You're handed a laptop computer. You've renewed your passport. Your mission: relocate to Singapore and build a sales territory. The assignment is a big-time coup for your career. Even so, you're worried. How will you stay in the boss's loop when you're an ocean apart?
Will Pape has some answers. As cofounder of VeriFone Inc., which provides the electronic authorization systems through which retailers "swipe" credit cards, Pape has spent the past 16 years both working as a virtual boss and answering to one. From his home office in New Mexico, Pape reports directly to CEO Hatim Tyabji, who works in San Francisco.
So ingrained is VeriFone's virtual hierarchy that the firm's $1.7 billion acquisition by Hewlett-Packard, which closed on June 25, was overseen by Pape and another cofounder from their home offices in different locations. Pape, a pioneer of telecommuting, is as qualified as anyone to offer tips for how to stay on the inside while you work on the outside.
Your Worry: Lack of time. If a deal is going bad, you won't be able to get to the boss fast enough to make things right.
Pape's Prescription: VeriFone's computer network includes a feature that people call "itin," short for "itinerary." When the in-house travel agent books a trip, detailed information on the road warrior's whereabouts is accessible to all of VeriFone's 3,000 employees. Even CEO Tyabji is no exception to this process.
"We were preparing for the stockholders' meeting to finalize the merger with HP, and there was a detail to discuss with Hatim," Pape recalls. "He was traveling in the Far East, so his cell-phone didn't work. I checked his itinerary and called the airline to see if his flight was landing on time. As soon as Hatim entered the terminal, I had him paged. Keeping on a unified front, regardless of how you do it, alleviates the pressure when your boss is traveling on the other side of the world."
Your Worry: The goof-off factor. The boss won't know that you work as hard off-site as you do on-site.
Pape's Prescription: Pape insists that effort and long hours are immaterial. "The CEO doesn't care how hard we work," he says. "He cares only that we generate the desired results. If someone can hit the company's goals while barely working at all, well, God bless 'em."
That said, Pape acknowledges the importance of using periodic memos to keep connected with your boss. "Daily progress reports can be a waste of time, but if you're shipping a major project at the end of a quarter, you just might need to communicate every hour," he says. "You trade information with the frequency that the situation demands, through whatever form is necessary — videoconferencing, concise emails, the phone. The overall objective is not for your boss to look over your shoulder but to keep in sync."
Your Worry: Lack of face time. By being physically separated from your boss, you feel like you're working for some corporate big brother without heart or soul.
Pape's Prescription: Pape acknowledges that email just doesn't cut it when you're trying to cultivate the
X-factor of trust and camaraderie. Every six to eight weeks, VeriFone compensates for this lack of face time by holding week-long meetings for the CEO and his direct reports.
"We work together 18 hours a day," Pape says. "The sessions are so intense, we quickly get to know new people and catch up with the veterans." Meetings begin at 7 AM, but by 5:30 AM everyone is checking email and moving into work mode. "The process sets the pace for the work ethic that we need to maintain when we're separated by thousands of miles. And it helps to build strong friendships, which are essential — regardless of whether or not you're working in the same office."
Coordinates: Will Pape, email@example.com
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.