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Cross-Border Collaboration and European Union Expansion

One of the greatest challenges in the workplace is getting people to work together productively.  While this sounds simple, it is most assuredly not.  When one introduces new countries and markets into the picture, the complexity increases in geometric proportion.  Technology plays a critical role in facilitating communication and collaboration, but the challenge is for companies to find the right set of technology platforms and organizational guidelines to enable the business to work most effectively.

In order for companies to be successful in the knowledge economy, given the challenges of today's work environment, it is necessary to change the rules.  

Exactly two years ago, on 1 May 2004, the European Union expanded eastward, shifting from a tight-knit club-like association of 15 countries, centered around France and Germany, to an assemblage of 25 countries representing 455 million people whose outlook on many issues, including wealth and business, varies greatly.

To say that all 25 countries have concerns about the future is an understatement.  Many of the existing countries' citizenry, already facing economic stagnation, continue to worry about unemployment, immigration and national identity.Citizens in the new member countries are concerned about economic inequities that still exist among member countries, such as wealthier countries not permitting citizens from new member countries to work within their borders for the first few years.  The EU has always had disparities of wealth and resources; to correct them, it has over a period of decades transferred wealth from richer countries, such as Germany and Luxembourg, to poorer ones, such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland.  But never before has the EU seen the likes of the economic malaise found in the East, from rural Poland to the Baltic countryside, within its borders.

As the EU expands its borders in a quest for prosperity and power, hundreds of thousands of people may find themselves not invited to the party, their situation a result of decades of Communist-ruled state control and command economies.  During the industrial age, output, rather than outcome, was a key measure of success.  Today, economies are increasingly based on knowledge, although we still manage them as if we were in a purely industrial economy.  Although finding a better way of doing things has always been a virtual guarantee of long-term growth and success; what is different in the information age is that a growing portion of production is now in the form of intangibles.  This can be referred to as the weightless economy, which consists of three elements:

1.) Information and communications technologies such as the Internet.
2.) Intellectual property, ranging from patents and trademarks to consulting and professional services.
3.) Information stores such as libraries and online databases, both online and off.

In contrast to the more established states in the EU, where a weightless economy has taken hold, the economies in the newer states are not nearly as far along.  The percentage of knowledge workers in the general population in the EU has been estimated to be between 30 and 50% (this depends on whom one counts as a knowledge worker, which is a subject beyond the scope of this text).  In the new states, the percentage of knowledge workers is between 5 and 10%.

Next week, we'll look at some of the challenges companies in the EU are facing.

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