Creating The Office Of The Future

The office of the future has much to learn from the hospitals of today with cutting-edge video technology not only saving lives, but also saving money


Evelina London Hospital, which treats 100,000 sick children a year, including 6,000 with heart problems, has set the standard for its use of collaborative technology in treating patients.

 Commercial businesses, although not dealing with the hospital’s life-threatening issues, can identify with the need to handle high levels of customer queries quickly and efficiently. They can learn from their counterparts in healthcare to adopt and employ collaborative technologies to keep their customers satisfied.

A key diagnosis tool in cardiac surgery is the echocardiogram. It uses ultrasound to produce moving, real-time images of the heart, revealing the structure of the organ and how well it is functioning.

Evelina London uses video collaboration to enable cardiologist consultants to examine diagnostic-quality scans during operations without having to be in the surgery room. Images are beamed to one of several review stations within the hospital. Consultants use the video link to confer with the surgical team.

Dr John Simpson, professor of children’s cardiology at Evelina London, explains: “In our practice to date, if a senior cardiologist is required for real-time review of intraoperative scan images, then the on-service consultant needs to scrub, change into theatre clothing and view the scan images in the operating theatre. This takes around 90 minutes and may compete with other clinical commitments on the ward, intensive care unit or talking to parents.”

The new method, provided by Philips Ultrasound combined with a Polycom RealPresence Group Series solution, cuts review time to five minutes. The hospital calculates 1,300 hours a year are saved in surgeon and consultant time.

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It is a perfect example of how the right collaboration tools can transform productivity. In Liverpool, Alder Hey Hospital has its own challenge. It serves children across the region. Many live with chronic conditions needing regular attention from medical staff. So in 2013 the hospital embraced telemedicine.

“We often find that when dealing with children and families, you can’t just do the consultation with one person on the other end of a mobile phone,” says Dr Ram Kumar, a paediatric neurologist at Alder Hey. “There may be a father, a mother, grandparents or a teenager you need to talk to directly; you are essentially in a conference.”

Video means the doctors and nurses can talk to a patient and their family directly, but without the need to travel. On one occasion, Dr Kumar was able to make a remote diagnosis to save

the vision of a child. “I was able to give the proper advice without admitting her to Alder Hey,” he says, adding that telemedicine is now an essential part of the medical toolkit for staff at Alder Hey. “Telemedicine has allowed us to improve the speed at which a valid assessment of the child can be performed.”

These two hospitals adopted remote working by necessity. A body of evidence shows that businesses are also benefiting by using similar technology. But there is some way to go.

A poll across the UK, France, Germany and Russia shows two thirds of business leaders believe flexible working has a bigger impact than cutting operation costs. Investing in more efficient processes beats retrenching.

Companies that use video to improve their workflow have a huge advantage over those that don’t

And what are the key technologies? No one would dream of trying to work without e-mail or telephone, but how about video? More than half of business leaders expect video to be their preferred collaboration tool by 2016. Even emerging technologies such as the Apple Watch have big potential. A recent survey revealed 56 per cent of people would use wearable technology if they believed it would improve their productivity.

Employees want to use the new tools. More than three quarters of millennials, born between the early-1980s and early-2000s, says access to the technology they like to use makes them more effective at work. A quarter of all employees would be willing to take a lower salary in return for flexible working. The appetite from staff is there. And the benefits are clear.

TIME TO CHANGE

As Evelina London and Alder Hey hospitals show, using collaboration tools means rethinking the way work is done. This revolution will stretch across the entire enterprise.

“Companies are realising what video can be used for,” says Marco Landi, Europe, Middle East and Africa president of Polycom, the global leader in collaboration technologies. “We help doctors save lives, educators teach students, governments operate more efficiently, managers mentor their colleagues, executives connect with their teams and product teams bring innovation to market faster.

“Companies that use video to improve their workflow have a huge advantage over those that don’t.”

The rise of new work practices means offices will change. “Google, Microsoft and Apple are already designing new offices which challenge the way people look at space,” observes Mr Landi. “They have open space with no cubicles. You don’t need to trap people behind a desk when they can work from anywhere.”

There is a dark note. The distance between market leaders such as Google and Apple and companies stuck in the pre-internet era is stark. In the UK, just 13 per cent of companies actively encourage people to work anywhere on any device, one of the lowest take-ups in the world. We are behind Russia, India and China. In the United States, half of workers are given the authority and tools to work flexibly.

To catch up, companies need the right solutions. “A chief executive has higher requirements than a consumer for video,” says Mr Landi. “They need a secure connection. Better picture quality. And stability. You can’t talk to clients and cut them off mid-deal.”

Simple interfaces will help tech-shy staff make the most of new tools. “If you give people the ability to make a video call with one click, and the interface is the same across PC, tablet and mobile, usage will increase. This is a crucial consideration,” he says.

The workplace of the future will liberate staff to engage with whomever they need, on whatever device they want. “I live this lifestyle,” says Mr Landi. “I work in airport lounges, in client’s offices, at home in the English countryside or at the Polycom office in London. When I go to Scandinavia I see workplaces designed around this flexible thinking. They are true minimalists. So beautiful. The staff love it and their productivity reflects this.”

When Polycom was founded 25 years ago, the office of the future was a subject for speculation. Today, the debate has shifted to how best to implement the very best of collaboration tools for all firms, not just the market leaders.

The office of the future is within our grasp. We just need to make it a reality.

www.polycom.co.uk