Business doesn’t happen face to face as often as some would like. Instead, today’s communication depends on conference calls and emails chains that make it challenging to get to know your partners. It’s been a common lament among business people dissatisfied with the technology that has become the norm in their daily lives. But with so many workers worldwide now working in virtual teams, many business relationships do depend on technology. And that’s not a bad thing — as long they’re using the right technologies in the right ways.
“Collaboration technology sprang up 20 years ago, but we kept acting, behaviorally, like we did when we were meeting face to face,” said Keith Ferrazzi, best-selling author of the books “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back.”
As it turns out, the answer to all of the complaints about the evolving workplace wasn’t to abandon technology for a more human way of working, but to evolve technology to make the new way of working more human.
“People have to have a delightful experience in their hand — a joyful experience — all behind a single plane of glass,” said Rick Puskar, SVP of Customer Experience & Services for Unify.
A new generation of communications technologies are upon us. They are addressing the new way to work that is permeating workplaces worldwide. It’s what Puskar calls a “dynamic, cultural shift in the marketplace.” They’re making the global workplace exactly what it’s looking for: a joyful, delightful experience.
Who wouldn’t want to engage with that?
We live in a global workplace without time zones or office hours. Just ask any spouse who has waited to serve the main course while awaiting a husband or wife to finish a work email at the table. Delayed dinners notwithstanding, the ability to shoot out that email at the dinner table actually allows that spouse to get out of work an hour earlier and be there in the first place. A fair tradeoff.
And it’s also good for employers when employees have happy, balanced lives. “You might be on a conference call with Europe in the wee hours and have to get your kids to a soccer game in the afternoon,” Ferrazzi said. “You can do it working virtually, and there’s real value in accommodating that employee need.”
The better that mobile technology becomes, and the more employers embrace the bring your own device (BYOD) to work philosophy, the more deeply connected workers become to their workplaces, which exist on the same devices as their social networks and family photos.
Embracing the mobile workplace is increasingly compulsory. In its Tech Trends 2013 Elements of Postdigital, Deloitte projects a “mobile only” future to the global workforce.
Collaboration used to happen in board rooms with whiteboards and bagels. Today, it’s on documents being edited by multiple people all over the world at the same time. It’s sharing screen data and chatting over video.
“Seventy-nine percent of people work on virtual teams,” said Puskar. “What’s interesting is that in most organizations there is a preponderance of using yesterday’s tools.”
And that’s where the disconnect between the promise of the virtual workplace seems to fall short for most. When using the first generation of collaboration tools, workplaces sometimes miss out on the increased productivity offered by the newer wave.
Puskar related how he tested this theory with his own team during one of his weekly, 6 a.m. leadership phone calls. Instead of a conference call, he decided to switch to video.
“By leveraging video in a collaborative work environment, I took what was normally a 90 minute call down to 60,” he said. “I could see where everyone was. They paid attention like nobody’s business.”
And it’s more than just video that is bringing people together. It’s also social media.
“Social media?” some companies may ask. “The thing we’re not allowing access to?”
The surprising truth about social networks is that it fills the humanity gap many global workers feel in cold, impersonal email chains and conference calls.