Remote Possibilities

07 May 2005|Darrel Rhea

Cheskin is big on collaboration, and we are always looking for new ways to enhance our communications. That’s why I took notice when the people who run Sun Labs showed off two of their new products to me at Sun Labs Day. Given that Sun has invested over $8 billion in research over the last 4 years on the coolest future technology, getting an invite to this small event is a privilege. To call their open house (held at the Computer History Museum) a “geek fest” is an understatement. I found myself in conversations about metacircularity, acoustic resonance spectrometry, and squawk technology. (It should go without saying that I understood nothing about these, but used the opportunity to refine my intelligent, sincere nod –- it’s all in the eyebrows.)

The first was “Office Central.” The goal of this system is to provide remote workers some of the social advantages that workers in a central location enjoy.

Imagine a lounge area with a large display. You walk into the space to hang out, your RFID tag senses your presence and logs you in, and you chat with coworkers or work on your own. You see any remote workers who are available to you on the display. This is essentially a hot spot you have entered either physically or virtually, an electronic water cooler. While drinking your coffee, you strike up a conversation and casually ask George if his company softball team is going to do better this year. Your conversation sounds like you are in a room together as the system has very high quality audio and video. It actually works pretty well; the high fidelity sound makes a tangible difference in your feelings of really being present. There are numerous features that enhance the experience beyond my simple description.

The second one was “Meeting Central.” This system was designed to enhance the experience of remote workers for meetings. Most of us have spent days on conference calls and find it no fun. Being remote is never as good as being in the room. This system cleverly recreates some of the same advantages for the remote participants by using an innovative high fidelity voice over IP (VoIP) platform in combination with a web-based program. Little things like raising your hand to get the room’s attention, or being able to whisper to another person in the meeting, can now be done on your conference call. Each individual feature is nice though not overwhelming, but they add up to a dramatically better experience that should foster collaboration. Given that your next boss or team might be in Shanghai, Bangalore, St. Petersburg or Prague – that could be a good thing.

In contrast, Cheskin has set up a crude webcam for our offices, but it isn’t going to be quite as satisfying as these cool new products. There’s a ‘remote’ chance that we’ll beta the system, much like we Alpha tested the Herman Miller’s Resolve office systems.

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