MyUnity: Presence and Awareness in the Workplace

Modern office work practices increasingly breach traditional boundaries of time and place, making it difficult to interact with colleagues. To address these problems, we developed myUnity, a software and sensor platform that enables rich workplace awareness and coordination. MyUnity is an integrated platform that collects information from a set of independent sensors and external data aggregators to report user location, availability, tasks, and communication channels. MyUnity's sensing architecture is component-based, allowing channels of awareness information to be added, updated, or removed at any time. Our current system includes a variety of sensor and data input, including camera-based activity classification, wireless location trilateration, and network activity monitoring. These and other input channels are combined and composited into a single, high-level presence state. Early studies of a myUnity deployment have demonstrated that use of the platform allows quick access to core awareness information and show it has become a useful tool supporting communication and collaboration in the modern workplace.

The heart of the MyUnity experiance for users is the client dashboard. The dashboard provide users with quick access to key pieces of awareness information, including a person’s presence information, approximate location, current status message, and links to phone numbers, IM, and email. Users can independently select which information is reported on their behalf. In addition, myUnity provides facilities that assist in coordinating communication with peers. For example, clicking on a link launches the appropriate interface to directly communicate over that channel. Only those channels enabled by the recipient can be selected.

The dashboard features an array of tiles, each representing an individual in the organization. The tile’s border and/or background color reflects the individual’s current presence state:

  • Green, physically in office, alone
  • Purple, in office with at least one other person
  • Yellow in office building, but not in office
  • Blue, using computer from remote location (not office)
  • Orange, not in office building (if person is using mobile client)
  • Grey, system has no current information

Mobile clients provide the same awareness and communication options as the desktop client. This enables our users to stay in touch with co-workers while they are away from the office. At the same time, the mobile clients can provide information about the user’s location and, in the Android client, the call status. The mobile clients use a background service to periodically determine location and then upload it to the server.

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