Friday, October 26, 2007

Collaborate with Direction

Technology usually gets people to their contact point. But will they collaborate as a team? Will they makes decisions as a team? Will they stay on course as a team?

Compass AE is a team collaborative process that enables the team to collaborate with direction. Regardless of the location of each member, they are always connected to the plan and the team.

Team connection from start to finish is the key to completing the goal.



Crash may virtually change commuting
Traffic hassles could put people on road to high-tech meetings

Ellen Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Valerie Williamson was afraid the drive from her home in Belmont to San Francisco would be a nightmare, that the East Bay freeway meltdown would cause traffic havoc throughout the region. So, on Tuesday, she canceled a face-to-face meeting with a colleague in the city and got together instead in Second Life, an online virtual world.

Williamson connected with her colleague on Sheep Island, a Second Life location created by her employer, the Electric Sheep Co. The island houses the company's virtual headquarters, complete with a conference room, offices and tasteful decorative plants.

"I didn't want to go into the city so I just met him in-world," said Williamson,
a vice president of business development and marketing.

Admittedly, Williamson's case is special. Her company is in the business of creating online communities.

Nonetheless, she's far from alone. Many Bay Area workers, some encouraged by their employers, have turned to telecommuting now that normal travel routines have been upended.

It isn't clear just how many workers in the Bay Area have opted to telecommute since the freeway collapse.

But government agencies and private sector groups have been pushing it, and lighter traffic suggests more people are working from home. Many employers, including Wells Fargo, have called on their staff to use public transit and to talk to their supervisors about flexible hours and telecommuting from home or satellite offices.

Telecommuting may be one reason the traffic nightmares haven't been as bad as expected, said John Grubb, vice president of communications for the Bay Area Council.

"We've done a lot of work to prepare for these sorts of disasters in the past," Grubb said.
"The groundwork was already there."

The local boost to telecommuting comes as the trend is expanding nationwide.
Some 9.5 million people telecommuted in the United States in 2006, up slightly from 8.9 million in 2001, according to research firm IDC.

Another survey by CDW, a technology company, found that 33 percent of employees in the private sector and 75 percent of employees in federal jobs said they would be able to continue to work by telecommuting if a disaster closed their office. Businesses need to prepare by having plans for employees to keep working if they can't get to their offices, said Firooz Ghanbarzadeh, CDW's director of technology services and solutions.

Typically, data and telecommunications services that support telecommuting see surges in use following disruptions such as a freeway collapse or a snow storm, or major disasters such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Frankly what we find is that once people use the technology because they're forced to do it,
they can understand how they can use it in their daily work life," said Rick Faulk, chief marketing officer for WebEx, a Santa Clara online conferencing service.

Longtime telecommuters and newbies have an ever-larger array of technologies to keep them connected. Tools include cell phones, BlackBerrys, laptops, and video and audio conferencing equipment.

Telecommuters have also started to take advantage of a new generation of Internet collaboration tools, such as Second Life, created by San Francisco's Linden Labs, and Web sites that allow multiple users to share and edit documents online.

"You have so much work that is done on the computer today," said Claire Schooley, a senior industry analyst for Forrester, a technology research firm. "They make it very easy to connect."

What's more, she said, "The young people coming into the workforce expect to be mobile and connected all the time."

At the cutting edge are virtual worlds, which in addition to Second Life include sites such as Participants create avatars -- animated representations of themselves -- and use them to navigate the online world.

In Second Life, for example, they can give PowerPoint presentations, and stream audio and video in virtual conference rooms. Other participants can respond by clapping, cheering or raising hands to ask questions. Second Life is also testing a program that lets users communicate by voice, not just text.

Still in its early stages, businesses such as Sun Microsystems, IBM and Clear Ink, a digital marketing firm in Berkeley, have used Second Life to hold online meetings.

Promoters believe it allows for greater intimacy than e-mail and other traditional tools, adding a personal layer to long-distance business communication, whether your colleague or customer is across the country or just on the other side of a busted freeway.

"It's easy for telecommuters to feel disconnected from their co-workers," said Jeska Dzwigalski, a community developer for Second Life. Virtual communities allow "a different level of communication. It really does help when someone is physically distant."

Video conferencing, enhanced by more powerful compression technology, is proliferating as well, developing a following among those who aren't ready for avatars and want some face-to-face contact. A variety of companies offer video conferencing, including Pleasanton's Polycom and Berkeley's SightSpeed. Cisco Systems developed "TelePresence," so that users appear life-size on the screen and the participants sit around a single virtual conference table.

Still other online tools are making it easier for teams to put together documents or collaborate on projects, even though members are spread across multiple offices.

JotSpot, acquired by Google earlier this year, uses wiki technology, much like that of the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to allow people to make changes in documents as
they work on projects online. Last year, Google also acquired Writely, now renamed Google Docs and Spreadsheets, which provides documents and spreadsheets that users can share over the Internet.

Redwood City's Saba offers tools that let users edit documents online, brainstorm on a virtual whiteboard and draw diagrams.

"It's about being able to have a natural experience even if you're not sitting in the same room," said A.G. Lambert, vice president of product marketing.

Edgar Blazona, co-founder of TrueModern, a Berkeley furniture business, was already using WebEx to keep in touch with shippers and factories in Thailand and India. Now he plans on using it more often instead of trekking to San Francisco. On Monday, instead of meeting his accountant in the city, the two logged onto WebEx to go over shipping details on a spreadsheet.

"We basically stayed put," said Blazona, a former furniture designer for Pottery Barn. The freeway collapse "opened the door for us. This is a reminder that this is something we should do regularly instead of making a trip over the bridge."

"Unfortunately," he added, "it took the falling of a freeway to open our eyes to something we're already using."
This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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