The latest E20 wonder: Inter-Dimensional Gate

Simple things are the most important, people and culture is where your focus should be.

From the e20conf website: “Enterprise 2.0 is the term for the technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email”.

These are tools that move us from message-based (e.g. email) and file sharing (e.g. SharePoint) communication to real-time interaction. They move us from hierarchical communication (data flows upstream and come back next month in a report) to horizontal, peer-to-peer collaboration.

Great advances have been made in the past years. Tools and techniques that first emerged in consumer social media are now been applied to improve corporate communications. It is becoming more common to see web 2.0 technologies deployed in our offices, we now can “follow” our co-workers.

But here is something very enlightening: Coffee Bean is a small but global company, we have people working in three different locations. As any organization, we have situations where communication doesn’t work as expected and misunderstanding happens.

The best tools and technologies cannot truly promote completely frictionless flow of information. Not even co-location can. And the reason is simple: people. We are complex machines that are not always completely objective and when we organize ourselves to try to tackle a complex problem, it is sometimes hard to get us all aligned.

We had one of those occurrences recently and Rodrigo, our CTO suggested we installed an “inter-dimensional window” between our offices. That is nothing more than a set of cameras/screens in each office connected through Skype. They are not to allow video conferencing (which we already do all the time), but just to allow people in one office to see what is going on in the other office through a panoramic view, as if the offices where physically connected.

That simple window has the effect of connecting the two environments in subtle ways. We can see when someone is at their desk or left for lunch, we see them arriving and leaving. We can occasionally wave and smile through that window.

Even in its limitations (and perhaps because of that), the inter-dimensional window is a powerful reminder that mutual trust is essential for collaboration and that we cannot judge what we don’t know.

Though the inter-dimensional window is a piece of technology, it is a reminder that the most important aspect of implementing a culture of collaboration is not in tools and technology, but in your most important asset: people and their culture.

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