IT has been dealing with the threat of marginalization since the cloud-based software revolution of the early 2000s. Today, with a full 50% of U.S. workers empowered to work remotely, IT is at risk of becoming further distanced from their business counterparts.
But instead of being relegated to technology gatekeepers, a few visionary IT leaders are working to enable their remote workforces by focusing on collaboration and building a connected culture. With this enablement approach, IT can help their business colleagues boost productivity no matter where they sit.
We work with a lot of progressive IT teams, since many are Highfive customers, but I wanted to better understand how other teams view their own role in helping remote teams work, connect, and collaborate. To learn more, I hosted a dinner in mid-July with about two dozen IT leaders from financial services, healthcare, tech, and hospitality companies of various sizes. During our discussions, I asked the group three key questions:
- How are remote work policies changing?
- How is IT enabling remote collaboration?
- What challenges are IT facing in meeting rooms?
What I heard, which was consistent across companies big and small, was that IT has to transition from a supporting role into a catalyst of productivity. Here’s what else they had to say on each of these three questions.
Remote Working is a Cultural Shift
Every attendee has experience with remote workers. Even those at small companies had field sales teams or satellite offices, and most had company policies to allow remote work, so dealing with collaboration and conferencing tools was familiar.
One consistent comment was that teams who share live video during meetings were more effective than those who didn’t. A few attendees added that the most effective remote environments in their organizations were those that shared live, always-on video streams so workers could connect with each other outside of meetings. They agreed that this new concept of creating a virtual window into another office created a sense of connectedness and shared culture between workers.
One IT Director mentioned the benefits of video on larger screens, not just laptops. Giving workers a high definition and nearly lifesize view of their counterparts creates a more personal connection compared with looking at thumbnails of talking heads on a laptop screen.
My Takeaway: Just as the culture-building trends of happy hours and free lunches helps build relationships in person, these visionary IT leaders have found that high definition video and rich audio can promote similar relationships.
Collaboration is About People
As the discussion shifted to enabling remote workers, those in attendance talked about getting out of the way and letting the technology make it happen. Many of these IT leaders mentioned moving their job away from being gatekeepers of technology and towards finding ways to make workers feel more connected.
Again, they were shifting the focus of their IT teams from systems to solutions, and people were the key. One attendee gave the analogy of email versus an in-person conversation. Emailed words have meaning, but no context. Spoken words, delivered face-to-face, come with tone, body language, volume, eye contact, hand gestures, and much more. Without the visuals, the nuance is missed, and maybe also the real meaning. The group agreed that video was the key to making those personal connections and allowing remote workers to “feel as if they’re in the same room.”
Three terms came up repeatedly here: communication, coordination, and culture. First, IT has to communicate to remote teams that the best way to collaborate is via video. One attendee put it this way: “Video isn’t a substitute for meeting face-to-face; it is face-to-face.” Second, IT has to coordinate the right tools across the company so it’s easy and consistent. Third, the company has to build a culture of collaboration. All three are intertwined, and IT is in the unique position to make it happen.
My Takeaway: Everyone has to feel as if they’re part of the team, no matter where they sit. Video can put remote workers side-by-side, but it has to feel “real”. That means full screen experiences, quality video, and rich audio.
The Quest for a Simple Meeting Room Experience
The IT leaders at the dinner vented their frustration with meeting room conferencing equipment. Not only was the hardware difficult to use individually, cameras, conference phones, and monitors were often from different manufacturers. They each had unique quirks, and the learning curve required to make them all work together (and with both Apple and Windows laptops or in a BYOD setting). Everyone at the dinner admitted being a frequent meeting technician!
Adding to the confusion was the occasional breakage and expanding offices which required new components, resulting in little hardware consistency across rooms and locations. A couple of attendees talked about their constant reeducation of workers confused by conference phones and conferencing setups. Others mentioned workers being hesitant to use the in-room systems due to app downloads, misplaced PIN codes, and more. Instead of using the company’s tools, they defaulted to their personal accounts or put their smartphones on speaker to get a meeting going. It was a mess, in other words.
No one in the group seemed to currently have a favorite or recommended meeting room equipment manufacturer or setup; they all just wanted an easy and consistent solution. In fact, one attendee summed it up by saying (paraphrased), “If we can find a solution that is easy and makes our workers more productive, that’s what we want. Everything else is secondary.”
My Takeaway: The hardware and software shouldn’t be an impediment to collaboration. It should be easy for IT to acquire and setup, and easy for workers to use so that they do, in fact, use it.
Only IT Can Make It Happen
What stood out to me during this gathering of IT professionals was the lack of talk about software and hardware and systems. The theme here was how IT was enabling collaboration and culture. Those are two terms I’ve rarely heard from IT leaders of yesterday.
At Highfive, we sell simplified business collaboration. It’s hardware and software, yes, but it’s designed to enable your connected culture. It’s easy to setup and manage for IT, easy to use for everyone, and best of all, it provides a rich, lifelike experience that makes everyone, no matter their location, feel like they’re in the room. The result is just what all of the IT leaders at the dinner were seeking: more collaboration, increased productivity, and a connected company culture.