Web Crossing's Online Office Community
The staff at Web Crossing, Inc. practice what they preach, and what they're preaching is how easy digital content advancements have made it to interact with others from the comfort of your PC (and your pajamas). Since today's workers are used to posting online dating profiles, personal blogs, and chat rooms from their home, it made sense to Web Crossing that the same tools could be used to increase office communication (instead of just distracting from it).
Web Crossing makes a line of products that give companies the tools to build their own interactive digital community from the ground up. WebCrossing Core provides the platform for a multidomain web page server, chat and email hosting, FTP and network servers, and even an add-on wiki creator. WebCrossing Community hosts message boards and chat communities, and the company's latest product, WebCrossing Neighbors, allows companies to create their own social networks, including space for personal pages, chat, individual blogs, and searching. Since its launch in 1986, Web Crossing has acquired hundreds of clients and now serves 15 million web pages every day. "We serve a mix of traditional online communities, support areas, and education uses," says Tim Lundeen, company founder and CEO. Whether outfitting CEOs with their own blogs or embedding lecture podcasts into academic sites, the tools are designed to foster senses of community and collaboration, which in turn can build brand loyalty, attract users, and make the end product richer.
The Web Crossing team knows firsthand how its technology can build functional communities. Employees at this small company are based from Boston to Tokyo, and few have met every coworker face-to-face. The Web Crossing office in downtown San Francisco consists of a receptionist, some potted plants, and a conference room that is used for the occasional sit-down. For the most part, the action happens online, where workers come together via beta versions of the company's software. They're not just testers; they're users—and fixing a broken link or button that doesn't function is just part of the day's work.
Web Crossing keeps the public out of its virtual office. Inside the walls, however, it's a blend of all-business blog posts and personally maintained individual pages (created during tests for WebCrossing Neighbor). They might be miles apart, but workers still get to throw a little bit of their personalities up on the walls of their cybercubicles. According to Jim Bert, VP of business development, "Employees are encouraged to talk about any subject or personal experience, work-related or not."
Even though emails and teleconferencing are still a part of the daily grind, most employees find that their own collaboration tools do the job with greater efficiency and effectiveness: "When I have something to discuss, I start a discussion. When I have something to report, I write a blog entry," says Naomi Pearce, Web Crossing's public relations manager. As reports come in, they are posted to the site for easy reference. Screenshots of new features are added as they come in, and feedback is invited through comment sections. "As a way to connect to customers," Lundeen says, "online communities are essential." Web Crossing is designing the tools that businesses need to make those communities a welcoming and easy-to-navigate place for their members—and, along the way, its own employees. There might not be a water cooler to stand around, but the virtual conversation can be even more refreshing.
What Workers Want
Since computers first took offices by storm, workers have been inching away from pens and paper and toward a more collaborative, informed, and enabled workplace. With the impact of digital content exploding across nearly every industry, it's gotten to be more like a stampede, as organizations outfit staff with the tools they need to adapt.
Employees feel more connected than ever to their workplace technology. Tools that foster collaboration and improve visualization of digital assets gathered some of the strongest feedback among the case studies. As Skip Walter from Attenex notes, "The wonderful challenge of the next five years in integrating the creation and management of sounds and images with the existing office applications for text and numbers." As computers go beyond being mere data portals, workers are starting to view them as means to even greater interactivity, whether it's with the content, the client, or the cubicle next door—wherever that next door might be.