Beyond telework: The making of the virtual workplace

People often think about workforce mobility strictly in terms of telework, but employees are often working away from their desks even when they are in the office. The emergence of unified communications is making their jobs easier than ever.

When it comes to unified communications, don’t talk to your employees about the infrastructure.

What they want to hear is how integrating voice, video and data traffic will make it easier for them to do their jobs. Organizations that miss that point will also miss out on the real benefit of UC.

It all comes down to access. Employees who are used to finding and sharing information on the fly in their personal lives are looking to do the same at work.

“In a nutshell, UC is about providing users with ubiquitous access to their communications capabilities,” wrote Rob Arnold, a senior analyst at market research firm Frost and Sullivan, on the firm’s blog. That means being able to work “from nearly anywhere and anytime they need.”

Organizations that get that point are now investing in collaboration tools that create a virtual workplace, one that employees can take with them wherever they go.

NASA, for example, is developing a desktop mobile videoconferencing system known as DMV. The DMV service, being rolled out in conjunction with a voice-over-IP system, will enable employees to collaborate whether they are in a conference room, at their desk or using a mobile device from a remote location.

In time, the space agency plans to provide an extensive collaboration suite that integrates email, voice mail, instant messaging, texting and similar tools. The suite, according to a NASA newsletter, will enable employees to manage these various channels seamlessly and create what experts refer to as “presence.”

In a traditional work environment, employees working at home or on the road always need to be aware of the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. If they cannot be found at their desks or in the hallway, they might find their co-workers making decisions or doing work without consulting them.

But a virtual workplace, built on the foundation of UC, makes it possible for employees working remotely to stay in constant contact with their co-workers and never drop out of sight.

At the National Institutes of Health, presence is not just a concept but a built-in feature of its UC technology. At the heart of its system is the NIH Enterprise Registry, which makes it possible for users to indicate their availability (“presence status”) through any UC solution, according to the agency’s enterprise architecture (see sidebar).

Ultimately, the emergence of a virtual workplace will make it easier for more employees to telework, Arnold said. He believes that many people choose not to telework consistently because they lack the necessary tools. UC, fully realized, should fix that.

“UC technology facilitates effective teleworking,” he wrote.

Can we talk?

The National Institutes of Health is one of a handful of agencies developing a comprehensive suite of unified communications tools designed to enable employees to work collaboratively wherever they might be.

The goal of UC, according to NIH’s enterprise architecture, is to integrate business applications used for real-time, near-real-time and non-real-time communications. The agency’s strategy identifies four primary technology components:

    * Conferencing communications: Technology that allows more than two locations to interact simultaneously via video or audio transmissions. This includes the use of Web conferencing with participants at remote locations.

    * Endpoints: End-user technologies that work with multiple UC solutions. This includes “thick” clients (workstations with additional hardware or software integrated), thin clients (workstations with Web plug-ins) and other hardware (e.g., handsets).

    * Voice communications: Technologies (other than endpoint devices) that provide telephony or other voice communications, such as voice messaging.

    * Instant messaging and presence: Technologies that provide real-time direct, text-based chatting communication between two or more people, including a status indicator that conveys the ability and willingness of employees to communicate.

About this report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please e-mail us at [email protected].