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Summary:

Apps such as InstantMeeting, Expensify and yes, Siri are taking mundane tasks that top managers might have hired an assistant to handle and makes delegating them affordable for all. This is a welcome break for time-strapped workers called on to do more.

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Plantronics updated its InstantMeeting app to allow iPhone (a aapl) users and enterprise users to connect to conference calls on their calendar with one click, much like Android and BlackBerry users have been able to for almost a year. The InstantMeeting app, which is pretty darn useful for those who handle a lot of conference calls, combs your calendar and shoots you a reminder when one is about to start. On a mobile phone, clicking through on the reminder allows the user to click to call or click to say you’re running late with the push of a button.

The update brings that same functionality to those on PCs by letting them click to call through Skype or Microsoft Lync. Gunjan Bhow, VP and general manager of New Ventures at Plantronics, says the goal is to ensure employees with VoIP clients and softphones can still take advantage of cheaper rates instead of going directly to their mobile phones and racking up big charges while traveling. It’s a pretty specific use case, but Plantronics is on the cutting edge of a shift in how people work, and how smarter and more personal computers, such as mobile phones, are allowing this shift to happen.

A personal assistant for everyone (no, it’s not Siri)

InstantMeeting on the iPhone

Apps such as InstantMeeting, Expensify and yes, Siri are taking mundane tasks top managers might have hired an assistant to handle and making delegating them affordable for all. In the case of InstantMeeting, it means I can work right up until a minute before my conference call or hop in the car knowing I’ll get a reminder when I need to get on the call, and will effectively touch a button to connect. I do have to manually enter some conference numbers because the app can’t read the bridge information, but it’s pretty solid. It’s similar to having someone outside my office connecting my calls so I can move seamlessly through my work until the exact moment I’m needed.

Expensify lets me snap a picture of my receipts and then automatically scans them for the relevant line items to create an expense report in a few minutes. The mobile app allows me to take those pictures on my mobile the moment I get my receipt and shoot them to the cloud, where Expensify does all the heavy lifting. My days of scrounging receipts from the bottom of my bag and taping them to copy paper are over, as are my efforts to then transfer that information to Excel.

Siri, of course, takes all kinds of dictation like a pro and helps find nearby restaurants, services and other items much like a real personal assistant would. Vlingo also does some of this for Android users. There are scores of other apps such as TripIt Pro making it easier and less time-consuming to book and keep track of travel, something those lucky souls who have worked at a company with a travel bureau will be glad to learn.

This isn’t just nice; it’s necessary

Just as computers helped drive productivity thanks to replacing typewriters with word processing software and calculators with spreadsheets, these new apps will help boost productivity for the masses who don’t have an assistant at their beck and call. And given that workers are being asked to do more in a day, gaining those two or three hours back each month that it takes to pull together an expense report, or the thirty minutes required to book a trip (or even avoiding the hours lost to flight delays) is a necessity.

And as we handle more and more information coming at us, it’s harder to sink into the uninterrupted flow of work, so being able to maximize that time knowing your phone can ping you when you have to join a call and then connect you can help you relax into work. Yes, these apps all take some time to set up and learn how to use (some may require you to invest in setting up rules so the app can better learn what you need from it), but much like training an assistant, the effort pays off. And thanks to advances in natural language processing, artificial intelligence, better data processing and algorithms, employees don’t have to pay quite as much to offload non-core tasks.

For more on how apps, computing and broadband will change the way people work, come to our GigaOM Net:Work event in San Francisco next week.

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