Last week, I met a new client who accepts that she needs to use the web much more effectively than she does now. Over the coming months, she’s planning to build her personal brand online, with the help of various promotions experts. Right now? “I just don’t have time for it,” she says. And when we discussed our next meeting, her suggested venue was her house — which is at least two hours’ travel time from mine.
The size of the job simply doesn’t warrant me traveling for four hours for a meeting. But my client’s professional services firm operates its business very much on a face-to-face basis, and both of us would prefer to meet like this, rather than simply talking over the phone. Other than meeting halfway, we could try videoconferencing. But how will I convince someone I’ve just met, who obviously isn’t particularly comfortable operating in the online sphere, to use videoconferencing technology?
I’ve often experienced resistance to technology among people who, whether they like it or not, work online. I’m sure you have, too — recent research has shown that collaborative technology hasn’t had as broad an impact in workplaces as we might like. As we know, overcoming such resistance can be a challenge, especially when we don’t know the person particularly well.
However, there are strong arguments you can use to convince people to give collaborative technology a try. None of these arguments, on its own, is likely to get someone over the line, though — usually they need to be combined to be effective.
My client is on a tight budget, so she won’t want to pay me to travel for four hours to meet with her. This could be a strong motivator for her to try a technology like using a webcam. By the same token, I expect she won’t want to pay for any technological solution, so I’ll need to suggest free solutions to this problem.
Cost is often a strong motivator for my freelance clients, but can be less important when you’re working within an organization. When I suggested to a remote colleague in a large corporate that instead of calling each other ten times a day we should just use IM, she had no motivation at all to do so: she wasn’t paying for the calls she made, so cost was not a motivator for her.
One benefit of using multiple contact methods is that you can communicate with someone at virtually any time. Forget the old leave-a-voicemail-and-follow-it-up-with-an-email syndrome; you can do so much more than that. You can tweet or text your client or colleague a link or reminder; send them a quick message via IM; email them the minutes from your last meeting; call them using a free VoIP service.
How can you communicate the benefits of convenience to your colleague? Think of a specific case in your recent history with this individual where technology would have smoothed or sped up the process, or made a real difference to the work flow. Explain this to your colleague, and make clear the difference that your preferred piece of technology could have made to the situation.
If enough people within an organization are using a particular application, piece of software, or technology, it can be difficult for others to maintain their resistance.
For clients who manage their own operations, or are solo operators, there can be less pressure internally to adopt collaborative technology. However, as in the case of my client, who runs her own face-to-face business and feels no such pressure, but is looking to expand her reach online, the pressure of external competition and the potential for missed opportunities may be a strong motivator.
Knowing that my client is looking to develop an online presence, I could suggest trialling video chats via Skype as a way to become more comfortable in the online space. Since she’ll be operating internationally soon, I could present the chance to skill up now as an opportunity to get ahead — it’ll make it much easier for her to communicate with key contacts in the near future.
Studies have shown that collaborative technology pays off. That’s good, but it’s not likely to convince an individual who’s just trying to do their job with a minimum of hassle that they should change, or even augment, the way they operate.
Quoting statistics may not convince my client to climb aboard the collaborative technology bandwagon, but illustrating the realities of our situation may. The four hours I’ll need to travel, in total, to meet my client will not be productive time — that’s why she won’t want to pay me for it. If I travel to meet her, the meeting will effectively take up an entire day. For a client on a tight deadline, this is an enormous waste of time as well as money.
One the other hand, if we made a video call at nine in the morning, I could action the outcomes of the meeting on the same day. This would likely put me at least a half — if not a whole — day ahead of the face-to-face meeting scenario. I have the feeling this is going to be a very strong motivator for my client.
Though it may surprise some of us, many people are still scared of technology. It takes a long time to set up, may not work properly, takes up valuable space on their computers, is yet another thing they have to learn, means they have to carry more stuff around, leaves them with no free time — the list of arguments against using technology is almost limitless.
Worse still is the fact that most people don’t want to admit that we’re scared of the prospect of having to learn something new, to adopt it and make it part of our daily operations.
Offering support to colleagues as an encouragement for them to try a new technology may make all the difference to your professional relationship, as well as your productivity. If I were to discuss the prospect of setting up video calling with my client, I’d send her links to the service and help information, ask her to call me if she had any problems with the setup, and suggest we had a trial run video call a week ahead of time.
As I said, my client operates her business almost entirely in person. Many people who are unfamiliar with technology feel that online communication is somehow less personal than face-to-face conversations. Whether or not this is true, the fact is that the more opportunities you create for people to communicate with you, and for yourself to communicate with others, the stronger your relationships with those people will be.
People will often communicate via chat in a far less formal, more personal way than they would in an email. The great thing about reading tweets that your contact has directed specifically at other individuals is that they give you an insight into other facets of that contact. If I really want to establish empathy and rapport with someone, I’ll call them rather than emailing or IMing. Each technology has its place, and I use as many as I can to get a clearer picture of the people I work, and are friends, with. This, in turn, helps us work more effectively together.
These are the arguments I usually use to convince a colleague to give collaborative technology a try. Ultimately, though, the success of my efforts will depend on how well I understand their situation, and their reasons for not wanting to try an alternative to the status quo.
What arguments have you used to convince clients and colleagues to communicate with you online?