The Messaging Shockwave
We’ve reached productivity’s tipping point:
welcome to the post-document era
Ten years ago, I began my new role as something of a change agent at Microsoft by kicking off internal discussions about something I called “seamless productivity” — the notion that internet services would fundamentally disrupt and transform our PC-centric view of productivity.
It had become evident that document-centric tools were beginning to lose share. Not in terms of units or sales, of course. But the addressable market for productivity is arguably better represented by the ‘words typed’ in the process of getting things done with one another. Our words had begun to flow into blogs, wikis, streams of posts — into a new generation of communications tools that were taking shape on the web.
In subsequent years, I had the opportunity to engage a range of customers, developers, researchers, and thought leaders on the evolving nature of productivity. By 2008, as the role of the mobile app platform became indisputable, a paramount question emerged in most every conversation: “How will our productivity toolset adapt to a world where every information worker has a mobile computing and communications platform continuously within their reach?”
In trying to envision a future beyond just the desktop — one impacted both by services and mobility — we really needed to return to basics: Since productivity at its core is really about improving how we work together to accelerate and improve outcomes, how and why might teamwork itself evolve as a result of changes in the environment?
Effective teamwork is fundamental to solving problems. Effective teamwork is fundamental to innovation. Communications innovations enabling us to work together more effectively have led to centuries of human progress, societal advancement, and economic growth.
At the personal level, though, effective teamwork can sometimes feel like a pipe dream. People are hard. Really hard. Meetings and email suck the life out of the best of us.
People are also amazing! When we’re in-the-groove, and when our work and interactions are flowing, what we achieve together is simply astounding!
I’ve been working for more than 30 years shaping software tools for communications and “cooperative work”, and I’ve seen both great success and horrific failure. Sometimes it’s the nature of the people, teams, and orgs themselves. But just as often it is our tools and how they’re applied.
“How we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it’s not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct.” — Sandy Pentland
The right patterns, using the right tools, can make a world difference.
The way we work together is changing
If sometimes it seems as though the ways we communicate are clunky and built for a different era, you’re not wrong. They were.
Look no further than the incessant ringing of a phone. The schedule full of meetings. The inbox.
Because our tools so fundamentally grow to shape our behavior, outdated tools can debilitate an organization when new options become available. The cultures of companies that pioneered the use of email and scheduling are now defined by those tools, as lighter-weight and faster-moving alternatives define the cultures of young disruptors.
In the 80’s and 90’s, information workers sat at desks. The PC-composed ‘document’ was unquestionably the center of our work: words, numbers, and slides. How we communicated was secondary — and designed to emulate everything done pre-PC: printing (paper), filing & sharing (folders), sending & receiving (attachments).
But now, decades later, the world of information work has truly been flipped on its head.
- The boundaries of our platforms have changed. In the past, we did most of our information work within desktop apps on a single PC or laptop. Now we spend most of our time using the web and our phones, immersed in a world of information and app innovation. The document retains a role, but its presence in our conversations is dwarfed by links pointing far beyond our desktops.
- The boundaries of our workday and our workplace are changing. Information work is now done anywhere, anytime. Because our phones are always-available to us, our habits are changing: even when sitting at a desktop PC or laptop, many will still grab our phone to quickly ping someone.
- The boundaries of our teams are changing. Teamwork was formerly done “inside the company” and “inside the firewall”. But teamwork now means working with partners, contractors, and customers. This has significant tool implications related to management, identities, and trust.
- The boundaries of our projects are changing. Most information workers used to do projects for one company, who dictated the tools to be used for those projects. With the rise of freelancing and independent employment, information workers gravitate toward tools that ‘just work’ in a variety of contexts. Many also find their information work portfolio also growing to include projects for community and charitable causes; ‘projects’ aren’t unheard of even within families.
- The velocity and structure of our work are changing. Organizations of all kinds now need to embrace a far greater pace of iteration and improvement in their products and in their customer relationships. Highly-structured processes and practices are giving way to those which are more agile and adaptable. Teams are seeking new tools and new methodologies reduce isolation and increase transparency; which reduce interruptions & meetings, and increase the natural flow of work.
- The role of IT is changing. In the past, IT would purchase, deploy, and support a standard tool suite for communications and productivity. Although security and compliance still dictate a strong and enduring role for IT, the rise of cloud-based software and mobile App Stores has given individuals and teams the power to determine which tools are best for achieving results.
Perhaps more subtly, our expectations are changing. When our teams are expected to deliver results, why shouldn’t we expect a more contemporary set of tools to help us get stuff done? Each one of us has already grown to use some mix of modern communications tools in our personal lives: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, WeChat, Line and the like. Developers are innovating. We’ve all become accustomed to trying out new things. Do we still need to be working with tools from the 80’s and 90’s? Do the tools we use to communicate with our teams at work really need to suck the life out of us? Common sense tells us that we can do better.
Our new tools have arrived
In retrospect, when we asked ourselves “How will the nature of ‘productivity’ be impacted in a world where every information worker has a platform for computing and communications in their pocket?”, perhaps the answer should have been obvious. We can see so clearly the nature of tools that organically and passionately attract usage.
The future of productivity is centered on team messaging. In ways not unrelated to what’s happening in consumer messaging, the productivity platform of the future will be the platform of messaging.
Business apps shaped around messaging and the notion of conversations. Desktop messaging. Web messaging. Mobile messaging. Messaging augmented with rich media. Messaging augmented with real-time communications. Messaging augmented with links and semi-structured ‘cards’ that add valuable context to our conversations.
Every day we’re using our mobile devices to work together to solve problems quickly and effectively for our businesses. Some of us are experimenting by using consumer mobile apps such as Whatsapp, Messenger, or Facetime in the context of our work.
Many of us are realizing that the phone number and the email address are dying. Oh, I know — not really dying, but increasingly we only use email and phone numbers to communicate with people and businesses we don’t contact frequently. More and more, we’re using spectacularly pleasant and effective messaging apps for a new style of communications with those we need, and those we love.
The rise of messaging in the enterprise is going to cause a shockwave for vendors and customers alike. Many enterprises are just now focusing on their transition from desktop and server-based document and unified communications suites, toward cloud-managed versions of the same. But this shockwave will form as they realize the lackluster impact of these investments as compared with mobile/messaging solutions that match the way teams now work.
At the same time, the very concept of unified communications is at a crossroads — borne by vendors in an era of IT-driven telecom and productivity infrastructure, and yet something increasingly out of sync with the tempo of our new style of work. Newer, lower-cost and more-effective messaging and RTC solutions will send shockwaves across the entire UC vendor ecosystem.
“Put another way, by 2019, the number of dis-unified communications users in business will probably be twice the number using UC, whether premises-based or hosted. This is as big a trend in enterprise communications as so-called OTT apps are for telcos.” — Dean Bubley
You’ve almost certainly heard of Slack. For many teams (including ours!), it’s almost completely displaced email. You’ve likely also used or read about tools such as Quip and Dropbox’s Composer. The important aspect of these tools isn’t so much how they’re redefining the document per se, but rather that they’re centered from birth on team communications directly in the context of your work.
And then there’s Talko, my company’s app for team communications designed from the outset for our increasingly mobile lives and work styles. It’s simply an amazing tool.
It takes immense work to make something that “just works”, simply, pleasantly, and effectively. I am incredibly proud of the team building Talko and am thankful for our early-adopter customers who have given us invaluable feedback.
We’re still early in the journey of what Talko will become, but I can state with no hesitation that if you bring together those people you need (or those you love) and start using Talko on a regular basis, you’ll find that it’s already the best mobile messaging app that you’ve ever used. Text, photo and voice messaging is seamless — automatically synchronized across your devices and the web. Talko’s messaging ‘just works’ even when you’re offline during network coverage gaps. Pending messages are sent and received in the background, while the phone is in your pocket or purse.
Even more significantly, using Talko you’ll find that it’s the best mobile voice call you’ve ever made. It’s not just that our sound quality surpasses even the HD voice standards that many carriers have yet to roll out. It’s not just how we so naturally handle the making and taking of calls, or our seamless Bluetooth support, or our maniacal drive toward zero idle energy use. The best mobile voice call with Talko means that when encountering the ever-so-common gaps in our networks, you’ll never experience a dropped call. Hit a bad spot in the network? Passing between WiFi and LTE? Going into and out of the elevator? Talko will keep the call alive.
And what’s even more amazing about Talko is how seamlessly we handle multi-way calls. Most messaging apps allow you to talk to only one other person at any given time. But handling 3-way, 4-way, N-way “group” or “team” calls is quite difficult and subject to call quality issues. In Talko, you can tap-to-call a person, or tap-to-call a group: it’s that simple. We’ve made significant investments so that you get immensely high quality calls regardless of whether you are talking to your spouse or talking with your entire team.
It’s simply the best mobile calling experience you’ll have ever had.
I truly hope you fall in love with Talko, and that you find it immensely valuable in work and in life.