A lot of attention gets paid to where we work, whether in impressive office complexes or at our dining room tables. The rise of mobile and the advent of collaborative and productivity-oriented software have opened up all kinds of possibilities for enabling teams to engage from wherever they are. People have simply grown accustomed to working from anywhere.
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But this discussion about where we work doesn't matter nearly as much as the less widespread discussion of how we work. That is the real problem companies are (or should be) trying to solve. IBM, for example, has made headlines by asking workers to come into the regional office in an effort to drive more active and spontaneous collaboration. Indeed, many organizations operate according to the belief that collaboration occurs more readily when employees encounter each other in the halls and around the water cooler.
However, our work processes have evolved to the point where collaboration with some sort of distributed team is virtually inevitable. Today, work centers on how companies engage not only with their employees but also with their entire ecosystems, including team members working across the globe, project groups comprised of individuals from multiple offices, and customers and partners based elsewhere. This is a fact of life now, part and parcel of doing business. Companies must determine how to facilitate authentic interactions between disparate parties in order to foster innovation and fuel growth and profitability.
Data shows that personal connections don't simply disappear when one team member is in Silicon Valley and another is in Kansas. In fact, Gallup reports that employees who spend 60-80 percent of their time away from the office – and, presumably, away from their teams as well – have the highest rates of engagement.
Many credit millennials with the changes to the ways we work and connect with our colleagues. Regardless of who is responsible, new workforce expectations require new approaches to work. As Accenture CIO Andrew Wilson said in an interview with Silicon Republic, "[T]oday's digital worker comes preconfigured and pre-trained. To fight that kind of DNA would be silly. It would be expending effort you don't need to expend."
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Wilson's sentiment is on the money. Employees must be given the tools they need to support their new work processes. The desire to be visible and to collaborate and communicate across all facets of the company marks a radical shift in how we work. It doesn't mean everything has to happen in person, nor is progress guaranteed just because companies implement fancy tools. It's all about how businesses utilize the tools at their disposal.
How Leading Companies Will Empower Modern Teams
Collaboration tools are quickly becoming ubiquitous in the business environment, especially as asynchronous and synchronous technologies merge into easy-to-use communications platforms. Platforms are also getting smarter and becoming more aligned with the needs of the modern workforce, which makes these platforms more appealing to users. Companies need solutions that support the processes they are creating to respond to widespread executive mandates for innovation, speed, and efficiency.
Shared whiteboarding experiences and real-time editing of content and video are here, as are accurate meeting transcription and search. One-touch video connections make it as easy to talk to teammates face to face (albeit by screen) as it would be if they were down the hall. But all this is just the beginning.
It's always thrilling to talk with customers about ways that they use technology to break down barriers. Technology allows teams to come together to drive faster time to market, efficient issue resolution, and successful acquisitions. Technology connects us. It helps us share our ideas with the right people, stay in touch, and quickly find the information we need. When tech strips away the hurdles like bad sound, interference, and delays, what it leaves behind are rich, collaborative spaces that facilitate innovation.
Where we work is not as important as how we work because modern work processes and tools are capable of supporting highly personal communications. This is not to say that there is no value to in-person meetings or physical proximity. Rather, this is an admission that the world has changed. How we deal with the new reality of work and how we use technology to improve upon it may be the deciding factors in which companies remain relevant.
Krish Ramakrishnan is CEO of BlueJeans Network.