DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Ever wish you could say sing karaoke at work? Well, one telecom company's experimenting with an idea like that. Cover songs as a way of team building. M5 Networks is the company. It offers business phone service through the Internet, also known as the cloud. But when Zack Seward of the Innovation Trail reporting project in upstate New York went to M5's Rochester office, he found rehearsal for a battle of the bands.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So let's do this. There's the second half of the chorus...
ZACK SEWARD, BYLINE: It's 4 o'clock on a Thursday and instead of sitting in front of office computer screens, a group of software engineers and customer service reps from M5 Networks is in the middle of band practice.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, ready, go.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MYRIAH MARSH: The great thing about this program is that you're required to learn something new.
SEWARD: That's Myriah Marsh, Rochester's office manager filling in on vocals. But for the school of rock program, she's learning how to play the bass.
MARSH: I have small hands so they don't really want to cooperate with me. So it's just a matter of getting I think my fingers used to it and developing that muscle memory.
SEWARD: Marsh is one of about two dozen Rochester employees participating in the music program, known as M5 Rocks. Bands of about four or five co-workers get together every week to work through covers of rock songs. The only rule is you can't play an instrument you already know how to play.
IVAN TREVINO: They just came to watch the thing, but maybe you can play that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SEWARD: The guy in charge of band practice is Ivan Trevino, an educator from Rochester's Hochstein School of Music, who says the folks from M5 are model students.
TREVINO: They're at work all day, so for them to take a break and do something different, they're usually pretty happy to be there, which is a good thing.
SEWARD: Trevino says the school of rock for grown-ups is a first for Hochstein. It all stems from a meeting with the founder of M5's Rochester office.
TREVINO: The way he put it was really intriguing. He said we want our employees to continue to learn new things.
PHELIM WHITE: Most people don't want to learn something that they're really insecure about.
SEWARD: That's Phelim White, the founder of M5's Rochester office and the driving force behind the music program. White is a musician himself. He was a drummer in a few bands that toured his native Ireland and then later the U.S. He says the founders of M5 met while playing music, and CEO Dan Hoffman says he's long wanted to find a way to incorporate the ethos of a rock band into his growing telecom business.
But M5 execs say the program is about more than just finding time to jam. White says there's no better way to build a team than to start a band.
WHITE: That's the accounting person getting together with an engineer and a sales guy. All these different departments coming together as a band, as a unit, and learning how to be great together.
SEWARD: And White says that's not just lip service. He says M5 is all about providing businesses with telecom services they will, quote, "love." M5 has about 2,000 client companies nationwide and is a leader in cloud-based phone services. Ultimately, White says, M5 Rocks is about enhancing the bottom line.
WHITE: Happy colleagues, happy customers, right? If you're going to have that commitment to your customers loving your service, the first commitment has to be to the staff.
SEWARD: That companywide commitment leads to one big event this coming May: M5's 12th birthday bash in New York City. The centerpiece is a battle of the bands that pits M5 offices in Rochester, Chicago and Manhattan against each other in friendly competition.
Bands will take the stage in front of an audience of about 2,000 that will include colleagues, customers and even prospective clients.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLLING IN THE DEEP")
SEWARD: For NPR News, I'm Zack Seward in Rochester, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLLING IN THE DEEP")
GREENE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.