Communication Tools Have Transforming Effect

By Jennifer Baker | Dec 21, 2009 | Print this Page
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This excerpt, “The Way We Work,” is from the first chapter of the book “The Power of IP Video: Unleashing Productivity with Visual Networking, by Jennifer Baker, Felicia Brych Dalke, Mike Mitchell and Nader Nanjiani. It looks at how the technologies of voice, video, web, and mobility are transforming the traditional work environment by enabling collaboration and employees to conduct business any time, from any location, using any device.

Now that we have outlined some of the uses for video and quad-play technologies in an organization, let's discuss what else is possible. The hard dollar savings in travel and productivity is part of the conversation, but managers also need to consider the soft benefits of improved morale attributable to a better work/life balance.

Why should senior management care about communication tools? Short answer: Because workers aren't happy. Of workers under 25 years of age surveyed by the U.S. Conference Board, just 40 percent say they are satisfied with their jobs. Of workers surveyed in all age groups, only 52 percent of those making more than $50,000 per year reported job satisfaction. And only 36 percent expressed satisfaction with work/life balance, growth prospects, workload, and communications channels. The sections that follow present some compelling reasons why management teams might want to leverage the latest technologies, to stack the deck in the employer's favor when it comes to job satisfaction, work/life balance, and environmental support.

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Productivity When Away from the Office

Remote-work arrangements offer a solution for business continuity in times of crisis (for example, snow days or other natural or man-made disasters). They also offer an alternative to the mandatory office environment, which might be a constant source of chatter, stress, and productivity loss for workers.

According to a Manpower study from June 2006, a large part (80 percent) of the U.S. workforce would like the option to work remotely rather than commute to the office. Would it be unrealistic to expect workers to be more productive from a more convenient remote setting, such as a home office? As long as workers have the latest communication technologies, they should be able to complete projects as efficiently remotely as at the office.

A Family-First Workplace

Employees want to be there when their children score their first goals (and not have to miss out on an important conference call to be there, either). They want to be home (not at a client site) on Valentine's Day. Look around next time you're at a children's sporting event. Most likely, you'll see a number of parents checking their emails (while still following the game). Such behavior suggests neither an exploitative employer nor a slacker employee.

Employers and employees reach an understanding on a case-by-case basis, through a mature outlook about work effectiveness/efficiency. If the work/life balance discussion is left put off for too long, the competitiveness of companies in knowledge-intensive industries might become compromised (especially during a talent shortage).

Environmentally Friendly Workplaces

We all have witnessed steeply rising oil prices, and most of us are concerned about our carbon footprint. But, how often do we hear employers propose programs to help reduce energy consumption and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What if, in the interest of work/life balance, U.S. organizations allowed about 20 percent of their workers to work from home twice a week? Policymakers debate options as if the United States must follow the commuting patterns of the mid- to late-twentieth century for the rest of eternity.

As a matter of social responsibility, what if organizations were to introduce videoconferencing and TelePresence programs to replace travel? Besides being good for worker morale and productivity, these programs would be good for our environment and the economy in general.

Even Cisco has significantly reduced its carbon footprint by using TelePresence. Since the original deployment, almost 35,000 meetings have avoided travel, with an estimated $137 million in savings (and almost 69,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided).

Rationalizing Real Estate

Companies have been rationalizing office space since the 1990s, creating shared “hoteling” space. Such spaces provide a temporary workspace at the office for employees who work part time from home or who are regularly out of the office on business. In a shared workspace environment, any desk can feel like it is yours as long as your laptop works and the phone can be personalized with your individual extension number.

As companies continue to cut operating costs, reducing office space (particularly when renting) is an option worth exploring. Much has been published about how to manage this transition from a policy and technology perspective. It just takes a corporate vision and strategy to make it real.

All About Nuance

When we are on the phone and must make a yes or no decision, we often wonder whether the silence on the other end is a smile or a grimace. As a result, workers in negotiation or persuasive discussions usually prefer to fly out to meet colleagues and customers in person.

What if employees were to have tools that capture the nuance of words remotely through a lifelike communications experience? What if the communications experience could ensure that even a slight gesture by either party does not go undetected during the course of a conversation? If a credible alternative for travel were available, would the hours at the airport, the middle seat, the day away, and the airfare still be worth it?

Video is immersive and enables face-to-face relationships. Thus, it helps to build trust among participants involved in the communication, even though they might be anywhere in the world. The life-size, high-quality video and audio from TelePresence provides this lifelike communications option.