Collaboration happens because of the interplay of culture, environment and tools with an emphasis on culture. While tools are key enablers, collaboration never happens solely because of tools. That said, real-time tools including instant messaging, web conferencing, videoconferencing, telepresence and virtual worlds plus asynchronous tools including wikis, team sites and social networking are extending and enhancing collaborative culture and eliminating distance as a barrier to business and relationships.
Ironically, we’re getting better at collaborating at a distance than when we’re face to face. Assuming we work in a collaborative culture and effectively use tools, we are more likely to share applications and collaboratively produce products and services when distance is an issue. In contrast, when we’re all in the same room, too often we meet rather than collaborate. Some highly-collaborative organizations are designing their workplace environments to enhance brainstorming and collaboration.
Microsoft has created a new research entity in its business division called Office Labs, which is focusing on the future of how we work. One effort involves exploring how to more naturally interact with information. At the Microsoft CEO Summit in May, Bill Gates demonstrated an “intelligent white board” or touch wall called Plex. Plex has scanning cameras at its base, so that it can detect when users touch its surface. Using our hands, we can zoom out to reveal documents, images, spreadsheets, presentations, browsers and other applications. We can touch a document, flip through its pages, and zoom in to examine flow charts and other embedded elements. We can also use our fingers to draw on Plex.
Intelligent white boards are one tool that may enhance collaboration when we’re sharing the same physical space. Ultimately, every horizontal and vertical surface in collaborative rooms could be an inexpensive intelligent display. Like collaboration at a distance, same-room collaboration requires the right culture, environment and tools.