ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - January 2001


Surviving in The New Economy: From virtual workplaces to technology overload, this special feature takes an in-depth look at the changing demands of our workplaces and world.

  In This Issue...

Celebrating the Power of People
Tricks of the Trade—Unique Tranining Ideas
Views For A Change
Pageturners: Flawless Consulting Fieldbook

 One From Column B —
I Will Survive

 Peter Block explains why the new economy is just an economy, and why our relationships and our senses promise survival .

  Surviving In The New   Economy:

Working I A Virtual World
Defining The New Economy
Penny Sanchez-Burruss and Barry Johnson Ph,D

The 24/7 Work Invasion
Info, Info, Everywhere!
Brief Cases
Tips: It's About Time and Finding Time

Return to NFC Index

  Special Feature: Surviving In The New Economy

Working In A Virtual World
Using Digital Project Management Software Keeps Virtual Teams Connected

"California, here I come" might well have been the rallying cry for thousands of individuals looking for a booming economy, great weather and a bright future. But the rallying cry soon became a nightmarish scream for local governments as they tried to meet the demands of a burgeoning citizenry. In particular, they struggled to balance the needs for housing and associated services with the need to keep the area scenic and attractive.

  Riverside County faced just such a problem. As the fourth largest county in the state, it stretches nearly 200 miles across and comprises over 7,200 square miles of fertile river valleys, low deserts, mountains, foothills and rolling plains. Riverside County shares borders with densely populated Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties...extending from within 14 miles of the Pacific Ocean to the Colorado River. Recent years have brought dramatic population growth to Riverside County. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of residents grew by over 76 percent, making Riverside the fastest-growing county in California. By 1992, the county was "home" to over 1.3 million residents, more than the entire population of 13 states, among them Maine, Nevada, Hawaii and New Hampshire.

  The population boom in Riverside County created conflicts between land use and conservation. All too often these tensions resulted in adversarial battles between real estate developers and conservationists-usually on a project-by-project basis. To ease the tension, Riverside County instituted an integrated planning program to provide a framework effecting future decisions for land use habitat conservation and transportation in coming decades. Using a team to deal with such a project is not, by any stretch of the imagination a new concept, but using a virtual team in a digital workplace most certainly is.

Virtual Teams in Real Time

  Working with Sverdrup Corporation, a privately held firm headquartered in St. Louis and a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., one of the world's largest providers of professional technical services offering full-spectrum support to industrial, commercial and government clients in diverse markets, Riverside County wanted to create a team of professionals and consultants to support the planning program.

Creating such a team presented several challenges to Sverdrup, including the need to:

Bring together professionals from geographically disparate consulting firms and   universities without relocating them to a single site in Riverside County;
Integrate the varied infrastructures of the organizations involved in the project without   mandating any standards; and
Leverage resources (i.e., bring the work to the people and get them up to speed quickly   on the project) to reduce overhead costs and to create a permanent record of the work   produced on behalf of the client.

  Sverdrup and Riverside County dealt with these hurdles by implementing a digital workplace. In essence, they established a "virtual construction trailer" for integrating the project team and coordinating their activities using a virtual project management software called eRoom. eRoom is a secure, Web-based workplace and complete set of business collaboration tools that are quickly tailored for specific business initiatives. The virtual project management software allowed people from across a company and from customer, supplier and partner companies to come together to innovate, negotiate, resolve issues, make decisions and get work done.

 The implementation of the digital workplace allowed Riverside County to have:

Greater user adoption due to reduced information technology overhead and burden. The   dozen organizations involved in the project needed only a browser to participate. This   allowed quick access to project documents without the information technology staffs   from the various organizations negotiating protocols and standards.
A single version of documents eliminated confusion and saved time. This approach   ensured that all professionals were working on the right document.
Real-time project monitoring for senior management without team interruption. Senior   managers could look through the eRoom(s) for updates, allowing project staff to spend   less time reporting and more time producing.

The Year 2020: Everyone Home for Dinner

Sounds great, but what about the future of the digital workplace? How prevalent will it become? We have all heard how today's hierarchical and fixed organizational structures will give way to more fluid partnerships, created to complete a specific project and then dissolved at its completion. The employee will give way to the expert. Work and education will no longer be discrete phases of life, but rather ongoing and interwoven. Resumes will reflect projects accomplished, not offices occupied. The boundaries between work and life will begin to dissolve because the choices made for one will no longer exclude the other. We will live where we feel most comfortable, not within "reasonable" commuting distance. We will be home for dinner.

  "Creating the future workplace is not just about delivering another piece of software," says Francois Gossieaux, chief marketing officer, eRoom Technology, Inc., Cambridge, Mass. "It is about developing an environment that is conducive to innovation, learning, community building and collaboration. The success of the digital workplace will be determined as much by individual psychology, culture and sociology as by technical functionality."

  Picture this: The proposal you've been working on all week is due tomorrow. You're at home with the kids, but you're still connected through a digital workplace containing all of the project information. You make a few changes to the most recent draft and send an alert notifying your teammates to check out the latest version. One of the associates calls with a question about a number in the budget. You open up the archive of client correspondence to refresh your memory and then explain the situation. Then you go back to the Legos®.

  Or, you're sitting on an international flight and your phone vibrates, notifying you that a shipment of materials coming from overseas will be delayed one week. Your digital workplace opens, displaying all of the production schedules for your new product. You are joined in the digital workplace by the key team members involved with the product line. You are debriefed on the nature of the problem and the possible solutions. In minutes the team is able to come to a consensus. The digital workplace updates your backbone ERP and SCM systems automatically. You go back to watching the movie.

Digital Workplaces: Today's Success Stories

  For some of us, these visions of the new way of working are still two to four years in the future. For some, it's already happening. The printer division at Hewlett-Packard has implemented a program to work more closely with its suppliers. Using the digital workplace as the collaborative platform, in conjunction with other eBusiness applications, this division was able to reduce production shutdowns and cut inventory levels in half.

  Haworth, the second largest manufacturer of custom furniture, uses the digital workplace as a part of a customer relationship management system. In their digital workplace, the Haworth sales force is able to collaborate on multi-national accounts. And key customers are able to participate in the design of their own furniture in private workplaces created by the sales representatives.

  But what about the need for human contact? "The digital workplace, at least in our generation, is not going to replace the need for face-to-face meetings. But the younger generation, where their best friend is just a screen name on America Online, might be a different story," chuckles Gossieaux.

  Like any change, moving to digital workplaces has its obstacles. "The behavior of virtual teams has a different set of rules for teamwork that everyone needs to agree on. But sometimes, it is the same set of rules as a regular team. For example, who is going to clean up the meeting room? If we forget that in a regular team, the room becomes cluttered and a mess. The same rule applies with the virtual team."

  In virtual environments, Gossieaux also warns to set up rules for dealing with conflict ahead of time. "You must describe what the rules of engagement are if there is conflict. In a digital workplace you have the chance to reduce conflicts since everyone does not have the same history with the problem. When conflicts arise in a digital workplace, they tend to get out of control much faster, partly due to the lack of additional nonverbal clues. But when conflicts do arise, that might be an appropriate time for a face-to-face meeting."

  From California to Cairo, the workplace is changing. The widely popular team concept must now change as well to incorporate the digital world. Doing so presents some obstacles, but once they are overcome teams become more effective, efficient and in the end result just as happy. And they will all be home for dinner.

January 2001Homepage

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