The Fishbowl – Increasing Multi-Site Casual Collaboration

26 Feb , 2015  

How do you close the gap between two work locations separated by 1,275 miles? January 2015 we successfully completed a one year remodel project of 79,000 sq ft of office space. You can read more about it on the CableLabs blog. The remodel occurred on the heels of opening a new office and lab in Sunnyvale, CA, the fall of 2013.

Culture is über important to me and the company for which I work. We asked ourselves; what could we do to make the two work locations feel like one – or – at least bridge the gap and lessen the distance?

New idea – The “fishbowl”

When the Sunnyvale office opened, we set up a desktop video conference unit at each location creating a virtual helpdesk window. One unit is in a small office and the second unit is in the IT help desk team’s cubes. IT customers come up to the screen, see our IT folks at their desk, and get immediate help – the next best thing short of being in the same location.

The fishbowl   fishbowl2
(See more photos of the remodeled office space here.)

The fishbowl is the same idea, just more public and on a larger scale. The fishbowl is set up with larger video conferencing units at each site, in higher foot traffic locations in the office. The fishbowl video connection is on all the time, 24×7. No set up time required, no funky SIP address strings to enter on a handheld remote. It’s always on. I describe it as a portal or wormhole connecting the two offices.

Both sides of the fishbowl are located in a main break area of each office. It’s a natural gathering place for coffee, sodas and lunch. I’m constantly amazed at the different uses people find for it. They walk by, see someone on the other side, wave or stop and have a chat. It’s also easy to have a quick meeting if you don’t mind it happening out in the open with others walking by. Occasionally we’ll meet up with a electrician or wiring technician doing work on site – it’s so much easier to have a conversation over video than trying to explain some wiring concept or problem over the phone. And since the fishbowl is always on, you just walk up and use it. Now you hear the phrase, “lets meet up at the fishbowl.” This same idea is used to interconnect the two labs. Super useful when teams are working on projects and need to easily communicate and collaborate.

It’s not quite the same as being there but the fishbowl concept definitely helps bridge the gap, and increases the frequency and fidelity of communications between offices. I like to call it casual collaboration.

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Culture, Transformation and Technology

4 Dec , 2013  

As IT leaders, it is our responsibility to step back a moment to “raise periscope” and assess what IT is really doing for the business. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday of IT; deploying new technologies, managing projects, automating business processes, and supporting applications, systems and networks.

No two IT shops are the same but I frequently find myself evangelizing that IT’s focus isn’t really about technology, we’re about work style transformation. Several key strategic forces are at work, which establish this focus on work style transformation.

Changes in culture within medium and large sized businesses are driving initiatives to increase collaboration and innovation within and across departments. Silos are being torn down in favor of cross discipline projects and teams. Work anywhere strategies facilitate work happening in the moment, wherever staff may be, whether at Starbucks, home or at a ball game. Geographic separation of staff, customers and vendors must be compressed to facilitate work, no matter where offices, businesses or people are located.

The strategies I employ to enable work style transformation include many high profile initiatives. Multi-device unified communications enables IM, video, online meetings, and desktop collaboration between individuals and teams within the office, across business locations, internationally and while traveling. Again, the greater challenges aren’t the technologies, it is working with the organization to change work habits, assumptions and adapting to new ways of working.

Increasing use of video conferencing, digital whiteboards and collaboration rooms reduces the geographic separation between office locations – increasing location transparency. A “fish bowl” video wall is one of the tools I use to tie offices together through an aways on virtual portal between offices. I sometimes refer to it as our wormhole between offices. Cloud-based video bridging and online meeting services minimize the technical challenges typical of video conferencing between different hardware and software technology.

Social business tools replace long, unmanageable email chains with familiar social media posts and comments threads, organizing conversations around topics and groups of people with like interests. Wiki and content management systems replace Word and PowerPoint documents as the point of content creation, collaboration and sharing.

Virtualization portals such as those provided by commercial vendors and open source software offer developers the option of provisioning and managing their own servers, instead of waiting on IT to service a help desk request.

All of these are examples of how solutions enabled through IT are focused on supporting increased collaboration, communication, and business interactions – work style transformation – creating more effective interactions between staff, customers and partners. The next time you feel overrun by technology solutions, step back and look at how your IT team is really empowering work style transformation across your organization, and make that your focus rather than the technology solutions.

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IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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