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Design and Tech Deployment Critical to Workplace of the Future

In the workplace of the future, employees will be less likely to be collocated with their peers, more likely to be part of multiple teams, and will spend more of their working career collaborating with ecosystem partners.

As work becomes something employees do, not someplace they go, the 24x7, mobile workforce needs new technology to support communications and collaboration. Architects are reacting to these trends by designing unique workspaces, like Pixar's Steve Jobs-inspired headquarters designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson where the grand atrium is a crossroads of people and ideas. Or Google's whimsically high tech offices designed by Frank Gehry that reflect the personalities of the local work force in each office. Some companies are choosing to outsource the issue, leveraging cowork or temporary office space.

These disparate decisions about workplace design highlight the challenges and opportunities businesses face today. If a company is going to expend corporate resources building and running office space, that space must ooze with purpose that makes employees want to be there so that they can get work done.

Workspace designers today must:

• Design an engaging, attractive workspace that inspires employees
• Reduce the physical and carbon footprint of the corporate real estate portfolio
• Reflect the corporate culture, and provide a platform that drives innovation
• Deploy collaboration tools and facilities built for the anytime, anywhere workforce

When planning infrastructure to support meetings, corporate facilities and IT planners need to cooperate to serve the needs of business unit leaders. Four key considerations include supporting:

Processes – Understanding the processes and results that drive organizational success is the key to successfully defining the needs of the business. If a process requires detailed inputs and strategic understanding of intent, then more intimate collaboration (like immersive telepresence) may be required.

Culture – What is the culture of the firm? Command and Control culture needs far less two-way communication capabilities than do consensus driven organizations. There is no reward for building a feedback loop in an organization that does not listen.

Roles – Not every job is the same – each role needs to be supported by specific collaboration technology. Accountants don't need the same tools or space that product managers do. Communicating the third quarter accrual needed to close the books is best done with IM, where the text prevents misunderstanding and the real-time feedback allows immediate confirmation of receipt.

Personalities – Different people have different appetites for collaboration technology. Some people prefer video, others IM, still others the telephone. If everyone in your firm was in their high school musical, you probably need video communications.

All of these factors then play into meetings that generally fall into one of four categories: information sharing, creative, decision making, or coordination/planning. While meeting hosts always need to be clear about the meeting type, agenda, and objectives, each of these meeting types will require a slightly different set of tools to achieve the desired outcome:

Information sharing. Frequently larger meetings with primarily one-way flow of information and conversation. For complex issues like strategic direction, video is helpful; for simple status reporting for a small team, telephony or even an online chat may be sufficient.

Creative processes. Best kept small, these meetings are used by employees to design a solution, resolve an issue, or brainstorm new ideas. Workers need the ability to seamlessly share information and ideas, so these meeting spaces require collaborative technologies that allow screen or application sharing, as well as joint collaboration via a distributed whiteboard or similar tool.

Decision making. Focused meetings to ask a responsible party to approve an action require timely access to experts and advanced understanding of the issues. Approval meetings are doomed to delay or derailment when the necessary information is not delivered and reviewed by the decision maker and key constituents before the meeting. Experts will be on hand to resolve different interpretations and highlight different potential outcomes to allow decision makers to say "Yes," or "No."

Coordination/planning meetings. Meetings to plan and coordinate future activities require input from many experts. Program and project managers will leverage project plans, Pareto charts, logistics plans, and bills of material (to name a few sources of data that may need to be shared during the meeting) via high definition display technologies to drive commitment to the schedule of future activities and outcomes.

Meetings require personal connections between participants, but that does not have to involve planes, trains, and automobiles. Meeting technologies today allow mobile and distributed teams to share information, collaborate, and innovate almost as if they were together in person – driving innovation processes forward more rapidly. When deciding which tools are necessary to support collaboration and innovation at your company, consider the following:

Collaboration platform. These solutions should provide an easy way to access meeting content and communications capabilities to allow attendance that is as easy as walking down the hall to a meeting room. Popular packages include Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Sharepoint, IBM Sametime or Box for business.

Instant messaging (IM). Many roles and personalities prefer or require fast, simple text-based symmetric communications, and IM is ideal. If you need a quick answer and confirmation in your workplace, look to solutions like Micrsoft Lync or IBM Sametime.

Whiteboard. Employees in innovation meetings need to display, annotate and create. Solutions from vendors like Smart Technologies, Polycom and Promethean offer solutions to connect multiple sites and enable remote employees to collaborate.

Audioconferencing. Allowing distributed employees to speak on one conference is no longer a new or novel capability, but it is a must have for connecting to employees that have no other option. Premises-based and service provider hosted solutions are readily available.

Web conferencing. When remote employees share content from their computer, they turn to Web conferencing -- Microsoft Lync Meetings, Cisco WebEx Meetings, and Citrix GoToMeeting are popular -- while other less adopted solutions like PGI iMeet puts a cleaner user interface and set of capabilities into the hands of meeting participants.

Videoconferencing. Sixty percent of human communication is non-verbal – and video is finally living up to its promise to deliver that extra meaning. Allowing participants to see the reactions and delivery style of remote meeting participants ensures better clarity of communications. Solutions from Polycom and Cisco lead the market, while challengers including Vidyo and Lifesize are leveraging new technologies and capabilities to expand the usefulness of video.

In the end, companies have to combine resourceful, innovative workspace planning with future-focused technology planning to make sure that the tools and the workspaces are there for information workers to innovate.

Planners must design various packages of collaboration capabilities to meet the needs of huddle rooms, mobile executives, immersive video suites, or even collaboration or data visualization studios. Optimal design of physical spaces and technology for various meeting types, roles and processes is not a simple task, but one that will generate rewards in terms of more effectively harnessing the innovative capacity of your organization to drive profitability and competitiveness.