Collaboration technologies are making their way into many organizations as executives realize the benefits collaboration can bring to their organization. In many cases, there is a need to connect groups of people in a collaborative room environment; whether it’s to encourage collaboration on documents or other deliverables, video conference with remote teams, or hold a training session for new hires or policy updates.

They myriad of choices between the technology, room layouts, furniture and more can become overwhelming; especially for organizations designing a collaboration environment for the first time. Here are a few tips to help navigate through the process.

When determine what types of technology the room needs, an organization must first decide what the room will be used for. The majority of functions fall into three categories:

Connecting People
Video conferencing is often used to connect remote teams and the technology typically depends on the size of the room and number of participants. For smaller groups, a single camera with manual pan/tilt/zoom functionality can be adjusted to capture the entire room. Larger groups, however, may need the ability to automatically switch between a panned-out room view and a zoomed-in view of the active speaker. In this case, dual cameras are necessary. In some cases, panoramic room or lifelike views of room participants are needed.  Multiple cameras that capture images from left, right, and center segments are used to create the immersive telepresence feel.

Presenting Content
The ability to present content is standard in almost any collaboration room. When utilizing content sharing during a video conference; it may be necessary to have dual monitors as one is dedicated to viewing remote participants while the other is dedicated to viewing content. In rooms where video conferencing is not needed, a PowerPoint or training video can be displayed with a projector and screen. In some cases, teams may need to create, modify and annotate documents instead of simply displaying them. Interactive whiteboards allow teams to brainstorm ideas or markup documents then send the changes directly to a computer.

Interactive Collaboration
Some environments require the ability to display and collaborate on complex data. This includes high-resolution images, such as blueprints or product designs, where granular detail is necessary. This also includes the ability to display and control data from multiples sources simultaneous. For example, when designing a new product the prototype from one participant’s laptop can be displayed at the same time target markets and product messaging is displayed from another participant’s tablet. Video feeds can also be integrated so remote participants can view, display and control content from their location.

Once an organization determines the key functionalities of the room; they can begin reaching out to audio visual integrators to help select the technology that best fits the room’s requirements. The integrator can then begin designing the collaboration environment that will meet the organization’s collaboration needs.

The Yahoo! Fall-Out

Ever since Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! issued her memo calling back remote workers into the office and effectively ending telecommuting within the organization, countless stories and commentaries have been written. These responses have spanned from total disagreement to downright endorsement of the new employment practice.

The interesting thing about the announcement is that it appears to have started to influence other organizations to act the same. Just this week, Best Buy announced that they too would be ending their work from home program. This is particularly noteworthy because Best Buy’s initiative (announced in 2006 and called the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)) was seen as a trendsetting program and applauded by many HR advocates.

In the case of Best Buy, the change in policy is not as stringent. Managers still have discretion to allow telecommuting but the employees can no longer make that decision. The question now is two-fold: will more companies follow suit and is this the right decision for a company to make?

Mayer noted, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”

To really understand if this is the “right” decision; let’s take a look at the different types of collaboration that occurs within an organization on a daily basis:

Spontaneous Collaboration:
This method of collaboration occurs when team members run into each other in the hallway and strike up a conversation or perhaps in the cafeteria grabbing a cup of coffee. There is nothing formal about it and it can happen in an instant.

Deliberate Collaboration:
With deliberate collaboration, teams may schedule a time for everyone to get into a conference room and hash out an important idea or project. This might be accompanied by white boarding or some other form of facilitated brainstorming.

Formal Collaboration:
Formal collaboration involves a scheduled meeting with a formal presentation structure. This could be a business review or strategy overview. The major difference between deliberate collaboration and formal collaboration is the presence of a formalized agenda with specific content to be presented.

When reviewing the three collaboration types noted above, what do you lose when your workforce is remote? Spontaneous collaboration is the victim here, at least to an extent. When workers are remote, they are not running into each other randomly and striking up conversations.

All is not lost, however, as many organizations who have implemented collaboration technologies, such as video conferencing, have installed “water cooler” systems that allow remote employees to connect in at will and see what’s going on. While this may not be as spontaneous as being there, it gets remote workers pretty close.

When looking at deliberate and formal collaboration, much of what occurs in these meetings can be recreated with remote workers. Formal collaboration sessions can easily connect in remote team members to view the formal presentation or even present themselves. Technology now makes it possible to easily present, no matter where you are. With deliberate collaboration, remote participants can view white boarding sessions and be involved in the brain storming process. Again this is possible thanks to the latest developments in cloud and collaboration technologies.

Whether the Yahoo! decision was the right call remains to be seen, but other organizations should examine the different types of collaboration that occur within their facilities and see what is most pervasive. Ultimately, it may be about both a technology solution and a people solution.

Boeing’s much anticipated 787 Dreamliner encountered a laundry list of problems which eventually led to the grounding of many of the planes. There are several different theories as to what went wrong and Boeing could have done better. Many have to do with the decision to embrace outsourcing and overall lack of supply chain management.

In a recent Forbes article, Jonathan Salem Baskin is quoted “It didn’t help that the outsourcing plan included skipping the detailed blueprints the company would have normally prepared, and allowing vendors to come up with their own. Delivered components arrived with instructions and notes written in Chinese, Italian, and other languages.”

With the plethora of video conferencing and visual collaboration technologies available it’s surprising that Boeing had this many issues coordinating and communicating with their remote teams. While we can’t know for sure exactly what went wrong or what Boeing did or did not do; we can offer some suggestions as to how organizations can utilize collaboration solutions to their fullest extend and help ensure a seamless supply chain.

A UC solution is a must to connect internal team members assigned to the project. These solutions can even allow approved external team members, such as suppliers, to connect easily. Features such as instant messaging (IM), screen and document sharing, and video conferencing are key components to keeping the lines of communication open. For example, if a supplier has a quick question about the design, he can quickly IM a team member asking the question or if the person is available for a quick chat. Quick video conferences or even formal meetings with video and document sharing can help ensure consistency and reliability among suppliers.

For more crucial aspects of the manufacturing process, such as discussing blueprints and inspecting components, an immersive visual collaboration solution that includes Datapresence (ability to see multiple sources of data) is necessary. Simply showing a single document while the video participants are minimized on screen will not provide the collaboration experience necessary for such critical aspects of the manufacturing process.

Solutions like Oblong or Cyviz combine video conferencing with the ability to share multiple steams of data in real time creating a true collaboration environment. Team members would be able to see detailed designs and prototypes of the outsourced components in addition to the supplier’s team. Both teams would then be able to communicate, give and receive feedback, and discuss any potential issues. By repeating this process with all suppliers, the organization can help ensure consistency among components. They can also connect and facilitate collaboration between the supplier of Component A which connects into Component B from a separate supplier.

Supply chain management is one of the most complicated aspects of any organization as it relies heavily on communication and coordination between two or more parties. By underestimating the importance of communication, an organization can run into problems similar to the ones Boeing faced. On the other hand, by providing both internal and external (supplier) team members with the tools and opportunity to effectively communicate and collaborate and organization can successfully manage all aspects of its supply chain.

When you think about collaboration what comes to mind? Perhaps you see a bunch of colleagues sitting around a table talking about different ideas or topics. Maybe you see a presentation or document displayed while meeting participants make comments and take notes. On the other hand, you might see a person standing by the whiteboard writing down ideas for new products, positioning strategy, or other key business decisions that need to be made. Participants are generally confined to their chairs; especially if they’re meeting over video and need to stay within view of the camera.

However, collaboration and the creativity that results in innovation is much messier – for lack of a better word. Not only do participants need to get up and walk around, they frequently jump from one topic or document to another topic or document. Ideas need to be voiced, and more importantly, written down as quickly as possible before their train of thought has vanished.

A new set of collaboration tools and technologies are being developed to help enhance the interactive aspect of collaboration. Participants will be able to work together effortlessly, whether they’re located in the same room or across the globe. The future of collaboration will be more dynamic and intuitive; the tools will help organize the mess without removing the freedom needed to inspire creativity.

Here is a look at some of the new technologies that will help shape the future of collaboration by making it more interactive and engaging.

  • SMART Freestorm solutions are a combination of interactive whiteboards and displays that allow participants to display documents, videos or websites then write over them with digital ink. Multiple participants can work on the same content simultaneously and annotate each other’s documents regardless of location. All ideas and notes can then be saved and emailed to anyone that needs them eliminating the need for someone taking notes separately on the computer, or worse, having to take a picture of the whiteboard each time you need to erase it for more space.
  • Cisco’s Active Collaboration Room adds another layer of interactivity by freeing remote participants from the confines of a chair. The room fosters an engaging environment by allowing participants to stand up and move around the room all while being captured by video. Additionally, enhancements to Cisco WebEx allow participants to create and annotate documents in real time through interactive whiteboards while still maintaining the highest level of audio and video quality.
  • Cyviz Bizwall takes collaboration to the next level by providing a high resolution, wide display that allows meeting participants to add and switch between different sources of content. Multiple sources can be displayed simultaneously; plus the system can be enabled for stereo 3D and rotated systems. Participants can not only see granular details in product quality but also view “the big picture” for product renderings or building plans.

All three of these solutions offer unique value and help transform collaboration for both local and remote participants. Collaboration becomes more dynamic as the technology eliminates inefficiencies like multiple working documents or having a designated note taker. These solutions also allow remote teams to work together in a more realistic way by combining the visual aspect of video conferencing with the interactivity needed for content creation.

Trust is an integral component of any relationship whether it’s with a spouse, close friend, colleague or business partner. It’s also an integral part of effective collaboration. Picture yourself in two scenarios; one meeting where you do not know anyone, the other where you know everybody at the table. In the first scenario, you’re a little more reserved since you’re worried about making a good first impression. You want to come off as intelligent rather than foolish and might keep some ideas to yourself since you don’t want to sound stupid.

In the second scenario, you are much more relaxed because you’ve already developed a rapport with the meeting participants. As a result, you freely express your ideas, even the ones that seem a little crazy because sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the most profitable. Unfortunately, building and maintaining trust in a virtual environment can be difficult; especially since the need for establishing trust is either overlooked or deemed a waste of time.

In an HBR webinar, How Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams, Keith Ferrazzi discusses the importance of trust and how the development of strong bonds can enable a virtual team to actually outperform a traditional team. There are three different kinds of distance that can affect teams. The first is physical distance, or geographic proximity. The second is operational distance, such as different priorities, incentive structures or other projects that prevent the team from connecting.

The third, and most important, is affinity distance which is the level of familiarity or commitment among team members. Essentially, it is level of trust or the bonds developed between team members that allow them to truly connect. Ferrazzi states, “Affinity is the trump card – the thing that really matters. High affinity distance can sink a physically proximate team. On the flip side, with high affinity, physical distance doesn’t much matter.”

So how can organization enable high levels of affinity among teams?

Video conferencing plays a major role as it allows team members to see facial expressions and other nuances that can help build trust. Additionally, it is important for individuals to view their team members as actual people and get to know each other on a personal level. Ferrazzi suggests scheduling time for personal chit-chat at the beginning of a meeting or support a favorite charity like the ASPCA as a team, something that can foster a community spirit.

Relating this back to my own experiences, I work on team initiatives all of the time and have forged many relationships within IVCi. Recently a large group of our organization was in town for a meeting and I was talking to several people when we both realized we had never actually been in the same room before. We have met countless times over video and thanks to the relationship we have forged, the need to be physically present just faded away. It was rather ironic to say “nice to meet you” for the first time when we have been partners for over three years!