Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

If you want your company to be more innovative 3: connecting a geographically dispersed workforce and adding in online commons areas to accompany an office-sited commons

Posted in HR and personnel, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on July 11, 2013

Improving a business as a competitive enterprise, and making it more effectively communicative and collaboratively innovative, can be as simple as providing employees with a place where they can come together and talk. My goal for this series is to at least briefly outline an approach for facilitating conversation and the sharing of ideas and for collaboration in a business, as an enabler of innovative excellence (see Part 1: improve the cafeteria and Part 2: build a creative commons area for a single business location for the first two installments.)

My first two series installments focused on the physically local, and discussed communications and insight sharing as they arise in the context of the traditional one location, bricks and mortar enterprise. My goal here is to at least begin to expand that discussion to include:

• Businesses that span multiple sites and offices and even across multiple time zones, and
• Businesses that support online communications and connectedness and regardless of employee location.

I have been writing on a periodic if ongoing basis about the specific technology tools and approaches that are available to businesses for expanding and opening up these conversations, beyond the scope of the single, everyone-present office site. In that I have particularly focused on web 2.0 and social media technologies that can be deployed in building a next generation interactive information infrastructure that employees can come together through and regardless of their physical location or proximity to each other. For references and at least foundation postings for that more implementation-oriented side to this overall discussion, see:

Connecting an organization together, version 2.0,
Boundaries and internal organization structure as safe-haven and safety net, and
Connecting everywhere and all the time, and its impact on structure in markets and organizations – 9: organization in an everywhere all the time connected context – 2

My goal here, however, is to take a different approach to these issues and to focus more on the business needs and goals that any effective technology-based solution would address and much less on the technologies and the forms of possible technical solutions that might be implemented. In this, problems cannot be not effectively resolved or opportunities achieved simply by throwing technology at them.

• Successful conclusions have to be built upon a foundation of thoroughly understanding the issues faced,
• And what any deployed technology would specifically do and why,
• And with what priorities and long-term goals and consequences.

And I begin that by noting a point that should be obvious but that is all too often overlooked, and particularly by technology early adaptors who seek out new simply because it is new and cutting edge.

• Open and encouraged communication, and with a wide circle of contacts and potential connections in the larger organization lead to increased opportunity for new and wider ranging collaborations, in both understanding the nature of challenges and opportunities faced, and for creatively bringing together resources to address them. And this can and does lead to creation of new sources of innovative potential, whose value exceeds and even greatly exceeds the costs of facilitating this wider conversation – this much is perhaps obvious and particularly when directly stated.
• But the basic drives that make this work stem from basic human nature – so any approaches deployed and offered to facilitate this should seek to make this type of conversation as easy and comfortable as a face to face conversation, as discussed in the first two parts of this series. That constitutes a best practices benchmark for evaluating the performance of any distance communications and sharing capabilities that might be considered or tried through online or telephony or other means.
• And whichever technologies are deployed, and whatever the processes and procedures for accessing and using them for this, they should work as effectively as face to face for bringing people together and for both helping them find each other and for actually starting a meaningful conversation. And beyond that, these technologies should make it as easy or even more so for sharing specific detailed information within any ad hoc teams that come together, and for building a records base that included conversation participants can refer back to as these nascent collaborations develop and mature, and as collaborative work develops out of them.
• This is where information security and access controls enter in, and both for maintaining control and oversight over proprietary business information, and also for managing consumer personal information and other data that would have to be maintained securely but that would be brought up and included in these collaborative conversations.
• Any information infrastructure systems put in place for enabling and supporting this type of collaboration would have to support these conversations with appropriate data and developed knowledge included, but with appropriate due diligence and risk management control built into the operational rules that facilitate them. And this due diligence oversight should function in ways that do not hinder or block legitimate conversation and the legitimate sharing of this information.
• But all of this would have to be developed and utilized in the face of some very specific and important types of bandwidth restrictions that are all but certain to arise when online channels are used – and certainly with anything like current technology as of this writing. We evolved as a species to meet and talk and communicate face to face. That does not mean that the printed word and its electronic counterparts, and the increasingly varied capabilities of online channels cannot or do not work. It does mean, however, that we have evolved to both share and to perceive a wider range of information than we do with our words alone. We share even more information at times through our body language and other nonverbal cues than we share verbally. That is, among other things why humor that might work face to face can fail so miserably online and text-only. And it is why we use surrogates such as emoticons in trying to fill in information sharing gaps.
• An ideal online channel for collaborative communication and the enabling of collaborative innovation would at the very least match the verbal plus nonverbal bandwidth of face to face communications, and regardless of distance and time zone barriers. That capability, at least as of this writing is still a work in progress and even with our still early stage virtual reality platforms and audiovisual formats such as video teleconferencing.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will add in the complexities of inter-cultural differences, and both for the overall cultures that different people come from and live in, and from corporate cultural differences that can and do arise between distantly located offices. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and Social Networking and Business.

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