By Phil Gibbs on December 27, 2012
A popular buzzword today in information technology is “unified communication.” While we have been in the “information age” for some time, the technology and systems supporting this age of communication are just now beginning to mature.
Even though we have been exposed to communication technology that only a few years ago was the subject of science fiction, the experience has been muted by a lack of integration. Systems do not “talk” to each other. One vendor’s products do not communicate with another vendor’s products. Voice, video and graphic display often are not integrated. In a unified communication world the different mediums and different platforms come together to connect people seamlessly across town and across continents. Hi-Definition information engulfs us.
The potential impact of unified communication is hard to predict. In the information age collaboration is king. With unified communication, the potential for collaboration is expanded beyond physical presence to include virtual presence. The bounds of work and productivity and innovation are expanded exponentially.
The full potential of unified communication, however, will not be achieved with our current view of work. Simply equipping people with technology without addressing how and where they work is like automating a defective production process – it will not achieve the desired results. Like communication, work today is characterized by fragmentation, dichotomies and a lack of integration. Our language betrays us, “I am going to work.” “I work at…” “I work 60 hours a week.”
The False Dichotomy of Work and Personal Life
Often we celebrate this lack of integration, “I keep my work and personal life separate!” Maybe there are some circumstances where this has merit, but I would argue that overall it is a wasteful and unhealthy dichotomy. It has not always been this way. In fact, this false dichotomy is a recent invention. In an agrarian world the separation between “work life” and “personal life” by space and time was not so pronounced. People lived on the farms or above the shops where they worked. Work schedules were determined by the tasks to be performed, not by the clock.
The industrial revolution brought us the concepts of, “Going to work,” and “Working 8 to 5.” These concepts make sense when everyone has to be at the same place at the same time for the assembly lines to function. The paradigm of work as a place and work as a time was carried over to office parks, and perhaps made sense with the limitations of the communication technology in use at the time. Unintended consequences, however, have included “morning rush hour,” and “afternoon rush hour.” And, in the personal lives of information workers, the tension of balancing personal and work life was born.
The Return to Unified Work
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the arrival of unified communication is the potential of the return to unified work. Instead of the artificial dichotomies, our lives can once again be integrated. Imagine a world where work is not defined by time and space.
Check off morning rush hour and afternoon rush hour. Sure, there will still be some commuting, but not everyone will be going and coming at the same time. Think of the time, cost and environmental savings.
Check off the tension between catching your daughter’s recital and being “at work.”
And check off those large, impersonal office buildings that are energy and inspiration sapping—or at least look for their footprints to become smaller.
In the unified work world, home offices and coffee shops become work places. But it is third places like E|SPACES that are emerging to support the acceleration of unified communication and unified work. Located close to where people live and available 24/7, these spaces serve as hubs for access to unified communication technology as well as the still needed face-to-face interaction.
Unified work is essential for gaining maximum benefit from unified communication. In a unified work world the dichotomies and tensions between work and personal life become less. Work is defined less by time and space. Tasks to be completed once again become more important than the clock.
Of course some work will still be time and space restricted. But for the majority of work in an information age with maturing, unified communication, we have the opportunity to move beyond the relics of the industrial revolution and embrace the freedom and opportunity of unified work.
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