A time to collaborate

Tomorrow's tube strike and the thought of finding an alternative route in to work on an icy, dark Monday morning serves to reinforce my view concerning changing working practices. 

Oh, I forgot, you're never out. You've got your mobile in your pocket all the time, and wherever that is, you're on duty. You are connected. Only in rare exceptional moments when you are out and about, and you have a poor connection, does your computer/Blackberry fail to plays tag for you.

Wait a moment though. Have you thought about this from a different perspective. Never mind about not even been out. You don't even have to be in, do you? What's the point of paying money for a warm seat somewhere when your entire office fits into your laptop ? There is no in is my point. You say you miss the banter with Fred by the water cooler? He probably works at the Costa just off Liverpool St these days, you can visit him there. Pass through any coffee shop in Canary Wharf and you will see these virtual offices populated by warm lapped over caffeinated workers.

But can you say goodbye to carbon paper, rubber stamps, a fax machine, the storage cabinet, the tea lady (eh?), the office librarian, the secretary who sat in front of your door and guarded it, the guy who used to make announcements over the office call speaker to find someone when a delivery came, finding a projector for presentations, the woman who carried the slide projector, the copy machine, the curator of the company library, the man in the suit who fixed the printer, the chap in the post room and yes, sadly, the those "interesting" Electronic Trading magazines you used to read every month that were the sole source of business inspiration and insight.

Still not convinced? Then how about also getting to say goodbye to the two meetings a day we had with everyone in the office, mostly because everyone was in the office and we didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Or how about the finger-pointing when a project hits an exceptionally rare hiccup, because the timelines online don't lie.

Indeed, come to think of it don I need to bother sending me the annual Christmas letter or telling me you've been promoted or run an ad letting me know that you've launched a new product or landed a new client. I saw all of it as it happened, on Twitter!

Now back to reality. This distorted view is not too perverse if you imagine a culture conducive to improved work productivity that does a way with the briefcase, the unnecessary workshops or formal suits. Remote working is not a new concept. Recall the last surge resulting in many working from home when firms had to refocus operational costs and protect the bottom line as many faced going to the wall following the dotcom thing. This coincided with the proliferation of virtual networking and video conferencing software. Take a look at Cisco shares for instance.

And with the credit crunched times, protecting the bottom line is a priority - particularly from the impact of fractious industrial relations. Now the time is ripe for the leverage of social networking and other technical innovations to make us rethink how we work, for this to evolve to the next, more complete level. Whereas previously, collaborative working whilst remaining work was more of a concept. Just another buzz word. These days it is a reality. 

Research research indicates that working from home, assuming access to modern technology and minus the distractions of the workplace are more conducive for collaboration. For some consistent working remotely will never be appropriate however. Ultimately decisions regarding where and how you work should be answered in terms of ability to meet your goals. This notion sits unhappily with traditional business thinking in some sense. Even today, the thinking of economist Adam Smith (1723-1790), which saw competitiveness as maximising self interest, is predominant. More recently, this thinking has resurfaced as Economic Darwinism that looks at business competitiveness in terms of winner takes all or taking no prisoners.

Fortunately, current thinking and business practice tends to take sides with John Nash, whose life was popularised in the film A Beautiful Mind. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for proving the 1755 philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that when parties collaborate, the overall size of the pie almost always expands to the extent that each participate get more than they would going it alone. Think about hunters each catching rabbits alone as opposed to deer together. The parallels today are no different. It may be worth reflecting on this briefly tomorrow as we make our journeys. 

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