Friction can be a good thing. We depend on friction many times a day as we live our lives and go about our work. Without friction your car might start but the rotating tire would never gain enough traction to leave the driveway. And if it did, your brakes wouldn’t work as the disk pads would have no effect on the spinning wheel. A shiny metal door knob would present a great challenge and might prevent you from leaving the house. And that pickle jar? Forget it!
In our collaboration efforts, however, friction is decidedly NOT a good thing. Here, it manifests itself as unnecessary manual steps which cause gaps, errors, delay and miscommunication. With enough friction, effective collaboration grinds to a halt resulting in poor performance and frustration. Mobility—the use of mobile technology to facilitate remote interactions in a seamless, effortless, anticipatory way—seeks to remove that friction. It does so, not by applying oil to the squeaky parts, but by eliminating them altogether.
Given alternative work arrangements, it is rare that all team members can be present to collaborate within the same physical space. Of course, email, web conferencing, and chat tools provide a means for virtual communication in various shades of “real time”. But how can mobility bring us closer to that co-located experience where the subtleties of human interaction, the hallway conversations, the impromptu whiteboard sessions enrich and streamline the collaboration process? Below are three areas to consider.
Start with the Basics
Our smartphones are always with us. They are small, connected devices with a myriad of capabilities that fit in our pockets, purses and backpacks. As loyal and faithful servants, they are waiting for us to put them to use.
Basic collaboration tools solve the immediate issue of how to engage someone who is not at a traditional work site. They include mobile versions of common desktop-based applications such as email, web conferencing and enterprise social media tools (Slack is one effective example). On a mobile device, these tools enable users to execute “micro moments” of collaboration—those necessary steps to keep the cogs of communication going regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. Having an effective Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy allowing access to corporate information assets on your personal phone will come in handy here.
To fully engage in web conferencing, there’s no longer a need to be tied to your desk. Remote conferencing tools like Zoom are available for small screens as well as large. The Zoom mobile app provides the ability to interact visually, share screens, co-annotate documents in real-time and communicate via instant message—all on your small, connected device.
Some of the most productive collaboration occurs during chance encounters at the coffee machine or as part of a quick huddle at someone’s desk. Of course, it’s not practical to schedule a web conference every time one of these ad hoc discussion takes place, but how can that brief interaction be captured for further dissemination to the entire team without the “friction” of having to reconstruct and document it? Even if you were meticulous in conveying the essence of your conversation, what underlying assumptions were discussed that might be flawed or require closer examination?
Again, your smartphone is at the ready. A mobile app called Otter Voice Notes can record your impromptu conversation, transcribe it into text, index it for searching and make it available for sharing all with the touch of a button. The transcription feature is not 100 percent, but it is amazingly close. The app can also identify and separate the transcription by the person speaking and synchronize the audio with the text, giving team members a fairly good reckoning of your coffee klatch conversation (minus the coffee). Of course, it can be used to record all meetings for later dissemination as well.
A lot of collaboration time is spent in meetings, often back-to-back, and they rarely end early and often end late. Inevitably, meetings get off to a rocky start as the meeting leader arrives late while remote users hold on the conference line. Add to that a remote presenter and the miscommunication of the meeting logistics information, and you have a waste of ten minutes multiplied by the number of attendees. In an even worse-case scenario, no one has the leader code.
Amazon’s Alexa for Business service offers voice-enabled office and conference room skills that remove the friction caused by the administrative hassles associated with audio and video conferencing, conference room management, workplace logistics, information retrieval and more. With proper setup and integration, you can ask Alexa to do everything from lowering the blinds to starting a video conference. With custom development, you can even ask her to retrieve the latest financials regarding the project you are working on.
Indeed, removing manual interactions through smart devices is the essence of eliminating friction in collaboration. Mobility and other transformative technologies have placed us on the doorstep of a new frontier that has already changed our expectations of what is possible. We must continue to seek practical ways to employ these technologies in a way that lets us engage each other freely and creatively as humans were wired to do, while minimizing the friction inherent in everyday business collaboration.