The way we do business is changing...
I have been reflecting lately on just how dramatically my day-to-day workflow has changed. The tools I rely on today, are completely different from the tools I was using, even a year ago. It used used to be...
- If you wanted to make a phone call you used a "phone", and your phone number indicated where you were calling from.
- If you wanted to schedule a meeting, the trickiest aspect was scheduling a conference room.
- Notes were mostly taken on paper, even though we all had laptops.
- Most people had four phone numbers: work, fax, home and cell, and typically two email addresses: work and personal.
- Applications ran on your primary computer workstation, which is where your all documents were stored.
- Working remotely was uncommon, and travel was required if teams really wanted to collaborate.
- Conference calls were expensive and video conferencing was too expensive and and much too complicated for daily use.
- TV shows were watched on televisions and surfing the Internet required a networked computer.
Get where I'm going with all this?
In the last year I have integrated the following tools to my workflow...
Cloud Services: Okay, I will admit it. Larry Ellison was right! I didn't get it at first, but it is so much better to have your documents and even applications up in the cloud. From a data protection and accessibility perspective, you can't beat it -- as long as you can access the internet! That's where DropBox comes i ...
DropBox: This is a bit of software you install on your computer that allows you to share the contents of a folder on your desktop with anybody you chose, via the Internet. Files are seamlessly uploaded to the cloud where you can access them from other computers, and mobile devices. Both the iPhone and iPad support DropBox, as do other mobile devices. Very impressive when a client mentions something you had worked on together months before, and you say, "Here it is..." as you pass them your iPad! The great thing about DropBox, is you maintain local copies of your files as well a the cloud copies, and DropBox does all the heavy lifting, in the background, to everything in sync.
Google Docs: More and more of my docs are stored in the cloud on Google servers, and the all the Google applications are browser-based. Google has knock-offs of Word, Excel and PowerPoint online, complete with the ability to read and save in these Microsoft file formats. Any Google Doc documents can be shared with teammates for review or editing. Documents can actually be edited simultaneously by multiple individuals.In one creative session earlier this year, eight of us were editing the same document at the same time! And it wasn't as chaotic as it may sound, because we could all see in real time what was being edited and by whom. Pretty cool!! If you need a local copy, perhaps for an in-flight work session, you can export a local copy to your DropBox.
Skype: I realize that Skype has been around for a while, but I only woke up to it, this year. It happened when I was talking to a co-worker at lynda.com, After several phone conversations, I learned that she was not based in California, but New Zealand! I was confused, because her incoming phone number was a CA number. She explained explained that she was using Skype, and the cost of the service, with a dedicated CA phone number was under $10 a month. I said, "Thank you, very much", hung up the phone, and signed up for Skype on the spot! Ever since, Skype has been my preferred telecommunications service. The audio quality is crisp and the video video teleconferencing and screen-casting are immensely helpful for remote collaboration!
Gmail: I was reluctant to abandon Outlook as my primary email client and the whole notion locally archived email, but I finally made the leap earlier this year, and I must admit, it's very convenient. I can search all my email in seconds (who better than Google to handle search?) and my email is readily available across all devices! I had already figured out how to manage multiple email accounts in Gmail (see previous post: The Ultimate Email Hook-up), so migrating wasn't too difficult.It has taken a while to get used to the Gmail, web client, but now that I have, I like it.
iPad: My friend and co-worker, Chipp Walters said of the iPad before it was released, "The iPad will be game changing". He was right. We use our iPads all the time. In fact, I created the attached info graphic on my iPad, using Notes Plus. You can read my initial thoughts about the iPad, in this post, "iPad Not Perfect, But Very Cool". And if you are really stuck for how to be productive with your iPad, check this out, "New Favorite iPad App".
iPhone 4: Multi-tasking, folders, Reina display, and a rocking' great camera made this a must-have upgrade, given how I rely on my iPhone (see "It's an iPhone Life").
GoToMeeting: This is a virtual meeting and collaboration service which allows you to screen-cast to multiple people and pass the screen-cast baton at any time during the meeting, to anyone connected to the meeting. This feature is great. G2M also provides both private and public chat rooms, a participant list, a who's speaking indicator, and the ability to screen capture an entire meeting. GoToMeeting's VOIP (Voice Over IP) capabilities can be a little finicky, so thankfully, participants can also call into a meeting via telephone.
PogoPlug: This is a nifty little device that allows you to create your own cloud service, out of any external USB hard drive, so may can access these files from anywhere over the Internet. Files can any file format, including photos, videos and music. PogoPlug does all the trans-coding so you may access and play these files remotely from mobile devices, like the iPhone and iPad.
Drobo: Dobo is a a very smart storage robot, that employs a unique RAID technology that is drop-dead simple to deploy and maintain. Unlike other RAD technologies, the Drobo does not care about drive size parity. When you run out of storage, you simply remove the smallest drive in the array, and replace it with the largest hard drive that is currently available, and Drobo does the rest -- no files are lost in the process. It works GREAT!
BaseCamp: This is another cloud service, designed specifically for Project Management. It is easy to set up projects, and virtual teams. BaseCamp provides file sharing with regression, threaded discussions, tasks, milestones, calendars, and an odd shared document format called "Write Boards". BaseCamp is not the end-all, be-all PM tool that it could be, but it is certainly useful, and we use it often in conjunction with the other tools, mentioned.
MacBook Pro & Parallels: I love my little 13" MacBook Pro. It is well-sized for travel, but don't let its small stature deceive you. With 8GB of RAM, two video processors and a 500GB hard drive, this machine is a true work-horse! If you have followed my previous posts, you may know that I run a split Mac OS | Windows XP environment, using Parallels. This allows me to run whatever software is required, and test our web-apps cross-platform from the same compact workstation.When I'm at my desk I connect to a Dell 27" Ultrasharp monitor. My windows environment is dedicated to this monitor, but my Mac OS environment spans both the laptop screen and the Dell Ultrasharp. You can read more about my Parallels experience, here: Magellan's Guide To A Parallels Universe - Part 1. Parallels has its mysteries and foibles, but all-in-all, it works well for me and I am satisfied with its performance -- I never really think about fact that I'm doing the lion-share of my work on a virtual machine!
This new way to work and collaborate is great, but it is not without its drawbacks. As you can see, from my graphic, it is a highly distributed model.The old axiom, of "Ultimate information needs to exist ultimately in one place" is definitely being challenged in this sort of work environment. "Where did I create that?" and "Where did I save that?" are not uncommon questions. We have some clients who don't mind reviewing a DRAFTs in Google Docs, while others prefer a PDF to mark-up, and others still insist on MS documents. This, of course, pains me, because it means redundant effort, migrating text edits and comments, back and forth. Therefore, I find myself having to really think, before I begin a document, or project, to determine the best tool, the intended audience and where and in what format it will be published.
The other thing I've noticed, is just how much time seems to be sacrificed to maintaining of this complex environment. There seems to be a constant barrage of software updates to manage. None of it is that hard to do, or fraught with much risk, but each update, takes a small bite out of your day -- maybe that is the hidden meaning of the Apple logo ;-)
But before I all throw in the towel, and pine for the "good ol' days", I remind myself that it is still very early in this business/productivity revolution. Tools will get better. The best will float tot he top, and the rest will disappear, and in the not too distant future, much of this will all seem commonplace.
- You can "telephone" people without the use of a"phone", using Skype, and similar Voice Over IP technologies. I've made calls from my iPad when I left my cell at home.
- Services like Google Voice and Skype allow you to establish a local phone number, anywhere, regardless of where you actually rest your head at night...
- You can create a virtual conference room in 60 seconds or less, using GoToMeeting and similar online services, like Adobe Connect and Web-X.
- You can screen capture, or other record the meeting notes in a variety of ways, such as Sound Notes for the iPad or the Pulse digital pen.
- Most people have abandoned their land-lines at home, in favor of cell phones. And when was the last time you actually sent a FAX? If you have, it was likely not your first choice.
- Instead of two email addresses, I have too many! ;-)
- My workflow integrates dozens of apps which run on either my iPhone or my iPad; generally both.
- Remote collaboration across virtual teams is becoming more and more common as businesses embrace the cost savings and the potential for increased productivity.
- Conference calls are simple and inexpensive -- even FREE, with services like FreeConferenceCall.com -- and video conferencing is a snap with Skype or iChat.
- YouTube, Netflix and Apple TV are blurring the lines between Internet and television.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, and how you manage your workflow... Please leave a comment.
Steve Lomas is an Idea Mechanic and the founder of MojoMediaPros.