...Factories used to be arranged in a straight line. That's because there was one steam engine, and it turned a shaft. All the machines were set up along the shaft, with a belt giving each of them power. The office needed to be right next to this building, so management could monitor what was going on. 150 years later, why go to work in an office/plant/factory?
This is one place where technology has leaped ahead of culture. Rich presence -- including online status (online, offline), geographic location, availability status ("do not disturb", "in a meeting", "at lunch"), telephony status (on the phone), connection device (mobile device, laptop), etc. -- allows you to abstract "work" from "physical location", while paradoxically INCREASING your availability. The challenge isn't the technology per se, it's culture: management still thinks in terms of assembly line ("how can Joe produce my widgets if they're not on the assembly line?") rather than outcomes, which results in that perceived need for visual control. IBM has been an early and avid adopter of remote working, which has given us plenty of time to slowly shift our culture from one of "facetime" to "availability"; as long as I make myself available within the requirements of my particular role, my management chain can focus on what's really important: am I achieving my objectives in a timely manner, whether or not I'm in the "office" from 9-5.
And this is where the second "Collaboration" of IBM's Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC2) approach comes in: integration of social networking tools (not just community tools in Sametime Advanced, but blogs, wikis, rich profiles, online communities and networks, sharing, tagging, etc.) moves UC beyond the immediate availability to capturing those interactions, sharing them and thus growing the enterprise's knowledge base, and even measuring (via social analytics) productivity in new, novel ways.
UC is forcing corporate cultures to rethink measurement, performance evaluation, and social boundaries. Or, put differently, for companies to successfully deploy and use UC, cultural adaptation and business process alignment are critical.
Clearly, with UC, meetings can happen whether or not you're in the office. The recent business disruptions caused by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull were a perfect example of meetings still going on, via e-meetings, chat and video, despite all the ash. One of UC's primary and most measurable value propositions to customers is saving travel cost, time, and reducing environmental impacts through enhanced virtual meetings that are (almost) as good as being there. Now, UC (or generally-available bandwidth or device power) isn't at the point where it can completely replace face-to-face meetings; human communication is only partially verbal (and if you're hearing impared, not verbal at all), so additional advances in video, 3D (not just Sametime 3D, but moving towards "Fahrenheit 451"-ish holographics) and even virtual touch and smell...well, maybe the last two are entering creepy territory, but you get the picture.
Clearly we're still social animals; we can't all work in isolation (we certainly don't want to end up as Isaac Asimov's Solarians...) As I alluded to in #4 above, UC2 is a great technology enabler, allowing us to draw social energy from wherever we happen to be. As Seth said, we don't just draw energy from our office co-workers. And if our work and collaboration networks extend far beyond immediate reporting structures to work with co-workers in Bangalore, customers in Bratislava, Business Partners in Dalian, investors in San Francisco, while simultaneously running into dear friends in the cafe on the Seine we happen to be working from today, UC2 can only help us draw energy simultaneously from physically immediate and virtual, ever-widening circles.
We still, though, have a way to go before we can provide virtual environments that enable the full richness of human communication. And that includes the natural outcomes of extroverted, social behavior: surreptitious/unplanned encounters and non-verbal communication just for starters. Hence the continued need for local socialization.
A lot to think about on a cool San Francisco midnight. What do you think? Would very much like to hear your thoughts.