During a typical week, most of us work with someone else. It sounds almost silly to phrase it like that, but while any number of our individual job functions have a solo aspect, fewer and fewer achievements are truly individual. Team, crew, staff, colleagues, and various other terms describe the groups we work within, and while the composition of these structures has changed, so too have the methods and tools employed to create effective work environments. These can be environmental, ranging from private offices, to cubicle farms, to huddle spaces, to open office concept layouts. They can also be functional, having evolved from the hand-delivered written memo to the typed communique before electronic communication was practical and affordable.
Today, we are on the cusp of virtual reality reaching consumer grade use, with artificial intelligence already helping in various conference room systems and numerous bots integrating with everything from your web site, to your email, to the Amazon Alexa or Google Home on your nightstand. The only non-electronic communication we have is literal face-to-face conversation – but how often do you choose that first?
Most of these environments and tools are designed to create or improve efficiency. A bullpen style work area with desks and/or cubicles around the edges of the room tries to make it easy to balance separation for individual tasks with the ease of walking across to a co-worker for questions, but does it create more conversations than necessary? The open office concept enjoyed a popular surge, as many believed any artificial barriers would hamper collaborative effort and stifle creativity, but not everyone is convinced that work.
Efficiency. What kills it? An increasing number of managers and researchers believe – or accept – too much collaboration is not that different from too little. What environment and which tools balance those opposing habits to create the kind of efficiency that passes muster?
None of these choices are perfect. The key, as always, is people. If the right people are using the tools, they are either adopted and provide acceleration, or they are discarded in favor of something that will. For us, this means a mixture of email, chat, phone, and video communication. Physical meetings are nice because they give us the chance to be social – yes, even work is social when you’re interacting with others – but time management forces us to balance these methods to keep our eye on the ball.
I personally enjoy the use of Cisco’s WebEx products to get the job done. They allow both synchronous and asynchronous interactions, they’re available on any device I choose, and they’re simple. I can put them aside when I need to focus, and I can keep them handy when my day is less formal. I can use them in the same room as other participants, or on opposite sides of the globe, and the effect is the same. The tools, the people, and the environments have and will continue to change and improve – how will you collaborate to achieve your goals?