SharePoint 2010 includes People Search, a method of finding people having certain expertise or knowledge within your organization. By default, the keyword-driven results are sorted by "social distance" (although less important in a smaller organization, it's still a consideration) as well as common interests. For example, if you conduct a search for "Spanish," you should be able to find someone at your level at your company who speaks the language -- and see by their presence status indicator whether they're available to answer a question you may have. As with any IT solution, People Search only as valuable as the underlying data, and it won't live up to its potential unless people fill out profiles with up-to-date skills, competencies and interests.
-- Communications without clutter. Email has its advantages, among them the ability to reply to an email with another email. But the proliferation of email creates new problems, and busy professionals struggle daily with the chore of sorting through hundreds of incoming emails. Outlook 2010 has several ways to help you to manage your inbox, including "Conversation View," which groups related posts into a single line; the "Ignore" button, to keep discussions that are completely irrelevant to you from reaching your inbox; and "MailTips," a feature of Exchange 2010 that warns people when they're about to commit an email faux pas such as clicking "Reply All" in response to a BCC:, or emailing an overly-large group. Also, MailTips tells you when your addressee has an "on holiday" auto-reply, so that you don't waste time sending someone a detailed message that they won't read for over a week.
-- Easy alternatives to email. Presence status indicators also help to reduce the time spent processing email. Often, a VoIP call or text chat is a quicker way to issue resolution than an email. The Outlook 2010 interface makes emailing, IM chats and voice calls equally accessible. When responding to an email message mail, you should be making conscious choice as to the best communications method through which to reply. For matters that are time-sensitive, discussion-oriented or best suited for a personal conversation, the best choice might be a text chat, audio call or video chat. By enabling people to make the right choices, you can foster lower email handling times, increased productivity and stronger working relationships between your employees.
Collaboration and virtual presence in Office 2010 are powerful tools with the potential to drive real business value. However, absent a clear-eyed awareness of the organizational and cultural challenges, those same features can also lead to difficulties in the workplace. For example, if you try to implement document co-authoring without treating it as a project to be managed, it'll soon become unmanageable. And if you build IM and social networking into every productivity application without instituting reasonable use policies, don't be surprised if back-channel chatter consumes whatever time savings were achieved from a smaller inbox.
However, the benefits of collaboration and virtual presence far outweigh the potential pitfalls. As with any new technology, take your Office 2010 rollout one step at a time. Think through the benefits and use cases, set reasonable policies, give people the training they need to understand how best to work with the technology, and seek out feedback from your employees and co-workers on what would help them to do their jobs better.
The potential prize: A team-focused organization having a healthy balance of internal cohesiveness, external connectedness, and overall productivity.