Collaborating boosts work life balance

A recent Decima Research survey reported that more than half ofCanadians would spend more time with their family and friends ifthey had collaborative tools to reduce the amount of in-personmeetings they needed to attend.

The survey was commissioned by Microsoft Canada earlier thisyear. It also noted that 64 per cent of respondents who had usedcollaborative tools in the past believed they improved theiroverall work-life balance, with almost half adding that the toolsalso decreased their stress levels.

Stresses such as long commutes, daily meetings and familycommitments have created additional pressure on people, meaningthat many struggle over when to shut work off. The OntarioAssociation of Community Care Access Centres (OACCAC) is oneorganization that has adopted collaborative technology to addressthis imbalance.

One of its challenges was finding a way to make it easier forstaff in 42 community access care centres across the province toget together for regular meetings.

“A lot of collaboration is required all over the province. Wecan’t bring everybody into Toronto for meetings,” said KenSutcliffe, director of IT services for the OACCAC. “These half-daymeetings often involve a night away and long journeys to gethere.”

He added that it would cost the OACCAC about $500 per person tobring about 15 staff members to the meetings. “Any opportunity tooffset the cost of attending meetings and being an effectiveparticipant without leaving the home is important and leads to amore productive day for staff,” said Sutcliffe.

The OACCAC used such tools as Microsoft’s Live Meeting 2005 tohelp conduct meetings. One benefit of using Live Meeting, saidSutcliffe, is that it allowed him to instantly send presentationupdates to all participants so that each person will have the sameversion.

To help improve its meetings and further reduce face-to-facemeetings in the future, Sutcliffe hopes to use MicrosoftRoundtable, a device set to be released in 2007 that givesparticipants a panoramic view of the meeting room and also focusesin on the active speaker during a meeting.

Aisha Umar, senior director of unified communications forMicrosoft Canada Co., said a benefit of using tools like LiveCommunication Server 2005 and Office Communicator is that they candetect the attendance status of an employee, such as if they are onthe telephone, away from their desk or in a meeting. It can alsoadvise on the best method to reach them.

However, Catherine Middleton, an associate professor at theschool of information technology management at Ryerson Universityin Toronto, said that understanding the capabilities of these toolsis essential.

Cecile Peterkin, a career and life coach for Cosmic CoachingCentre in Toronto, added that having to learn additionaltechnology, such as collaborative tools, could be a barrier to getpeople to actually use them.

“How long is it going to take me to learn to use this in orderto make my life easier?” Peterkin said. “It is one more addedtechnology that I have to spend time to learn.”

She said that collaborative technology, when used right, is aneffective solution that can create a flexible work environment tohelp achieve some work-life balance.

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