Flexiworkers craving social interaction

I like working from home.  I like where I live and to be honest, my home office environment is probably better equipped than the office.  Since I moved to a 30 minute commute distance away and to a nice house in the country, I've found myself working from here a lot more.  I do get a lot done when I'm at home and its particularly good if you need to think hard about something a bit more strategic, or write a document.  Even crunching email is easier from home. 

I've noted before how relational the new world of work is and after a few days of working from home I do start to go slightly nutty do to lack of social contact.  Social interaction is the oxygen we all need to enjoy work - and I'm not an extrovert on myers briggs either.  The technology that is changing my life is Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 and the upcoming Office Communication Server 2007 which Microsoft has now deployed even though they are not launched for a while yet.

The total convergence of instant messaging and the phone will create some new waves of flexible working.  It is one of those rare moments where I feel like I am living in the future, experiencing something that one day will be ubiquitous in the way we all work.  For me, instant messaging, and presence technology in general has transformed how effective I am when working remotely.  Waiting for email responses or leaving voicemail is a drain on the soul.  But now we move it to the next level, bringing voice and video to that experience.

imageThe new communicator client is slick, tidier than the old one and bursting with confident integration.  Nearly every feature has to do with convergence in communication.  We have new phones on our desks - sleek and black, with no numbers and no display.  They plug into your USB port and it is all driven by communicator. 

Being able to run video calls as easily as the phone changes the feeling of working from home completely.  Mark was saying that he noticed how much faster he gets through phone calls and how much more useful they are now because with video you are much less tempted to do other things while on the phone.  This tends to mean you focus on what is being said more and the interaction is more fruitful.  Also the visual cues you get by watching the other person mean you pick up on subtle messages you would otherwise miss.  It's also fun to work like this. 

We've got really conditioned to limiting the style of communication we have on the phone because its so familiar.  We don't find it annoying that we can't see if the other person is paying attention or if they seem OK today.  Chris was showing me the new camera he has just by holding it in front of the video link so I can see it - you just accept that these are discarded dimensions to phone conversations but now we need to relearn to use them again.

It can be hard to remember that you are not just on the phone but that you can be seen as well - this will undoubtedly create some good anecdotes - like the business call (not at Microsoft I should point out) where a naked husband was walking about in the background thinking his girlfriend was on the phone.  I'm sure there will be more fun stories. 

Since using OCS and Communicator 2007 I am astonished at how tolerant I've been all this time of the lack of integration between my PC, directory, contacts, email and my phone, instant messaging. Even with IM, I would look up a person, see if they were busy, look up their phone number in Outlook, type it into the phone, get their vmail, look up their mobile call that etc.  what a bore.  Now I start typing the name, it finds them from my personal contacts or the active directory and I hit call and it finds them wherever they are. You can even put a subject in for your phone call so that it pops up on their screen as they take the call.  And I can see them too.  It is hard to explain just how freeing this is but after a few days, it really feels revolutionary.

With the addition of video and voice to my IMs, I really feel as if I am in the office even though I'm not.  And with less commuting it's better for the planet too.