really cohesive right now—I would say amazingly so, after just a few months. We’ve been intentional about combining our culture, and I think it’s really starting to show. To be sure, it will be many more months before I can truly say that we’re fully merged and integrated, but the emphasis on face time has given us a big head start.
Do you have remote offices, whether small or large? Or even people working remotely, who don’t get a lot of opportunities to interact with the rest of the team? Maybe there is a way to get more face time and all its benefits through a program similar to Sister Cities.
// Russ is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the president of an ever-growing managed services provider with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When he’s not collaborating to chart out the future of CIO Solutions, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and travels the world with his wife and two daughters. More on Russ>>