Some businesses really don't need a water cooler
The employees at Comfort Care Services, a provider of housing and rehabilitation services in the United Kingdom, are dispersed among 42 sites. They don't spend much time sitting in cubicles or conference rooms. They generally work on the go, and they're rarely together in one place. Yet somehow, the CCS staff manages to collaborate in ways that have not only improved the delivery of care, but also driven down costs.
CCS offers high quality housing for adults with learning disabilities, mental illness and other vulnerabilities in London, Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. With a workforce that typically connects to the main organization remotely, there are few opportunities for serendipitous aha! exchanges in hallways. But when I asked Gee Bafhtiar, who heads up IT at CCS, whether the organization's productivity suffers from a dearth of water cooler encounters, he was clear that it does not.
"Sure, that definitely happens sometimes--overhearing a colleague talking about something of interest; a chance conversation at the water cooler that reveals you're both working on a similar project," said Bafhtiar, whose also leads operations, training and properties at CCS. "We're aware of this so we have monthly face-to-face meetings at Comfort Care Services. Not only does everyone on the team get an update, it stops communication from being left up to a chance water cooler conversation."
With the right awareness and the right tools in place, he told me, CCS is communicating in a more structured way than it did in the past. New ideas leading to productivity gains and cost reduction are not left to serendipity. Teams can interact more efficiently, and that has helped reduce the costs of delivering services to clients.
The tools Bafhtiar wanted to talk about come from Workshare Ltd., the London-based provider of enterprise collaboration technology with a focus on security. Since deploying Workshare, CCS has cut approximately in half the amount of time it takes to turn around documents. The technology ensures that users know which version of a document they should be working on, and it enables them to put in comments both online and offline. This is particularly vital for teams working in the field.
CCS employees typically use their iPhones, Android phones or laptops, further complicating the challenges of remote collaboration. What's more, they communicate regularly not only with each other, but also with dozens of government agencies, health care providers and other organizations. And they're dealing with health care-related data to boot, meaning that security is of paramount importance. To deal with all of this, Bafhtiar deployed Workshare's mobile apps solution, which, among other things, enables CSS to render a device tamper proof if it is lost or stolen.
It goes without saying that there is no one-size-fits all template for workforces when it comes to collaborating remotely or collaborating in person. CCS's experience, though, offers an illustration of the gains that can come from equipping remote workers with the right tools and the right mindset. For more from Gee Bafhtiar on how CCS outfits its dispersed staff for maximum collaboration, take a look at my interview with him this week. - Caron