Collaborating for your life

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

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

Stresses such as long commutes, daily meetings and family commitments have created additional pressure on people, meaning that many struggle over when to shut work off. The Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres (OACCAC) is one organization that has adopted collaborative technology to address this imbalance.

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

“A lot of collaboration is required all over the province. We can’t bring everybody into Toronto for meetings,” said Ken Sutcliffe, director of IT services for the OACCAC. “These half-day meetings often involve a night away and long journeys to get here.”

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

The OACCAC used such tools as Microsoft’s Live Meeting 2005 to help conduct meetings. One benefit of using Live Meeting, said Sutcliffe, is that it allowed him to instantly send presentation updates to all participants so that each person will have the same version.

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

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

However, Catherine Middleton, an associate professor at the school of information technology management at Ryerson University in Toronto, said that understanding the capabilities of these tools is essential.

Cecile Peterkin, a career and life coach for Cosmic Coaching Centre in Toronto, added that having to learn additional technology, such as collaborative tools, could be a barrier to get people to actually use them.

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

She said that collaborative technology, when used right, is an effective solution that can create a flexible work environment to help achieve some work-life balance.

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