The benefit of a 'virtual window'
It's 9 o'clock on a Saturday morning. I start my computer and launch the Skype app. I create a video call with two of my buddies and then get breakfast.
Suddenly I hear: "Hey Jeremy, you there?".
I pause my breakfast, go to my computer and I see Kevin, I wave to him and say "yeah, I'm just finishing breakfast, I'll be there in a minute".
Kevin nods, "OK, I'll continue with finishing up my scenario".
I go finish my breakfast and then join Kevin on my computer.
The above could easily have been a morning at one of our clients.
These days, more and more companies work with off-shore people and one of the difficulties they face are with getting a connection with their off-shore partners. We have Skype/Lync, Slack, Jabber, email, phone and many other tools to get in touch with off-shore colleagues. But we notice that it's not the same as face to face communication.
There seems to be a hurdle to keep in touch with them. We don't see their emotions, we don't know what their working space looks like. They are just a name on the screen, not a physical person with emotions and such.
In my introduction I was talking from my experience in working with my buddies on the same project, but each of us stays at home.
A couple of months ago we didn't work like that, we scheduled in person meetings and those were infrequent as we had to take into account travel time and that most of us would need to work the next day.
So we experimented with setting up a virtual window. And you know what? It works awesomely! We noticed that we could just do our work, but whenever we needed to get some feedback or brainstorm, the others were just a shout away: "Hey Kevin, can I check something with you?"
We combine the virtual window with Google Docs, so my buddies can see what I'm working on. So you can easily say, "If you look at doc X you'll see where I'm stuck. Do you have any ideas that might help me?"
So this leads me back to my experience at a former client. I've had numerous chats with the people there that we needed a virtual window to the off-shore colleagues. But it was always met with excuses: too expensive, too complex, no place to put the monitor, ...
But my personal experience leads me to believe that it can actually be done at no higher cost than one laptop at both ends. Each team has one extra 'team laptop' and uses that to set up the video call (using whatever video conference app that is allowed within the company). The gain will be huge.
Teams will be able to hold meetings together, they'll be able to quickly get help without having to start a call, chat or whatever. They'll just turn to the window, wave and shout and soon one of their colleagues will be present to have a chat.
All the above was actually triggered by the setup at my current client. Each team has a 55" screen linked to a team laptop and it's frequently used here to communicate with off-site colleagues. There's also a special setup continuously linked to their other office, so any colleague there is a quick shout away.
So they showed me that it is possible. And when I combine that with my personal experience these last few months I say nothing else than GO FOR IT.
If it needs to be super cheap, test it out with only two colleagues using the laptop they already have and check on the results. It will bring teams closer together and remove a big disadvantage of working with off-site colleagues.