How Unified Communications Systems Enable Professionals to Balance Work and Life
A field rep called Janet’s office number in New Jersey last week. Janet’s company uses a service that allows her to control her availability status (much like instant messaging, but for voice media, too). A customer satisfaction issue had surfaced and Janet had the best technical insight into how to solve the problem. Janet answered her phone/PDA, looked at a service ticket with the rep, and proposed two course of action. She finished the call, put the mobile phone/PDA device in her tote bag and returned to the bottom of the slide at McDonald’s Play land, waiting for her triplets to come down. Just another day at work for a 21st century knowledge worker who is also a parent. “Before getting this new system at work, I used to have to take the entire day off if my kids were on a school holiday,” Janet says. “Now I can spend the day with them while remaining completely available to the folks in the field via voice if I’m out or via voice, instant messaging or video if I’m home with the triplets. Yet, when I need to focus my full attention on the children, I give a ‘no interruptions’ command to the system and all calls go straight to the voice mail part of the system. It’s really smart and totally in my control.”
Gene sits in a California pediatrician’s office with his Handspring Treo, his sick three-year-old daughter coughing like a seal at his side. Using a remote application, he reboots a couple of servers in a New York data center then initiates an unplanned audio conference with two subordinates. His communication system finds both of his employees instantly and he gives them follow-up actions. This director of operations for a mobile content company (and father of two) is wirelessly connected to key revenue-generating servers in East and West coast data centers. If there’s a problem, an alert sounds (a ring tone plays ‘Fire!’ by the funk band Ohio Players). He can immediately know about, and address, any operational issue and securely collaborate with his entire team via one click on his mobile PDA/phone. “I can be a good father and take my little girl to see the doctor while still maintaining control of the servers that generate the revenue for my business,” Gene says. “It’s terrific not to compromise and I can’t imagine working any other way.”
Monty is a marketing professional who coaches his daughter’s soccer team twice a month. He leaves the office early with his laptop, picks up his daughter and drives to the neighborhood soccer field. He finds an available wireless LAN, establishes a VPN connection to his corporate network and responds to instant messages and email while the rest of the team arrives. When someone calls his office number, his soft client phone on his laptop rings and answers the call with a Bluetooth wireless headset. His daughter and her friends roll their eyes and tell Dad he’s such a geek. “I can’t bail on my team in the office and I won’t bail on my daughter,” Monty says. “This way I don’t have to do either. I’m here at the field, but I’m available all the way up to game time at 5 p.m.”
Andrew is a West Coast sales engineer who regularly works with colleagues in Australia. This means he needs to be working on the West Coast between 5 and 6 p.m., the beginning of the Australian work day. This is normally not a problem except for twice a week when his wife stays late at her office and his three kids are home in his care. Andrew makes it work. Both he and his colleagues half a world away have the communications tools to alert each other of their availability to collaborate. The Australians start their day and see Andrew is available for a video conference. Andy’s favorite new thing is to walk around the house on his wireless network, laptop in hand, Bluetooth headset on his ear, conducting a real-time video conference with his colleagues, while enjoying the amused looks on his kids’ faces.
These professional knowledge workers (and parents) have something in common: they have harnessed technologies that a majority of U.S. workers don’t even know exist. They have done it because it lets them live their lives, simultaneously meeting the demands of family life and corporate life in ways never before possible.
These systems make it possible to be present at a child’s game yet remain available to audio or web conference if business critical issues arise. Cleverly done, with the right enterprise-class unified communications tools, we can be in two places at once, even if one is virtual.
They can now work professionally, productively and privately - nobody has to know that the technical expert was reached at a McDonald’s to solve a customer problem. The fact that the marketing professional/soccer coach is sitting in a grassy field with his laptop collaborating in real-time is nobody’s business - he’s available.
These are real people with something else in common besides having demanding personal and professional lives. They are using a service called HiPath OpenScape from Siemens Communications, a system that lets workers inform colleagues in real-time how (or if) they are available to communicate. It lets them be reached on the device, the media and the network that makes sense for them at the moment. The people they work with are grateful that they are available (and the knowledge they have is available to be applied when needed). They are grateful to reach a person and not a voice mail system 95 percent of the time - and frankly don’t care where they are physically.
The manager who doesn’t know these capabilities exist or doesn’t understand how powerful they are - or worse yet turns his/her back on these empowering technologies out of some fear (fear of losing control of people, fear of lower productivity, fear of technology, etc) - will lose. First, he/she will lose these people to organizations much better equipped to allow people to work where they need to be, when they need to, to achieve this coveted life balance, without affecting the organization’s ability to create results. And secondly, the organization will lose its ability to compete with companies whose workers are much more agile, flexible, available, happy and productive because of how they are allowed to produce their work.
These four knowledge workers have something else in common: they all work for enlightened employers - managers that understand that the ability to work from anywhere is a capability that more and more workers in the globalized information economy are demanding. These experienced, valuable employees require sophisticated communications tools to do the knowledge-based work that must be done while also being with their children and enjoying quality time as parents.
Unified communications systems that are powered with “presence-based” technologies are no longer a “nice-to-have” capability. They’re necessary to be able to compete in a 24-7 world of cross-border virtual teams where speed is everything. These systems are necessary to keep the most valuable employees connected when they need to be, not only to their colleagues but also to their families. This is a very real need in the minds of these workers.
The good news for IT managers and line of business managers who evaluate and buy these systems is that there are various deployment scenarios available. The Siemens system mentioned above can be deployed and supported in-house on a Microsoft LCS platform or can be purchased as a managed service directly from the vendor. This offers tremendous flexibility in deploying unified communications to an organization’s high-value teams.
The line between personal/professional communication systems has been forever blurred. Any new communications system must be flexible enough, must have user-based permissions and must be able to reach out and connect people across devices, networks and media. Smart business managers and IT department heads who understand this will succeed in retaining their high-value employees, keeping them productive and happy, in a work environment that fits into their demanding lives.
Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is an experienced transnational marketing professional with Siemens Communications. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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