Why We Need a New Way to Work

Nov 18, 2014

It has certainly been an interesting time to follow the unified communications and collaboration space. In the last two months alone, the market has seen the launch of Circuit by Unify, Cisco’s Project Squared, and now IBM looks to reinvent email with Verse. Both Unify and IBM have adopted the #NewWayToWork hashtag as part of their mantra. So, what was so wrong with the old way to work?

The answer, in my opinion, is that all of the collaboration tools that we use today suffer under the legacy of the technology they replaced. Think about that for a moment: Is an email sent today really that far removed from the handwritten letter, sent via the postal service? The latest IP deskphones, even with full color touchscreens and attached video cameras, still function like the wall phone hanging in our kitchens thirty years ago.  So today, we have a multitude of communication and collaboration tools that are individually powerful, but are inherently tied to paradigms and the way of working of a previous generation. 

Furthermore, in our efforts to work productively with the modern analogues of a bygone era, we have collectively pushed the current tools beyond their limits. For example, we have effectively ruined email. Personally, I doubt that the folks that created the first email platforms could have ever envisioned that we would be sending 50-slide PowerPoint presentations to 30 of our closest friends. We live in a world where people declare email bankruptcy and the notion of Inbox Zero is considered a daunting task. In essence, the New Way to Work (NW2W) is about burning down this design language and tools of our predecessors, and replacing them with something that more accurately reflects what it is like to work in 2014 and beyond.

 If one looks at Circuit, Project Squared, and Verse, the notion of a collaboration stream becomes apparent. Whether called conversations in Circuit or rooms in Squared, these products are designed as an ongoing stream of multimodal collaboration. This is fundamentally important to these platforms and a significant break from previous tools for a couple of reasons. First, the collaboration stream allows users to escalate or deescalate the means of communication as needed within the platform. A user can, from a PC, smartphone or tablet, start a stream about a new project, upload relevant documents into that space, and then invite the team members to join and collaborate on the project. The stream can be a social media-like text thread, and when needed, escalate to audio or video. Because all of the interaction around this project is captured in the stream, new participants can bring themselves up to speed on the project. Participants no longer active in the stream can either mute it, stopping notifications about updates, or remove themselves from it completely. Accomplishing the same level of collaboration with existing tools typically results in an unmanageable pile of emails, calendar invitations and the need to keep track of conversations happening in multiple platforms.

Ultimately, the “New Way to Work” is not just a marketing term to increase customer spend on collaboration tools. It is the realization that today’s workforce, as well as the next generation of workers, will need more effective ways to collaborate than what the current paradigms afford. To that end, Circuit, Project Squared, and Verse are their respective companies' best guesses on what tools the new way to work requires.

Michael Brandenburg


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