People often get requests to meet for a collaboration session, with video, as team members are scattered across the country. Collaborating on projects and activities is no longer just a “nice” to do—it’s an expectation. My colleagues don’t just text me anymore, they FaceTime me, or send me a Google video chat. Collaboration tools therefore, regardless of platform or vendor—have become ubiquitous across the tech market, with new entrants coming online every week. Our demand for access and the ability to collaborate exists in both our public and private lives, and drives the ever expanding tool market.
"Our demand for access and the ability to collaborate exists in both our public and private lives, and drives the ever expanding tool market"
Simultaneously, we are trying to fit our ever more complex schedules into a measly 24 hour day. To do all we want, where, when, and how we want, we crave mobile devices that support our expectations of what ‘should’ be. Couple these desires and needs with the expectation for maintaining near 26 constant connection and it's easy to see how both mobility and a collaboration tool movement were born and how it’s very likely we will never move away from this way of living.
I think back to my first job, in the days of communicating via phone, fax, or face-to-face, much of our workforce was collocated in two adjoining buildings, but we had an extensive network of vendors and suppliers across the globe. At that time, the most advanced communication tool we had for our overseas offices was to send a telex, where messages were sent over long distances by using a telephone system and then printed by using a special machine. These communications were created throughout the workday, batched at the day’s end, and sent out overnight. All communication was at least one day behind, impacting decisions, operations and, ultimately, the bottom line.
I’m struck by what I could do early in my career versus today. To communicate with colleagues, I had to be onsite in one of our office locations and in order to collaborate, had to call them all into a room where we could physically meet. For those overseas, I had no chance to truly work hand-in-hand with them, unless I was to get on a plane and travel to their location, which was not an option available to me as a production assistant. Today, I’m accessible nearly 100 percent of the time to my clients, my family, my team, my friends.
I am accessible and productive. Through Google drive, I can view, edit, and comment on documents or solutions from my phone, laptop, or tablet, whether I’m sitting next in the room with my team or not. I have the ability to share ideas when I have them, reaching out and requesting input in real-time. And, I have the confidence that I’ll quickly receive the answers I’m requesting because everyone in my communities (family, teams and clients) has also embraced the mobility trend. Colleagues and friends across the world are available to me via Skype. At a conference, I share via Twitter or Instagram what I find most important.
There is much we have gained with the evolution of mobile devices and collaborative tools; but sometimes I wonder— what is the price we may be paying for being a part of this revolution? What’s the cost to my family when I check my phone at the coffee shop? How does it impact my teammate when he’s working with me on a task and I’m also trying to respond to a client email? What’s the price I’m paying personally for allowing myself to always be available?
The flip side is, of course, what am I willing to give up? I sometimes work from home—would I forfeit this and return to a full-time onsite role? If I can’t take a moment to respond to an urgent request from a client, do I instead leave a working session with a teammate to travel to the client site? Of course, human nature is such that we don’t really like to give things up, once we have them. I cannot see myself returning to the days of being available only from 9-5, sitting in one location, not posting ideas/pictures/thoughts and eagerly awaiting (and receiving) feedback. I have to learn to navigate the new environment, place boundaries on myself, and know when is the right time to use the tools I’ve developed or to which I have access—just because I “can” doesn’t mean I “should” (or to put it another way, every problem I face shouldn’t be solved with the mobility hammer). Face-to-face meetings are still best for certain situations; some individuals need the time to think over ideas and not be forced to immediately respond via chat to my newest brilliant thought.
So, what do I do? At the coffee shop with my family, I pay for my latte and we grab a table outside the shop. I glance at my phone one last time and I put it away. Will I check it the next time it pings? Of course! Will I do so in the middle of a story my child is telling me? I hope not. Will I continue to try to evolve and navigate these waters? Definitely! And, will I be ready to adopt the latest trend (wearable technology perhaps)? Absolutely!