With a Little Help From My Friends...
Today I want to talk a little bit about productivity tools and my recent epiphany. Don't worry; I'll leave my non-secular discussions for different forum. But, full disclosure time; I used to think that instant messaging (IM) was fine for most people, but I thought I could live without it.
When I partnered with Telework Exchange, one of my new colleagues mentioned that IM was used often among the team and it was almost the easiest way to reach someone for a quick question. Now, I love me some e-mail and I don't consider myself a Luddite in any way, shape, or form. If anything, I am a bleeding edge early adopter. I didn't understand the need for IM in a professional setting (I've used it on Facebook, but just as often send an e-mail). IM, it seemed to me, was like texting - something you did because you didn't have access to your email or didn't want the permanent record. But, since I was the new kid on the block, I thought why not, I'll give it a whirl.
One of the big complaints we hear from people who oppose telework is that you can't get the kind of collaboration without having the team in the same room or building. What I didn't realize until recently, was that is exactly what chat does. It puts you all in the room together. Now, of course it's not as good as being there, or the Avatar-like quality of the high-end video teleconference solutions, but it's not bad. Not bad at all.
My epiphany came the other day at 10 a.m., in the middle of Terminal N, at Sea-Tac Airport. I went to the airport a little early because I had a planning teleconference with one of our keynote speakers for the recent Telework Exchange Town Hall Meeting. I planned to get through security, get to my gate, find a nice quiet corner, and dial into the call. Well, I love the Port of Seattle folks and they do a great job at running Sea-Tac, but if there is a quiet corner of Terminal N, I couldn't find it. Realizing that I was going to be that really annoying guy on the call who brings all the crosstalk and static when others are trying to hear, I shot a quick IM to my colleague Cindy and the conversation went something like:
Josh:Hey, I'm dialed in but way too much ambient noise to talk. Will stay on mute
Will you be my mouthpiece?
Cindy:Yes, just feed me what you'd like to say.
At this point, the keynote came on and we were all connected on the phone. Of course, I am on mute. So just as I hit the mic button to say "hi," instead they hear, "now boarding for the flight to Walla Walla". Now everyone knows its last call for eastern Washington, but not that I am on the call.
For the next hour, we had a very collaborative and effective meeting with all six of us in different locations. But since I couldn't "talk" I just sent IMs to Cindy and in a split second, she was able to speak for me. This was great, because I was able to listen and talk (through her). I should say it was a lot tougher for Cindy who had to split her brain in half and be my interpreter as well as cover her thoughts (she did great!). As you can tell from the chat session above, I am usually the big mouth in the room, so it was actually a great exercise for me to not be able to bigfoot into the conversation; I had to think about what was important and parse the extraneous comments.
Of course, this would have even been better if all of the participants could have seen my chat and I didn't have to make Cindy my spokesperson, but that's very easy to fix. The point is that while chat is not the same as being there in person, it works. My advice to you is to give it a try. You may not realize what you are missing; I sure didn't.
To comment on this blog on the Telework Exchange site, visit http://teleworkexchange.com/work/?id=IM.