As a regular reader of Fortune magazine I always look forward to their annual edition of “The 100 Best Companies to work for”. Buried within that issue are nuggets of management advice on how to be a better manager, create a better workplace and motivate my team. One thing that struck me this year reading their analysis of successful companies and workplaces, was the shift away from the value of an individual’s knowledge and what that brings to an organisation. Instead, the focus is now more around how that individual interacts within the organisation and the value that comes from those interactions.
A recurring theme was that the idea of the “knowledge-driven organisation” reigning supreme is over. “Knowledge” has become commoditised in so many ways: information is easily researched online, both on intranets and the Internet. Witness how the instant use of a Google search has stopped many a good discussion and disagreement on facts in its tracks! In some cases knowledge is now going further and moving beyond being a static collection of information, but instead becoming an adaptive, learning entity to assist human specialists - you need to look no further than IBM’s Watson and it’s ability to process massive amounts of data as well as learn from that data to see the direction “knowledge” is going.
The new focus for successful organisations is looking at human relationships - how to get the most out of people, encourage them, create interactions and ideas that might otherwise not happen. Creating a high quality workspace culture helps encourage the best and brightest to join an organisation, but also helps encourage more productive conversations. One small example of this: Google is well known for offering staff free gourmet meals at their office locations. But did you know that they proactively manage the queue length? Apparently three to four minutes’ waiting is optimal to ensure people are still encouraged to use the cafeteria, but generates enough time to talk and interact whilst in the queue - human nature suggests that people will chat whilst waiting; chats become ideas, and ideas become projects.
It might be easy to encourage human interaction when all your employees are in one location but how do you manage and encourage such activity in todays disparate work environments? The workplace of the future has become significantly more diverse - work is an activity now, rather than a location; it’s what you do, instead of where you work. Users may be hot-desking, temporarily resident in a project space, working offsite at a customer office, or working from home. With workforces becoming increasingly distributed, there is a danger of them potentially being isolated rather than involved as an integral member of their teams.
The good news is that today’s collaboration tools make it easy for anyone to remain connected with team members, as well as customers, suppliers, and so on. The range of tools and solutions are varied and continue to evolve,whether it is connecting to a collaboration session from a Web browser using Polycom RealPresence CloudAXIS, connecting from a desktop or tablet using Polycom’s mobility solutions, or connecting from a meeting room - there is a solution to suit every need and budget.
Whilst the tools are readily available many users still think of collaboration as a specific, scheduled event (a meeting), rather than an on-going activity(conversations), throughout the workday. But with a little creativity it is possible to use collaboration tools to recreate a face-to-face team operation, but delivered in the virtual domain:
- One approach is to have a permanent virtual meeting room for the team. Users can dial-in, drop off etc. as needed. Participants can stay on mute unless they need something from one of the other team members. This allows you to create a similar team spirit to an open office environment, where team members can see who is around, ask questions and get immediate answers.
- Another approach is to create a virtual cube using a video endpoint. So for users who are sometimes working from home, but also have a space in the office, they can always be present when someone walks to their cube for a chat, even if they are not physically present. Polycom’s R&D team in Austin, USA has used this to great effect, as you can see in the picture in this blog post.
This on-going evolution of what collaboration can deliver and where collaboration is used starts to create some interesting challenges. At Polycom we pride ourselves on the quality of our user experience. However as our technology gets used in an ever increasing variety of situations and environments we have needed to continually innovate to help ensure users get a best in class experience. The best technology to support a high quality user experience should be transparent and require little to no user interaction.
Whether it is doing smart video processing to account for poor lighting conditions, or intelligent audio processing to help screen out background noise, all the operations should be seamless for the end user. In my next post, I will explore some of Polycom’s key innovations that we have recently introduced to the market and how they help power the workplace of the future.