Smart tools for effective collaboration
“I’m at work,” is a statement that can now have several meanings. In an increasingly flexible working world, it could mean that you’re in an office building, at home, visiting a customer, in a coffee shop or in any other public place. Janusz Figurski, Deutsche Telekom, Business Marketing Europe, Communication and Collaboration, explains why work is no longer a location but rather an activity that can take place almost everywhere with the help of the right tools.
Mr. Figurski, what is smart working?
Janusz Figurski: The entire world is becoming smart. Revolutionary trends that will shape our future are emerging from the ongoing process of digitalization. In our personal lives, technological progress is almost ubiquitous. Comparing prices at the supermarket or remotely managing your heating system on your way home is made easy and convenient on smartphones and tablets. Common devices are now becoming smart thanks to digital networking. It makes sense that people would also want to enjoy these benefits in their work routine. Digital technologies make smarter working situations possible, allowing both employers and employees to benefit from greater flexibility, effectiveness, and happiness in the work environment.
What are the key elements of smart working?
JF: In my opinion, the main elements of a smart working environment are a change in corporate culture (link to smart working part 1), workplace flexibility, and smart tools. The traditional nine-to-five job will soon be a thing of the past. Depending on the productivity phase in which employees find themselves at any given moment, their different needs will be met with the help of flexible work hours and locations. Indeed, employees’ tasks are seldom bound to a fixed location, so they should be able to decide independently where, when, and how to do them. To work at a customer’s, partner’s, or supplier’s location is no longer a problem.
Who do you think is pressing for this the most: employers or employees?
JF: As usual, societal and technological changes are mostly driven by the younger generation at first. The millennials entering the labor market expect understanding, support, and flexibility from their employers. As this is a win-win situation for everyone, however, companies are endorsing this change as well. Diverse communications channels make working easier and more convenient. Internal social media and collaboration platforms as well as virtual project rooms allow for an asynchronous but highly effective exchange of information. This verifiably increases a company’s profits.
What is the current status of smart or remote working?
JF: As various studies found out, 75 percent of enterprises say that on average their employees work outside of their offices at least occasionally, and 25 percent state that their employees work remotely all or most of the time. Of course, this varies according to the job function, with sales and marketing personnel typically working outside the office more than executives, and executives working off-site more often than employees in accounting or legal.
That sounds like a lot. How do companies make it possible?
JF: Key enablers of remote and mobile working are smart collaboration techniques. These allow remote workers to use all company applications, data, and servers from anywhere and on any device. All of this is made possible by virtualization technologies, application integration, and mobile platforms.
Could you be more specific?
JF: The most commonly used collaboration tools are audio and web-conferencing. Between 25 and 30 percent of enterprises provide these to their staff, enabling them to collaborate with colleagues remotely. They are extremely popular because the underlying technology is reliable, stable, easy to use, and well-known. Lots of companies deploy them as cloud-based services, which make their administration manageable and inexpensive.
Another useful tool is videoconferencing. It creates the illusion of a face-to-face meeting without the hassle and costs of traveling to meet in person. Eye contact is an important element of interpersonal communication, and this solution helps employees who cannot meet in person on a daily basis to integrate better. As this is based on newer technology, however, desktop videoconferencing isn’t as widely used as audio and web-conferencing. Only 16 percent of lines of business (LoBs) state that everyone in their department regularly uses meeting room videoconferencing systems, compared to 24 and 27 percent of enterprises that said the same about web and audio-conferencing respectively. Still, the significant benefits it brings are helping to increase acceptance across organizations.
While we’re on the subject of collaboration tools, I would also like to mention Unified Communications, which integrates communication services such as voice, video, chat, presence, and group-project collaboration tools for file sharing or project management.
Apart from these communication tools, what other technical enablers do companies need for smart working?
JF: The cloud is a very basic but nonetheless important technological condition. It allows employees to log in and access software they need to work with from any Internet-enabled device, at any time. In an instant, they can share and compare documents, proposals, and presentations. The cloud allows users to keep up with the latest changes and limits the potential for confusion. It even simplifies mergers, as it reduces the time it takes to transfer data and records from one system to another. In summary, the cloud can become a centralized workspace that allows all participants in a company’s ecosystem to work and innovate collectively, making it very versatile in a business environment. People are always connected, content is always available and relevant, data is live and current. Plus, the majority of apps depend on the cloud to connect employees’ smartphones to their offices.
How important are smartphones, or – to put it more broadly – mobile devices in general for smart working concepts?
JF: They aren’t “just” communication tools anymore, but instead function as complete mobile workspaces. By providing all the resources an employee depends on – Windows, the Web, SaaS, mobile apps, desktops, data services, mobile services, network configurations, and collaboration tools – they enable business mobility. People can securely access their corporate resources from anywhere and on any device, including on their own personal device in the same consistent way for a truly seamless working experience. That’s why the availability of mobile devices continues to increase in companies, and it’s essential that all collaboration tools run smoothly on them. To ensure this is the case, business managers need to talk about IT security, because IT departments and users are not yet on the same page in this field.
Mr. Figurski, thank you for the interview.
 Dimension Data’s “2016 Connected Enterprise Report”
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