The past week I had the pleasure of living down the street from the golf course where the Barclays tournament is being hosted. It was a traffic nightmare as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and about 250 other players embarked on my town. Streets were blocked off and I was barricaded in to a so-called “gated community” complete with police checkpoints that required a valid form of ID to enter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly appreciate their concern for our safety and preventing our neighborhood from turning into a parking lot; but this made my commute to work a little difficult to say the least.  Not only did I have to drive 15 minutes out of the way because my normal route was closed; I had to deal with the increased traffic, mass confusion of people and pedestrians everywhere.

After dealing with same madness as I made my way home, the thought of getting up and doing it all over again was nauseating. Then I realized how stupid I was to venture out to the office in the first place as I would work the rest of the week from home because I had the technology.

One of the most frustrating parts of working remotely is not being able to tell if people are available for a quick chat. When you’re in the office, you can peek your head around the corner to see if they’re free; but at home, you’re out of luck.  Or maybe not. Thanks to presence information in our nifty instant messaging application, I can tell if my boss is busy, stepped away for a few minutes or is at his desk anxiously awaiting my call. I was able to quickly touch base on certain projects and have brainstorming sessions on blog topics just as easily as if I was in the office.  It was great!

Later in the week I had a meeting with a couple people from our team. We usually meet in one of the conference rooms but I asked if we could switch to video so I wouldn’t have to trek into the office.  After they agreed, I set up a video meeting straight from Microsoft Outlook which, I would like to add, was easier than trying to reserve a conference room.  The meeting went perfectly, everyone was able to connect and we finished in record time; probably because it’s not as easy to get off topic.

As I went for a jog this morning, much easier since my commute consists of walking down the hall to my office, I realized just how awesome, amazing and lifesaving unified communications solutions are. It’s Friday already and the weekend is almost here.  Over the past three days, I haven’t even felt like I was working from home because I was able to do everything I was able to do at the office.  If I missed human interaction, all I had to do was video one of my coworkers or walk down the street and say hello to the state troopers, park police and code enforcement.  Needless to say, I’ll be happy when this is all over; but, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.

With the Olympics taking place in London this year, many local businesses throughout the city braced themselves for the increase in tourists and potential disruption of daily operations. While the actual totals are still being calculated, the total population of London was expected to expand by a third, with approximately an additional million people using the “Tube” or subway each day. What was normally a 10-15 minute commute to work could take 30- 45 minutes; placing a significant burden on employees and corporations alike.

Advanced planning and preparation were needed prior to the Olympic Games to keep corporations and other organizations running smoothly and avoid lost revenue or extended downtime. The Cabinet Office released a guide which addressed many potential obstacles companies might face in areas affected by the Games. Preparing Your Business for the Games suggested continuity plans that could be implemented to minimize the impact of increased traffic, technology failures and supply chain interruptions.

A significant concern was employee availability, as staff wanted to take time off to attend or volunteer at the games, or simply because they did not want to deal with the increased congestion traveling to work. As a result, many organizations allowed more flexible work options; such as working from home or at a different office, or altering work times to off-peak hours. Unified communications (UC) and video conferencing solutions provided an optimal platform for staff to stay engaged at work while avoiding congestion from the Games.

Karen Bond, a Director at the London office of an international consulting firm, said she encouraged most of her employees to work from home during the Olympic Games. “It was just easier than dealing with the traffic and the Tube. We kept in touch using email, phone calls and instant messaging but I did miss the face-to-face interaction with my staff.” says Ms. Bond.

Another concern was a technology failure; according to the Cabinet Office “it is possible that internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet.” Some businesses turned to cloud services to support the collaboration solutions in place by addressing network dysfunction. These services ensure video calls and other systems run over the network go smoothly no matter how much or how little traffic exists at a given time.

As the Olympic Torch has been extinguished and employees return to business as usual; companies can still use the Olympics as a learning experience. Doing things a little differently for a short period of time can offer unexpected rewards. Maybe the increased use of a video conferencing has reacquainted companies with all of the benefits video offers; from reduced travel time and expenses to a highly functional remote workforce. Or, perhaps implementing a business continuity plan prepared organizations for an unexpected power outage, snow storm or other natural disaster.

In most organizations, highly interactive working sessions not only occur but are considered crucial to the business. Unfortunately, many times subject matter experts and other team members are located different offices. While video conferencing helps, it doesn’t quite offer the level of interactivity needed for high-pressure situations or critical projects.

Picture this: it’s almost 7:30 pm in New York and the Tokyo stock exchange is set to open in about a half an hour; but first, there’s a quick strategy meeting with the Japanese office. There’s a long list of trades that need to happen plus the futures market is looking a little shaky and needs to be discussed.

Everyone takes their seats around the center table while the call automatically connects with Japan. A document with the trades is displayed on the whiteboard and participants located in New York and Japan are making changes back and forth.

When the market finally opens; real-time ticker data is projected on the screen to the right while trade data is being noted on the whiteboard to the left. Carl is slightly stressed out and is pacing around the room watching the ticker and listening to what everyone else is saying.

How is that even possible?

Well, start with a Cisco CTS 1300. Then add a large, interactive SmartBoard and integrate it with Cisco WebEx. Throw in a projector and second display screen for good measure and don’t forget to replace the standard conference table with a few café-height tables.

The end result: An Active Collaboration Room.

This true technology mash-up provides a collaboration experience like none other. Participants are no longer confined to a chair; they can move around as needed, enhancing creativity, inspiration and innovation. Remote participants can share, annotate and create documents as if they were in person; expanding teams to include the best and brightest individuals within an organization. Complex projects are completed faster with improved quality and reduced errors driving efficiency throughout the organization.

The benefits are endless and the collaboration seamless; innovation knows no bounds with a Cisco Active Collaboration Room.

Additional Resources:
Cisco IBSG Whitepaper: Transforming Business Models by Accelerating Distributed Team Performance
Brochure: Active Collaboration Room