Technology Brings Far-Flung Colleagues Closer, at Least Virtually

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Just last week I wrote about Facebook's lack of business-oriented applications. In commenting on my blog post, a reader named Robert lauded Facebook's "collaborative power," noting that more than 30,000 IBM employees had self-organized into a work network on Facebook. He wrote:

The golden prize here is finding out a way to harness that kind of collaborative power within the company and use it to drive innovation. So forget about Facebook for the enterprise -- it's all about creating an environment of universal collaboration based on the concept of a connected workspace.

That's exactly what IBM and other companies appear to be doing, as they add Facebook-like features to some of their new business software in hopes of inspiring more interaction among their staff members across the globe -- who are sometimes asked to work closely together on projects without ever meeting face-to-face.


An online portal called Beehive, under development at IBM, encourages staffers to post photos, videos and lists of "things I can't live without," according to an Associated Press article published on Newsvine. An IBM researcher working on the project says it's an effort to forge closer connections among colleagues who don't see each other regularly at the office, an increasingly common dynamic, especially at multi-national companies like IBM. The portal will inspire more personal exchanges than other communications tools such as e-mail, instant messaging or videoconferencing, believes the researcher.


Other companies, including Intel, have been experimenting with similar ideas. The chipmaker tested a visual business card system that allowed folks to include photos and mini-biographies with personal information along with such standard card items as title and office location.


Intel and IBM are among a number of companies trying out virtual environments, created either through proprietary software or via existing environments like Second Life. As I wrote last month, IBM is running Second Life servers behind its firewalls in one of the most ambitious tests to date of Second Life's business potential.


No surprise, the Intel engineer overseeing the company's virtual world initiatives says that young employees who grew up online will take the lead in advancing these kinds of technologies. She doesn't think that virtual environments or other technologies will ever completely replace personal contact, however. She says:

Instead of us going out and playing softball together, now we'll just go play an (online) game? I don't know how satisfying I would find that.

There is also no guarantee that these kinds of interactions actually boost productivity. Rather, it all comes down to how much colleagues trust each other, says an expert interviewed by the AP.