Chris Hadfield, the ultimate remote worker

The Canadian astronaut took on every means of communication available to him during his five-month stint at the helm of the International Space Station. Unified communications and collaborations just got a role model

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We tend to think of our astronauts as some kind of solitary explorers, as though they were the intergalactic successors to the pioneers who first braved uncharted territory in Canada’s earliest days. At the risk of putting words in his mouth, however, I think Chris Hadfield would be the first to say he would be nowhere without a considerable team supporting him.

Now that the 53-year-old space veteran has returned from a five-month stint commanding the International Space Station, there will probably be plenty of opportunities for him to speak at events, be interviewed on television or otherwise engage with the public up-close. While he was in orbit, however, Hadfield demonstrated the surprising range of possibilities around long-distance communication, which were extraordinary not because they were the stuff of science-fiction but reflected the increasingly diverse collaboration tools available in everyday life.

Like all astronauts, Hadfield and his team’s primary link from the International Space Station (ISS) and Earth was through satellite radios, a system that suffered a brief outage a few months ago due to some IT system problems. But Hadfield didn’t rely on that. He became an avid user of social media like Twitter. He was a huge proponent of video updates to everyone from colleagues to schoolchildren. He even experimented with amateur radio.  And when he wasn’t entertaining audiences literally around the world, Hadfield and his team were no doubt writing reports stored and distributed electronically on an ongoing basis.

As much as Hadfield’s mission was about being far away from home, in other words, it was just as important to stay connected to Earth at all times, in all possible ways, and to use a variety of methods to convey information. The fact he seemed to delight in the range of possibilities open to him – and accessible to everyday people – just made him more like a kind of coworker or friend than a distant hero. This is, in many ways, what telecommuting, unified communications and collaboration should ideally look like.

Today’s businesses can do much better than amateur radio and Twitter to link remote workers with corporate headquarters or branch offices. Yes, they have videoconferencing and e-mail, but also IP telephony and, eventually, more social business capabilities at a price point the Canadian Space Agency and NASA would envy. Sometime the adoption of those tools can seem like a burden. How much better to be more like a Chris Hadfield, who seemed to think the whole thing was a blast.

Get down-to-Earth advice by downloading the Enterprise Collaboration eBook: A How-To Guide To Unified Communications, from Allstream.

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