Matt Miller lives in Maine but works four hours away in Massachusetts. While he initially stayed connected to his coworkers and clients via videoconferencing, not having a physical presence at his company’s headquarters left him feeling disconnected, frustrated, and less than collaborative in his fast-paced role. Matt took it upon himself to explore telepresence technology, and found the answer to his telecommuting troubles with Beam.
BEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your job, and why you decided to try Beam’s Smart Presence System.
MATT MILLER (MM): I work as a buyer for a company called MAC Wholesale, a liquidator based in Massachusetts that buys large quantities of closeouts and excess inventory from manufacturers, and resells its products to off-price retailers like TJ Maxx.
When my wife and I were presented with the opportunity to move to Maine for my wife’s work, working remotely was something I hoped I could manage for keeping up with my responsibilities as a buyer with my current employer. I love what I do, and I wanted to make it work -- although continuing to live in Massachusetts while my wife moved to Maine wasn’t an option. My boss was hesitant about the idea, but I assured him that everything was going to work out.
So I tried working remotely -- first with Skype, for approximately the first year. I found that I was able to be productive as a remote employee, things were going well... but honestly, working remotely via Skype is kind of lonely. How do people happily do that? For example, not everyone in my company had Skype, so only a few people were reachable using video chat. If I called and nobody picked up, then it was like I was on my own, and I had no idea what was going on in the main office sometimes. I also missed out on the excitement and the energy of the fast-paced environment as deals were bought and sold. That’s when I started exploring telepresence. I tried others besides Beam, but nothing I tried seemed functional enough for everyday usage -- a lot of the other products out there just seemed like cool gadgets -- I was looking for something I could solve a problem with. Then I test drove a Beam, and that was it. I bought one right after my test drive and haven’t looked back since.
BEAM: How do you use Beam on a daily basis?
MM: Our office is set up with a mostly open floor plan. I have my robot’s charging dock next to my desk in that office, and I leave the robot on all day sitting in the dock. This way it’s just like I’m there at my desk doing normal tasks -- people walk up to me all day long, and anytime I need to speak with someone I can drive around the office or up to the desks of my coworkers. It’s completely revolutionized how I work remotely.
BEAM: How has your using Beam impacted others in your office?
MM: At first some people thought it was creepy because of how quiet it is, but after two or three weeks, everyone was used to it. Now the robot is just a normal part of our office culture, and I’m able to be much more involved on a daily basis. I can attend company meetings, make presentations to our sales team, and look at product samples that are sent to me.
We have a sales guy who had back surgery a few months ago and he was going to be out of the office for an extended period of time; instead of being out of commission entirely during his recovery, we got another Beam for him. It’s amazing how well the technology works - sometimes we’ll be having discussions that are robot to robot -- it works as well as being there face to face, in person.
Whenever someone new comes into our office, I usually get called over so they can “meet the robot." People love it! They often joke “how do we know if you’re wearing pants today?” And yes, I always wear pants when I work via Beam, that’s Beam etiquette 101.
BEAM: What has been the most surprising thing about Beam?
MM: I think people expect it to be glitchy, but it’s such a reliable platform -- that’s what sold me on Beam. The audio quality is really impressive, which is so important when you’re working remotely. If I was constantly asking people to repeat themselves and people had a hard time hearing me, the robot would be a nuisance to my coworkers. But because everything is so seamless and clear with Beam, everything about it is a positive addition to our office. The audio quality is so good that my boss will call my name from across the office, and I can hear him as clearly as if I were at my desk in person. I can then drive down into his office to meet with him. It’s truly amazing.
Additionally, the maneuverability of Beam is also top notch. It’s incredibly responsive and precise - driving around the office feels natural. The two cameras give you a great view of everything. I never bump into anything, and I’ve never gotten stuck.
BEAM: Do you see an improvement in collaboration and teamwork now that you Beam into your desk?
MM: Definitely; being able to be present (via Beam) in the office is a game changer for me. Now I’m interacting with my coworkers in the same way I do when I’m physically in the same office. In fact, people say “good morning, Matt” when they come in and see me at my desk via robot, because I literally have a presence in the office through the Beam. It’s that good.
Most importantly for me though, I found that before I had Beam it was easy to put off certain tasks ands conversations with my coworkers until the next time I saw them in person. With Beam that never happens -- I just drive over to a coworker’s desk and address the task right away. It’s also a lot harder to ignore a robot than an email! I can get things done much faster now.
One other thing that I discovered with the Beam is how positive it is for remote employees to be seen by company management and coworkers. Colleagues don’t necessarily know what you’re doing when you work remotely, and employers question whether or not you’re being productive. Beam gives people peace of mind. Take my boss: he knows what I’m doing and that helps improve our relationship because I don’t have to prove to him what I’m accomplishing because he can literally see it all himself.
BEAM: What are some tips/best practices you would recommend to a new Beam user outside of software and hardware set-up?
MM: First, you’ve got to have a good internet setup. And you should also have a high-quality wireless headset. Also, having a monitor in portrait mode makes a big difference too. All of the features on the Beam work so well and the right setup helps get the most out of the technology.
BEAM: How would you describe the benefits of “telepresence” to someone who is reluctant about using this type of technology?
MM: Working remotely is a lot more fun when you’re involved in the action. Once you try it, you’ll never want to go back to a life without telepresence. Not only am I happier than I was before I got my Beam, but I’m travelling back and forth to my office (for in person visits) less. The benefits of telepresence are amazing -- every company with remote employees should utilize Beam. It’s completely changed my life working remotely. I tell everyone I know about my robot! I couldn’t be happier with it.
For more about how Matt uses his Beam to work remotely, check out his review on Amazon.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.