The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

Steve Wylie, Contributor

February 9, 2009

3 Min Read

In 2006 there were 750 million virtual workers globally. By 2011 that number is expected to reach 1billion people and roughly 3/4 of the U.S. workforce. Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, Chief Executive Officer of Virtual Distance International sited those numbers during a recent BusinessWeek webcast that also featured Enterprise 2.0 Conference adviser and NetAge CEO, Jessica Lipnack. The webcast topic: "Boosting Productivity through Virtual Collaboration" is something Jessica covers extensively at NetAge and is a huge theme for us at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

It''s no surprise to see the use of virtual technologies increasing, especially during difficult times where companies are desperate to cut costs. In fact, BusinessWeek conducted a live poll during the webcast and found that 48% of the audience were already using virtual collaboration daily while 32% used it weekly and 10% monthly. Certainly "virtual collaboration" can be defined pretty broadly to include everything from the company wiki to a conference bridge but the point remains that what was already an increasing trend in business will be accelerated by our current economic woes.

Using the example of virtual meetings, Jessica points out that besides the economic drivers, virtual meetings are simply more productive than live meetings. With virtual meetings, participants can get to the information they need at any time. This access to information provides a context to virtual meetings that is difficult to achieve with face-to-face meetings.

I''m also drinking the virtual meeting kool aid these days and have adopted virtual meetings for my bi-weekly project team meetings . Our group now meets using a conference bridge and simple desktop sharing application called Yuuguu. I started doing virtual meetings a couple months back because our team is geographically dispersed and found it difficult to follow the conference room conversation when dialing in from remote locations. Moving the meeting entirely to the phone meant everyone could hear what was going on and participate in the meeting. Additionally our team meetings are now more efficient because we can pull up and disseminate information on demand using the desktop sharing application. Want to see the design mock ups we''re about to launch or review a budget spreadsheet? I can can bring them into the shared desktop for all to see. There are no more paper handouts or cumbersome screen projectors to deal with which I consider a big step in the right direction.

While virtual meetings are great, both Karen and Jessica point out that there''s risk in leaning too heavily on technology to replace real person-to-person interaction. Karen calls this "Virtual Distance TM" which she defines as: "...the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and coordination is not face to face. Virtual Distance can exist regardless of whether people are separated by millimeters, miles or continental masses." While using technology to communicate and collaborate is fantastic, the speakers point out that it is also important to establish face-to-face communication from time to time.

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