Building a Community in the Virtual Workplace
By Dana Greenlee,
co-Host WebTalkGuys Radio
Monday, October 27, 2003; 10:30am EST
The physical landscape of a typical business is changing. Some
employees may now find themselves surrounded by family pets rather
than cubical half-walls. Working for a business, yet out of the
office, is the cresting wave in workplace trends.
In fact, 50 percent of employees in many companies aren't located in
the same office, or even city, as their managers. How do they
communicate and collaborate? Typically, they rely on obvious
technologies like the telephone and Internet. But the time has come to
move beyond voice conferences and e-mail.
The days of everyone arriving at the same building at 8:30, working
together all day, and leaving at 5:00 are over. In fact, 50% of
employees in many companies aren't located in the same office, or even
city, as their managers.
It�s time to move beyond voice conferences and e-mail. A new company
called Collaboration Architects constructs task-specific �offices�
that bring geographically distributed teams together in cyberspace.
Collaboration Architects designs, constructs and implements online
work environments that help people and organizations collaborate via
Dr. Bill Bruck,
co-founder of Collaboration Architects, calls himself a Technology
Sensei, because he uses principle from the martial arts to help
companies make that technological change to a more virtual office.
Bruck has written ten books on information technology, like Microsoft
Office, WordPerfect Suite, PerfectOffice, and GroupWise. He�s also a
psychologist and professor of psychology.
Bruck recently talked about why using the web to collaborate with work
groups is imperative in the new Information Age.
Q. Isn�t using e-mail enough to collaborate
Bruck: No really. You write an e-mail. You send it to
10 people. You get eight different responses. Now what do you do? Do
you send eight different replies? Do you copy each reply to all 10
people? And if someone replies to your reply, should they copy it to
everyone on the list? It�s enough to give anyone a raging headache. A
well-designed virtual office eliminates the frustrating e-mail trail
by giving everyone a single location to make comments and respond to
them. It�s a nearly foolproof way to ensure that no one gets left �out
of the loop.� Also, it documents every word that�s exchanged. When you
need to look back and confirm something, you�ll find the entire
�conversation� recorded in one place, rather than having to open six
months� worth of e-mails.
A virtual workplace creates a �living archive� of documents. Memos,
progress reports, schedules, budgets, press releases . . . all
documents pertinent to your project can be archived in your online
environment. Obviously, every team member benefits from having access
to such materials. If someone misses an important meeting, he or she
can go to the archive and review the notes. Successive drafts of
documents can be posted so that the �history� of the project may be
easily reconstructed. Decisions are recorded for posterity.
Q. Is sounds like this virtual work environment
can be a more democratic way of collaborating.
Bruck: It does give everyone an equal voice.
Synchronous describes a one-hour meeting. Asynchronous refers to what
happens between that meeting and next meeting. Let�s say a company
holds a brainstorming meeting. We all know the ideas that are put on
the table come from those people that are the quickest and the
loudest. But suppose the company recorded these ideas in an
asynchronous online environment and told everyone they had a week to
review them and add others? Quieter folks, or those that prefer to
mull things over, or those that just had a bad breakfast that morning
would be much more inclined to post their ideas. In this way, a
virtual workplace is a great equalizer.
Q: Some business resources are tight due to the
economic downturn. Will going virtual help a companies financial
Bruck: Perhaps the biggest and most compelling reason
to establish an online work environment is simply this: it�s nothing
less than an inevitability for corporations destined to survive and
thrive in the Information Age.
Today�s business leaders have a simple choice: they can quickly learn
how to use online collaboration technology or they can bury their
heads in the sand. Those who choose to learn increase their chances of
staying competitive. For those who don�t, it�s just a matter of time
before they are out of the game altogether. And in today�s world we
are talking about months, not years, to experience competitive
Q: What does the future look like for business
Bruck: The electronic workplace is the workplace of
the future. Fifty years from now we�ll be holding long-distance
meetings in front of life-size video screens just as a matter of
course. But it has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is finding
better, more efficient ways to share information. The corporation that
learns how to compete globally-and manage the attendant wealth of
information effectively-will ultimately come out on top.
Q: In a nutshell, what does Collaboration
Bruck: We create online work environments that allow
people and organizations to collaborate via the Web. We are
�architects� because we believe that the creation and implementation
of successful online workplaces require the same level of quality
thinking and artful employment of the right technologies as do the
creation of physical workspaces. But what�s just as important is that
our solutions take into account the corporate culture-the reality-of
each of our clients. Every organization has its own capacity to
accommodate change, and we respect that. We make sure the solution we
recommend is right for that client.
Q: Why would an organization need a virtual
Bruck: Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as
every company is different and has its own unique needs. But in
general, I would say as the business world has changed, the needs of
individual organizations have changed right along with it. Decisions
are much more complex, they have to be made more quickly, and they
tend to involve a lot more people and cross-functional teams and
organizational boundaries. And not everyone contributing to getting
the job done is located in the same building or even the same state or
even the same country! Did you know that in some major corporations,
50% of the employees are not co-located with their managers? A virtual
workplace gives team members a place to �go� and way to communicate
and share information when they get there.
Q: Can you tell us some of your central
Bruck: Sure. As I touched on earlier, we take a very
�human� approach to the work we do. We have a thorough understanding
of the technical dimension, sure, but we also put a great deal of
emphasis on the social dimension. And because people are used to
working with people in places, make sure the environments we create
provide a sense of place. We use graphic metaphors designed to make a
company�s people feel �at home� in the virtual office, and we also
integrate that company�s business processes into the environment. It�s
all about making people feel comfortable working in cyberspace-which,
let�s face it, is an alien concept for most-so that they can be as
productive as possible.
Q: Okay, what happens once you�ve designed the
virtual office and taken it �live.� Is your work done?
Bruck: Absolutely not! (Laughs) Determining the
appropriate technology and building the desired solution is just the
beginning. We consult with our clients during and after the
implementation process, coaching and training everyone who will be
working in the virtual office on how to get the most out of it. We�re
happy to conduct periodic evaluations and advise our clients on
upgrades that would help them meet their future collaboration needs
About Source of Article
Dana Greenlee is producer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio
Show. WebTalkGuys, a Seattle-based talk show featuring
technology news and interviews. It is broadcast on WebTalkGuys Radio,
Sonic Box, via Pocket PC at Mazingo Networks and the telephone via the
Mobile Broadcast Network. It's on the radio in Seattle at KLAY
1180 AM. Past show and interviews are also webcast via the
http://www.webtalkguys.com/. Greenlee is also a member of the The
International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.