If we had told our great-grandparents’ generation that the future workplace would be comprised of employees and customers scattered across the globe, they’d probably imagine a very disconnected, not very efficient operation. In reality, current remote-access offices may be better connected offices filled with desks and cubicles ever were. Unified communication (UC) technology allows workers to interact in real-time with extensive tools for the easy exchange of files—and ideas—from virtually any place on the planet.
Collaborative technology was developed to aid communication between professionals whose geographic distance would otherwise prevent it, but geographically connected workers also benefit from having access to the latest collaborative technology. By providing a multitude of communicative possibilities, businesses can ensure they’re getting the input they need when they need it, from whoever they need it from.
Why Collaboration is So Important
As social animals, human beings tend to work more effectively in groups. Whether it’s decision-making, brainstorming, problem-solving, or creating, we generally produce more, at much higher levels of quality, when we’re working together. By combining various talents, backgrounds, and experiences, the collaborative enterprise ends up being much more productive. But this isn’t due exclusively to the combination of ideas that results from cooperation.
We think differently when we know we have to articulate our ideas to others. This self-editing is another step in the refining process that wouldn’t exist without the expectation of collaboration. Group deliberation, presentation, and peer review are effective ways to develop stronger ideas, pin point any flaws, and refine processes.
Primary Collaborative Technologies
UC technology—such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), video conferencing, instant messaging, and interactive technologies such as digital signage—enhance how the workplace functions. Each offers a different way for users to communicate and share resources:
VoIP. VoIP offers users more services than telephone land lines can. As well as providing all of the expected phone features, VoIP has the flexibility of being available through a number of devices. Users can communicate directly from their desktops, laptops, or tablets. Many VoIP software programs offer file sharing as well, which has become an invaluable part of collaboration.
Videoconferencing. Another feature of VoIP, video conferencing allows workers to communicate in real time. Group video conferences are more effective than phone conferences, as users are all visible to each other. People can see one another’s reactions, increasing the quality of communication. Tone, body language, and facial expressions are fully present, conveying more information than text or voice alone can, thereby potential reducing miscommunication.
Instant messaging. Workplace-based instant messaging (IM) saves time and streamlines communication by allowing a worker to send a brief instant message. An obvious improvement over phone calls, IM’ing allows users to answer at their convenience. IM’ing is also available through mobile devices, enabling workers to communicate when a phone call wouldn’t be possible.
Digital signage. Unifying an entire on-site workforce is easy with digital signage. An interactive, changeable message is displayed throughout a building, giving all departments immediate access to the same information, whether staff updates, general news of the day, or in case of an emergency.
Changing the Culture
With communication technology moving to the forefront of business, it’s time we emphasized information technology, as well. Workers should stop thinking of the IT department as the place to call when the computer won’t print. Ironically, greater interdepartmental communication—the very technology they create and maintain—will likely play a role in the mindset shift. Today, businesses depend heavily on the IT staff members they employ—whether on-site or as contractors—to keep all the above “technological machinery” running.
UC has changed, and will continue to change, the way we do business. Interaction between co-workers, businesses, and even clients and customers continues to evolve with these technologies. Workplaces, whether in a single geographic location or spread out across the globe, are increasing output and performance every day thanks to these advances.