How TV’s Beloved Sitcom Would Have Handled Telecommuting
Despite being off the air for almost a decade, The Office remains one of my all-time favorite television shows. Even though I’ve seen just about every episode more times than I can count, it still manages to make me laugh out loud, something that has certainly helped me cope with the current state of world affairs. But watching the team at Dunder Mifflin as I work from home, I wondered how Michael Scott would manage the office in a virtual world.
Michael Scott, brilliantly played by Steve Carell, is a very complex character; you either love him or hate him. Despite all his faults, he manages one of the most successful branches within the company and deeply cares about his employees, almost to a fault. As he proclaims, “The most sacred thing I do is care and provide for my workers, my family. I give them money. I give them food. Not directly, but through the money. I heal them.”
But while he genuinely cares about his employees, Michael still craves attention and longs for the attention and respect of his co-workers. “Would I rather be feared or loved?”, he ponders. “Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” According to his own employee, Ryan Howard, Michael’s greatest fear is “loneliness … maybe women.” (Michael’s faithful sidekick, Dwight Schrute, believes it’s actually snakes.) Nevertheless, upon hearing corporate mandate that all employees must work from home, Michael would be crushed to lose that comradity and would do everything in his power to convince his team that it’s still safe to come into the office, possibly by personally disinfecting every inch of the office with Lysol. And he would fail miserably.
Here are four things I think the Scranton team would do to stay productive whether they were working from home or on their 60-acre beet farm.
As Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton, it’s Michael’s responsibility to lead and inspire his team. Unfortunately, he does this by conducting countless meetings in the conference room. Instead of driving productive business discussions, the meetings are typically about frivolous things like why the office is better than prison or why senior citizens are heroes. But rounding up the troops remains Michael’s primary way to communicate and unite his team. Fortunately, he’d be able to continue to hold virtual conference room meetings by using (and likely abusing) a video conferencing tool.
An intuitive video collaboration solution allows teams to collaborate and communicate from a single user interface. Considering Michael once needed IT to help him remember his password (spoiler alert: it was 1234), Michael could instantly create and start a new meeting right from a desktop app, allowing the team to join a video call through their browsers. Even if Michael impulsively decides the team needs to debate the merits of social distancing and how it’s affecting his love life, he could instantly create a new meeting invite on the topic, send it to the entire team, and have it linked to their existing work calendars so nobody can pretend they didn’t see it. “Everybody log in to the meeting now! Let’s go. Let’s do this.” As meeting leader, he could even disable some attendees’ video—sorry, Toby.
Of course, some employees may be leery to hop on a video call not knowing who else could be listening to their conversations. Dwight is especially paranoid; he once admitted to Michael he kept a diary to keep secrets from his computer. Surely, he would question and test the platform before agreeing to use it. Citing corporate’s assurances, Michael would gleefully explain that all video recordings can be AES-256 encrypted, at rest as well as in transit, to ensure deep security, while not having a clue what that really means. Ultimately, video conferencing would be Michael’s lifeline to his team during this pandemic.
When it comes to sales, the Dunder Mifflin team still does things the old-fashioned way. Dwight relies on his rolodex of contacts, Stanley is tied to his rotary phone, and Michael insists a personal touch is the key to closing deals. And even though Ryan tried to bring the company into the 21st century in Season 3 with Dunder Mifflin Infinity, an online sales portal that was intended to be “a one-stop consumer experience,” Michael resisted the new technology. Instead he tried to prove that hand-delivering gift baskets would net more sales than a computer. On his drive back, his GPS accidentally guided him into a lake, leaving Michael very jaded.
“People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me, the choice is easy,” he said.
Clearly based on Michael’s line of thinking, technology did not win that time. But with social distancing, personally delivering gift baskets is no longer an option. Michael and the team would have to cave and let technology take over to enable sales.
Dunder Mifflin would need to implement an end-to-end sales process to keep business moving and managing existing and new clients. This could be accomplished through a cloud contact center that would give the team everything they need to make sales quicker, including the tools and customer insights to provide superior service. And this is paramount to Michael Scott’s belief system.
One of Michael’s most surprising skills is his ability to remember every minuscule detail about his clients, including their family’s names, hobbies, and sexual orientations. Being unable to hit up the local Chilli’s, which Michael believes “is the new golf course,” for in-person lunch meetings, a constant stream of virtual communication over calls or video would have to suffice. A cloud contact center could help the team scale the number of calls they have on a given day. By working on a single platform, the Dunder Mifflin sales team is given full visibility into each account, creating a seamless internal process to efficiently route calls from home and avoid any conflicts they might have over who owns which account.
Finally, while Michael believes a business is “more than a collection of numbers and sales reports,” he can still deliver the much-requested numbers and sales reports his superiors demand. As corporate puts on the pressure to meet goals, Michael can easily customize performance dashboards with updated details to share with the board.
If Dunder Mifflin was an actual Northeastern Pennsylvania-based, mid-size paper company, chances are they’d have a less than stellar review on Yelp. Through the years, the company was on the receiving end of numerous complaints from dissatisfied customers, many of whom were simply blown off. When asked by a business student what the company’s response is to a customer who wants to leave for the convenience and savings of a nationwide chain, Michael replies that they would miss their service and guarantees they would come back. “Has anyone ever come back?” asks the student. “We don’t want them back, ‘cause they’re stupid,” Michael groans. Good thing he’s not in charge of customer service. For that, they have Kelly Kapoor, the company’s lone customer service representative, who’s more concerned with Beyoncé than dealing with upset customers.
Given these challenging times, customers are calling on businesses for answers amid so much uncertainty. In fact, customer service calls have skyrocketed during the current pandemic. Clients of Dunder Mifflin would be no different; they would have immediate questions, from inquiring about the fulfillment of their service to how to modify existing paper orders. And all calls would be handled by a single person who once claimed to have answered calls using a British accent because she was bored. To ensure the company could effectively handle and respond to calls without disruption—even remotely—they would need to turn to a chatbot, an AI-powered virtual assistant that could quickly address customer concerns.
By integrating a virtual assistant into their contact center, Dunder Mifflin would finally have a responsible and intelligent way to deliver a meaningful customer experience. Deployed through their existing voice and messaging channels, Dunder Mifflin’s AI representative could answer every customer immediately, facilitate a conversation to understand their needs, and take the appropriate action. As it gets smarter by routinely analyzing training data, it may quickly realize it could sell paper better than the sales team! And it would not be the first time a computer bested the Dunder Mifflin sales team.
Back in Season 4, a computer beat Dwight in a head-to-head sales competition. “It appears that the website has become alive. This happens to computers and robots sometimes. Am I scared of a stupid computer? Please,” Schrute scoffed. “The computer should be scared of me! I have been salesman of the month for 13 out of the last 12 months. You heard me right. I did so well last February that corporate gave me two plaques in lieu of a pay raise.”
I actually believe that with the right communication tools, the Dunder Mifflin team could be more productive working from home than spending time in the office planning parties like the tsunami relief fundraiser, which somehow lost money. Maybe the show wouldn’t be as funny, but maybe Michael Scott could finally focus on getting some work done. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hard, but he can make it work.
“That’s what she said.”