Most companies, though, are struggling to find a structure that satisfies the needs of employers and employees. Corporate futurist Christian Crews, principal of AndSpace Consulting in Fairfield, Ct., says companies with the greatest competitive advantage are “managing the tension between getting engagement from employees who can make their own hours with the tension of getting critical mass in a building to create innovative new approaches to business.”
Crews says requiring employees to work from the office isn’t enough; Collaboration takes management that is forward-thinking and open to embracing technology that facilities brainstorming, along with office configuration that encourages serendipitous run ins. “It’s about taking it beyond Post-it notes on a wall or huddling around a white board.“ Futurists, studying how to encourage and improve face to face collaboration, are looking at new tools for running meetings, he says.
At the same time, experts are studying how to get more from virtual collaboration. Citrix, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, has developed technologies that allow workers to hold virtual meetings, share documents and join together in online work rooms. Now, the company is creating platforms to enter virtual conference rooms where you can actually see who is in them before deciding to enter.
Brett Caine, senior vice president and general manager of the Online Services Division of Citrix, says he sees the benefit of face-to-face meetings, but the advanced technology to allow online collaboration has made the experience richer. “With HD video, it’s as if you are sitting around a conference table sharing content and looking at the emotional reactions.” However, he says, “you have to want to cooperate this way.”
At Citrix, 86 percent of employees work remotely at least some of the time during the week. Teams are spread across the globe and have webcams on their computers. It is an expectation that a colleagues are working from somewhere other than the office. And, it’s a model that works, which is why Citrix is continually improving technology around online collaboration, Caine says. “We believe that notion that being in office is rule right now, but increasingly in the future it will be the exception.”
For now, at least, group meetings are sometimes irreplaceable. A few weeks ago, Miami PR firm owner Tadd Schwartz called his staff together for an impromptu brainstorming session. About a dozen account executives sat in a circle on the floor and couch tossing out ideas for how to tie Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign into more business for its grocery chain client. One suggestion met with giggles, but within seconds a colleague came up with an alternative.
“That back-and-forth banter, that’s where collaboration comes into play,” Schwartz says.
Finding the right balance is one of his biggest challenges, Schwartz says. “Offering employees the option to work from home from time-to-time is something we do, but I know for a fact we work better and are more creative as a unit in the office where we are interacting.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or worklifebalancingact.com.