We've seen some ways that walking that "same bit of carpet" with a bunch of former strangers can be made not just bearable, but enjoyable. But more and more folks are working in entirely virtual ways, where the carpet is traded for an IM window. Jonathan Follett is president and chief creative officer at Hot Knife Design, a Web application development firm whose employees work in disparate locations and communicate on a day-to-day basis online. In this environment, any idea that your boss will be focused on when you're at work goes out the window; virtual culture "is more centered around the work, deliverables, and deadlines," he says.
But how do you get to actually know your coworkers beyond the work? Follett thinks that social networking plays a key role. "We get to know each other via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. There's a large amount of personal and professional information immediately available on these networks. If you're a virtual worker, you use these tools readily and easily. Contrast that with a physically co-located team that doesn't communicate well, and you can see how a virtual team might be able to quickly develop a culture."
In some ways, this is a geek's dream, and not just because it involves computers. To the more introverted -- and yes, I think that term applies to a lot of techies -- letting others get to know you via social networking sites allows you to control what information you share, and how you share it. Plus the indirect approach is a little easier for shy types. It might not occur to you to strike up a conversation with your boss about his musical tastes, but if you worked with Follett and saw on Pandora that he liked electronic dance music, that might inspire you to discuss it with him.
Of course, there's nothing quite like the energy of dealing with team members face to face, and Follett says that his team does meet at coffee shops and client sites regularly. But the culture of the workplace of the future will be defined more and more virtually from here on in. The question is, can we preserve the good in the process? As those fighting the good fight at LiveOps showed, that's always up to you to decide -- but you've got to work to do it.
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