By Rachel Singh
In the 18 years since Smart Technologies introduced its first interactive whiteboard, the company has gone from market obscurity (this was before everyone and their grandmother had a PDA, remember) to impressive market reach (175 countries and counting). Want to book a meeting with a colleague in Malaysia? No problem. After an early hook-up with Intel Corp., Smart Technologies has gone from one interactive whiteboard to an ever-expanding line of hardware, software and services.
But like the education, private business and government offices at which their products are targeted, they needed to find a better way to collaborate: the headquarters were in seven buildings scattered across Calgary. The company recently moved into a new global HQ that gives new meaning to the word collaboration, with more than 90 conference rooms (including one-person rooms where you can make phone calls and a glass-walled dining hall that doubles as a large meeting space). They’ve also tweaked the metrics of your typical office. Most workplaces have 80 per cent private space and 20 per cent shared space. Smart Tech new digs up that ratio to 60/40.
Linda Thomas, the vice-president of marketing, deconstructs Smart’s Extreme Collaboration Room, which she calls a “living lab” to test how clients might use the space.
1. People can touch the board, write on it and share, store and email digital notes. The software recognizes the ink as a digital object, like a picture is in a Microsoft Word document. You walk up to that board – which could be projecting a diagram, chart, spreadsheet, anything really – pick up a pen and eraser from the pen tray and circle or cross out other people’s comments. The next time a person opens the document they’ll see your digital ink. You can also use your finger as a mouse to interact with the data.
2. A typical room has two interactive whiteboard systems with a board and projector that act as an integrated system. This room has eight of these systems. It’s great for any type of work situation where there is a lot of information and you want a visual of it all. It’s used heavily by our product development team.
3. Screen-sharing software lets you see thumbnails of all the eight screens at the same time. The information on that screen can be sent to any of the other screens in the room, or you can click on one screen to make it bigger and use it to navigate to others. It’s useful when you have a lot of information displayed at once.
4. The integrated projectors eliminate shadows so people can use the boards without interfering with the display.
5. I can look at the same screen in this room as someone looking at it in our Ottawa assembly facility in, honestly, 10 seconds. One of our customers had their Smart Boards on 24/7 and connected via video conferencing so that the team in the UK could see when people showed up and began working in their office in India. It creates a sense of teamwork by providing a closer in-person experience than talking on the telephone or flipping through PowerPoint presentation.
6. The absence of furniture encourages people to share their ideas at the board, walk around and talk to each other. Walking creates a more energizing environment than people sitting around a table staring at frames. We didn’t find it anywhere in formal research, it was something we thought, “You know what? This would be an interesting way to encourage collaboration.” U
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Writer Malwina Gudowska and photographer John Gaucher take a curated tour of Smart Technologies and three other companies that reimagine the office.