While technology has enabled us to text, email, tweet and conference call, Tom Cheesewright asks if what we really need is more face time
The conference call. Urgh. They’re only ever fun for the wrong reasons (group discussions of weekend plans on company time) and they are rarely a productive use of time for anyone but the person speaking.
Email is close to collapse. Google recently introduced a filtered mailbox as standard, splitting newsletters and promos, from social updates, from the meaty stuff. Still I can barely keep up.
The basic tools of business communication are broken. If the workforce is to continue to transform, becoming increasingly flexible and mobile, then as managers we need new tools to ensure the lines of communication remain open and companies maintain their cohesion.
What's the problem?
As Phil Jones, MD of Brother, a company that makes heavy use of its own OmniJoin video conferencing system, said to me recently: “What people tend to forget is that different people have different styles of communication. Some absorb information best from listening, others from watching, others from reading. Old-school conference calls always failed to engage at least a proportion of the participants.”
Part of the problem is that the old forms of communication were never good enough. Now when we are all spoiled with a vast array of sophisticated consumer technology at home – technology that we are increasingly bringing to the office – the poverty of the old systems is brought more sharply into focus.
We need new means of communicating remotely that achieve three things:
Mobility: the means of communication must follow us wherever we go, and bring with them a level of robustness and security. Wherever we are, the tools must make the distance to our colleagues seem small.
Manageability: The content of our inboxes must be persistent, filtered and graded. It must be easy to scale conversations up to a group or even to public access, and down to an intimate one to one.
Individuality: In order to maximise productivity and engagement the tools must be tuneable to individual styles, with the content separated from its presentation.
I don’t think there is a single system out there yet that achieves all of these ends. But there are some interesting steps in the right direction.
Showing the way
Google+ remains a largely unloved social network, with the bulk of my friends and contacts remaining wedded to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But it is the closest means of communication yet to combine scalability with richness. On Google+ I can choose to share just about anything I want, including my screen or a live video feed. And I can share it with whoever I want, from a single contact up to the world, with plenty of discrete steps in between. Every piece of communication is persistent and, this being a Google product, searchable.
That is a step forward that may appeal to many companies. With Google attracting a lot of organisations both small and large to its low-cost and robust apps and email packages, Google+ may begin to take off from inside the business.
HulloMail is an app plus service package for your mobile that replicates Apple’s Visual Voicemail with a few interesting added features. Topmost of these in the top-end editions is the transcription of voicemails to text.
A number of companies have offered this service but when it’s integrated into your phone you can choose the right medium at the right point to consume the same content. That makes you realise the value of being able to choose between text and audio.
These things are already here today, and there’s some cool new technology just around the corner.
Video conferencing, Hollywood-style
Video conferencing has been pushed to us for many years but never really seems to have taken off. In 2011 Ovum estimated the business to be worth just £110m in the UK. Initially the problem was that systems were large and clunky, bound to a single, expensive board room in each base.
Then along came Skype and its corporate siblings and suddenly anyone could video conference easily from their desk. Prices came right down but still video didn’t become something you just did automatically, unless you worked for one of the companies pushing it. It’s never quite achieved the promise and the reality has been nothing like the science-fiction promise. Where are the 3D holograms?
Well they might not be as far off as you think. Check out this exclusive clip on my website from hologram pioneers Musion Systems and motion capture specialists Audiomotion Studios. What they’re showing isn’t video conferencing. But just imagine: your whole team in three dimensions in the same room, even when they’re in opposite corners of the world.
Wouldn’t that make your next conference call a bit more engaging?