WorkShift: The networked watercooler

WorkShift: The networked watercooler


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Virtualising collaboration

The growth of collaboration tools and technologies has evolved alongside rapidly changing work patterns. Work is increasingly becoming what we do rather than where we are [1]. With employees not necessarily in the same office (or even in the same country) as the people that they work with, face-to-face meetings can be an expensive, environmentally unfriendly and time-consuming luxury. Meetings often happen outside the confines of the meeting room. Conversations that used to happen around the watercooler, the kettle or the photocopier are as likely to happen on social media as in the office now.

Technologies stepping in to fill the face-to-face gap

Trusting, knowing, empathising and liking were all based upon us Meeting with telepresence.getting to know the people that we relied on for survival. This means that we are not naturally able to function in this new, more virtualized way of working – it is not easy for us to do. However, technology is responding to fill the face-to-face gap and provide richer and richer alternatives for collaboration that go some way to replicate many of the things that we do naturally. When this works well powerful things can happen – and not necessarily things that conform to the traditional top-down ways of doing business. We are moving from an age of command and control to one of connecting and collaborating. The power is literally with the people – this is not really about technology, it is about building better and faster ways of communicating.

Characteristics of organisations that are adapting well:

  • Better at responding quickly and efficiently to changing Lady using ipad in airport.demands. Agility – the ability to mobilise resources more fluidly (and less hierarchically), make decisions faster and respond to unpredictable demand – is a key buzzword in the boardroom at the moment. However, moving faster also requires better co-ordination of expertise and clearer, more effective communication flows. Achieving this can result in lower operating costs and first mover advantage.

  • Better at innovating. Throwing diverse people together (appropriately) can often create something new and innovation is often the key to survival in a difficult market.

  • Better at engaging and retaining employees through stronger personal ties. Companies that encourage high levels of community feeling and promote collaboration tend to have better team cohesion, less employee churn and higher levels of employee engagement.

  • Better at building and sustaining relationships. The best Collaborating with laptop.salespeople spend their career building a strong network of business contacts – and that’s why they are the best salespeople because it’s all about the relationship. People buy from people.

However, it’s not just about the relationships. ‘The Collaboration Paradox’, BT’s research with 1,042 global executives working across a wide range of functions, shows that the self-reported loss of time each day due to poor communications is 134 minutes – 25% of a nine hour day. This communications conundrum equates to an annual cost per executive of US$25,000, which adds up to an eye-watering amount of waste in a global corporate with thousands of employees.

Download our paper: “Introducing the balanced communications diet for business”

In this paper, Dr. Nicola Millard looks at why and how we collaborate and how, using the rich set of collaboration technologies that are emerging, we can create an effective virtual, organisation where face-to-face isn’t the default way of doing business anymore. Much of this has been written from our own experiences in transforming BT. Over the past 20 years, BT has been through a process of fundamentally rethinking the way we work – and we continue to experiment and refine this as the way that we work evolves.


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