By Sam McGrath

Over the last few weeks, I was trying to get in touch with Sal Mosca, a former alumni, class of 1997 that I had met last year when he visited the WMU campus in recognition of achieving the Outstanding Alumni Award. Despite being extremely busy, we finally connected and was grateful to have the energizing discussion as I learned a lot about how he and Microsoft (his employer) are being impacted by the unprecedented COVID-19 virus. He leads a team that drives engineering compliance across all revenue processing services (think, you go to microsoft.com and purchase an item, the services that make that experience happen center around Find, Try, Buy, Billing, Payment, Support) for Financial and Regulatory domains. Specifically, his team and various other engineering teams have worked diligently to deliver COVID-19 relief and support to customers and partners all over the world.

Sal mentioned that he and his team were helping deliver compliant relief efforts across the company and specifically as I was chatting with him, the Ministry of Education in Italy, providing remote connectivity assistance so they could effectively self-quarantine and still facilitate remote learning across its country-wide school systems. Microsoft Teams (a unified communications platform that facilitates communication and collaboration) was used to quickly help educators and students remain connected during these unprecedented times. He expressed how proud and grateful he was to be part of a company that could help during these difficult times.

I asked Sal how this was impacting him personally.

He mentioned he was grateful that he and his family were healthy and worked for a company like Microsoft that has been extremely supportive and accommodating throughout these challenging times. He did mention carrying a heavy heart as he watched the hardship across the world and even for his family in Italy where he has cousins in Milan (epicenter of Italy’s outbreak). He mentioned just trying to focus on what he could control and help where he could.

What I learned from Sal on the current challenges Microsoft was facing in its relief efforts to support the COVID-19 crisis – I’m sure there are more but here are a few Sal mentioned:

  • Providing connectivity software to those adversely impacted by this crisis.
  • Ensuring the software and infrastructure remained reliable and performant.
  • Providing support to small and medium businesses facing economic challenges providing paths to bridge the current challenges as the economy works to reopen.

Additional areas the surfaced during our discussion:

  • Sal mentioned working from home since early March and felt like the company has not skipped a beat in term of productivity and connectiveness. A real testament to the digital transformation and product capabilities that Microsoft has continued to develop and mature.
    • Sal mentioned that he thought a good interview question arising from this crisis might be “what have you learned about yourself? About the world? Has it changed your perspective in anyway? He would be focused on empathy, growth mindset and opportunities that might have changed their aspirations.

I asked Sal what he thought working from home for such an extended period of time might mean for the corporate workplace.

  • He mentioned the modern workplace has been evolving and this was an extended and scaled exercise of the current remote capabilities with much to learn from.
  • He believes the new norm post the self-quarantine will include more balance remote and physical workplace. Flexible arrangements will continue to increase as work and life demands blur.
  • He believes it’s giving all managers a view of how productive employees can be working remotely breaking the stigma or question of where people can be impactful and work remotely.
  • He has weekly checkpoints with his team including virtual happy hours which has helped keep the face to face connectivity in place.
  • He has experienced increased personal connection by seeing people with their camera’s on and learning more about their personal environment. Sal mentioned increased executive connection as they would ask about pictures on his wall or the chalkboard where he would write a positive quote to start his day off with.
  • Learning about what people of all types need to feel included and successfully engage during online meetings. Doing things such as creating space, safety, asking open questions, calling on others who have not had a chance to talk amongst several areas of focus.
  • He mentioned his meeting workload consumed all available time and in the first week he was struggling to find time for restroom and lunch breaks. He has now adopted a practice of scheduling breaks on his calendar to balance his day.

Pros/Cons he talked through regarding the work from home experience:

Pros:

  • Short commute, less stress of traffic in the Seattle area
  • Stress relief from physical meeting logistics (finding a room, is it big enough, does it have the right equipment, etc…)
  • He has experienced both Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings during this time as various team members experimented with other non-Microsoft options to promote learning and engagement.

Cons

  • Concerns about the economy and how will it rebound? Will it lead to lay-offs or have other constricting implications? Microsoft has assured them they are not doing lay-offs but concerns longer term and for friends, family and the global economy at large remain.
  • Performance rewards – uncertainties around raises and other compensation benefits always generate concern during these adverse times.
  • Training/onboarding going virtual – difficulty in accelerating new employee acclimation to culture, company and business domain. Just takes longer.
  • Parents with kids home from school experiencing conflicts with personal and professional accountabilities. Microsoft has provided a 3 month paid leave to help parents take care of kids and reduce work pressures. In general, people are being very supportive as we all are facing challenges given the circumstances.

Tips & Tricks for being virtual:

  • Video is better, people are more attentive in meetings, and understanding of body language is helpful.

We talked about the power of storytelling:

  • His superpower is the empathy he has for people which can be seen through how he tells his stories and from the lens he takes in telling the story.
  • Storytelling = ability to connect on an emotional level that leaves a memorable impact required to influence and land messaging.
  • Microsoft is a data-rich environment and one tip Sal mentioned, use the data on the slide as a supportive backdrop to the story you tell.
  • Speak from the heart – your authenticity will show and is contagious. People want to hear you not just corporate babble.
  • Stories make you more memorable, listening works wonders
  • Presenter’s role is to create a story, that provides context
  • Fewer words and more pictures in a slide deck are more effective
  • Being comfortable and confident is key
  • Being vulnerable is big as well

Books/Authors he recommended:

  • Brené Brown – Braving the Wilderness
    • Patrick Lencioni – Death of a Meeting, Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Quotes I liked:
“If you get the people right you can accomplish anything”
“Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about”
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
“Vulnerability = is the foundation of trust and creates connectivity & unity between teams”
“Separate but united together”
“I’m a big hugger, I hope those aren’t a thing of the past”