Unless you’re on the engineering team of a start-up that consistently rewards challenging the status quo, you’ve probably more often had your collaboration and innovation stifled. The leadership of your organization may understand that getting new solutions to market quickly is required for success – or even survival, in some cases. But once a company is established, it’s much easier for a risk-averse c-suite to incrementally evolve a solution portfolio, than upheave it. So how to you get executive buy-in for your next big idea?
An article in Strategy + Business by David Clarke, PwC’s global chief experience officer, presents a newer approach to encourage teams to be more creative with their collaboration efforts. This approach calls for work environments to implement conceptual “sandboxes” that can eliminate organizational silos and allow workers to understand each other better.
“Part product development, part project management, the sandbox approach enables all parts of your workforce to visualize the journey from conception to prototype in one continuous, seamless environment. This style matches how digital natives work, comports to how they collaborate, and fosters the next generation of creativity.”
Of course, the article doesn’t suggest companies build wooden frames and fill them with sand (we’re not talking about startups here, remember?). Instead, the sandbox is “an apt metaphor for the type of collaboration and interaction that should take place in the open, communal office spaces, virtual meetings, management retreats, and other places where we work now.”
Similar to how a good sandbox is built, there are key features that must be incorporated into well-run collaboration. These features include having connectors, which are individuals who can see the big picture, and bring people in throughout the organization to achieve its goals.
The framing of the sandbox is also a critical element. In the business context, designers of the sandbox must construct a virtual and conceptual framework that sets the proper context to resolve business issues.
Speed also plays a critical role in the sandbox approach as this method provides a “holistic vision of the product roadmap, allowing organizations to move at the speed of tech.”
And then there is the space component in which employees need to see and feel like they operating in an environment that supports collaboration to drive innovation.
“When companies replace meetings and phone calls with an environment in which employees can actually participate in how their colleagues work, employees broaden their understanding and acceptance of different individuals’ skills.”
Implementing a conceptual sandbox within the office can definitely help bring teams into a comfortable environment to enhance collaboration and drive innovation. But what about for the teams who are spread across the globe? Or in an organization that has recruited top talent with the benefit of working from home, when needed? In particular, how can engineering teams efficiently and effectively collaborate, enjoying the benefits of the conceptual sandbox, even when team members can’t get to a central, physical space?
One solution is to implement an “always on” video conferencing function. Implementing this feature can help foster on-the-spot collaboration without the need to book a room and schedule a video conferencing meeting.
Within some companies, for instance, globally dispersed engineers can dial into a virtual meeting room (VMR) during sprints in the development process, and leave the line open while they work. When someone hits a snag, he or she can look across the room – and perhaps across the world, via video conferencing – and say, “Hey, have you ever run into this problem? How did you work around it?”
There are benefits to this use of video conferencing, even if the question posed is, “Did you catch the last episode of Game of Thrones?” Countless studies have shown the benefits of taking breaks at work and the casual conversations build camaraderie, empathy, and helps remove a sense of isolation for remote teams.
While there may be apprehension to always being on video by some team members, there are tools on some platforms teams can utilize that can help avoid this feeling and be connected to the sandbox.
At Foursquare, the local search and discovery mobile-app, employees use the “portal idea” in which they set up a video conference session on a tablet, monitor or big-screen TV and leave it running all day. Team members can quickly communicate between their east and west coast offices simply by walking up to the screen and talking.
They call their solution “the portal” and many conversations have started with a quick IM saying, “Meet you at the portal?” They walk up to the video conferencing solution and just start talking – no scheduling a meeting, no booking a room, no numbers to dial. It’s as simple as popping your head over the cube wall.
If engineers are apprehensive about their conversations always being heard on the far side of the video conference, a solution like Acoustic Fence ensures that only the voice that is within the “fence” is heard by the people on the other end of the call. Acoustic Fence also eliminates the distraction of constant ambient noise coming out of the speakers.
You can also shake apprehension by putting video conferencing on a device they already use to visually connect in their personal lives. If engineers connect with long-distance family over Skype, extending your Skype for Business deployment to support video on tablets and smartphones (versus a wall-mounted video conferencing solution) can increase adoption.
Or look for non-traditional ways to bring video into the office to diminish preconceptions. A RealPresence Centro in the middle of an open workspace, surrounded by inviting couches removes the formality traditionally associated with video conferencing. The location and layout encourages utilization while the unique design (i.e. monitors in the center of the space) makes sandbox conversations very natural.
Unless you’re one of the fortunate few that works for an organization that consistently rewards big ideas and disruptive innovation, creating a sandbox generates a low-risk space to innovate with fellow engineers and the executives that need to buy into the ideas and concepts you’re designing. When you enable the sandbox with video conferencing you connect experts with minimal friction, facilitate collaboration and build connections regardless of their office location, expanding the sandbox’s effect and helping your organization move faster and be more innovative.