Flexible is better: chat, clichés, and cooperation

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Last week, a few product announcements and releases caused me to stare into the distance and think about the ongoing transition to cooperative work, which is a shift away from the collaborative-work paradigm that now dominates in the enterprise in tools like Yammer, Jive, Podio, IBM Connections, and Salesforce.com’s Chatter.

What did I see? Podio released a new instant-messaging style chat capability (see “Citrix Podio adds instant-messaging-style chat“). The service allows people to communicate asynchronously, like posting an update to a group or project. As well, presence information allows users to determine if a colleague is available at that exact moment to answer a question, and if not, perhaps try someone else, or defer the question until the initial contact is available.

A recent research study has shown that people using social networks are more productive when they are allowed to choose what sort of communication to use with others. One of my assertions about cooperative tools is that we will have a spectrum of tools. These won’t necessarily be integrated together, but instead narrowly focused and deeply useful within that narrow focus area. As just one example, I’ve recently seen a few new approaches to the problems inherent in scheduling and conducting face-to-face and remote meetings, like Tempo (“Tempo is a very smart calendar appliance“) and Meetin.gs. We’re moving to a stage where we can rely on tools that integrate with Google Calendar, and read and write data there, so that I can productively use several of these appliances at different times for different aspects of meeting hygiene.

I also reported on a major release from Asana. The product is intended to scale up that team task management tool to operate in the large enterprise context, with greater levels of access and visibility controls. Asana has expended a great deal of design effort in making tasks sharable outside of the official organization, so that anyone with an email address can be “tooled,” instead of invited to join a project team. Now Asana can support the more conventional membership requirements of large companies, but at the same time the more fast-and-loose style of that will become more prevalent in cooperative work.

I also got an early peek at a tool that I can’t write about, but I can share some thoughts related to its orientation without revealing any secrets. I have long considered that there are a few dozen very common “clichés” surrounding the most common uses of tasks in business, and that it would be helpful to actually define these clichés explicitly, as complex information objects. For example, “review and approve/reject this document” is a very common use of tasks, but might be better styled this way, with an obligatory document (and option other documents) and an obligatory reviewer and sender. In the research context, this is perhaps 70 percent of the interactions I have with my peers. The cliché might have a set of possible states — pending, approved, rework, rejected — and these could be used to productively sort or filter them. Likewise, more sophisticated clichés would make sense for other people, like brainstorming ideas, or personnel reviews, and so on.

This builds on the idea that I touched on last week. The idea is that as we move to a more fast-and-loose style of work, where people are dreaming up exactly how to get work done (since work is increasingly growing non-routine), we will want to have the state information that approximates that of business processes right in the information we are passing around. This notion of clichés is one way we may head to get there.

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