I was in New York last week for the SABEW Fall Conference.
Like most software guys, I had no idea that there was a Society of American Business Editors and Writers. However I do know a member of the club, technology journalist Jonathan Blum. We share a common interest in online software tools and we’ve had an ongoing conversation about collaboration software for over a year. When he called and asked me to be part of this panel discussion on “Newsroom 2.0”, how could I say no?
I got to enter another world and visit the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. It was somewhat surreal to be in the same room with people whose bylines you see in Business Week. Listening to them talk about the sub-prime crisis was eye-opening. These are definitely some smart people.
But I was there for technology not financial accountability. Our panel was focused on sharing the cocktail of online tools that Jonathan is using at his small media company where he has built an online virtual newsroom. From what I gather, the newsroom has not changed much from the scenes you might have seen in 80’s movies. Going online and highly collaborative is a bit of a culture shock for a profession of highly independent knowledge workers.
Jonathan has made the leap with his newsroom, complete with all the “joys” of pioneering. No one tool does everything and he’s worked hard to make them work together and to help his team make the cultural shifts required to succeed in this new way of working. His mainstay software is Google Docs. He uses LiquidPlanner to organize, prioritize, and track work. He uses BatchBook to pull together and share contacts across the team.
Chatting with the panel (which included the Product Manager of Google Docs and the CEO of BatchBook) the following big ideas fell out. I think any organization should think about these when considering going “2.0”:
Real-time collaboration for isolated workers is transformative. The ability to change something and get instant feedback from someone you are geographically isolated from is huge. I believe this works because at that moment in time you have the information loaded in your head. You are probably in the zone (working at your highest personal productivity). If two people can exchange ideas quickly in the zone, that’s where productivity happens.
Time-shifting is really useful. Most of the time you’ll not actually blocked by questions or requests for help. The ability to have a collaboration system for structured commenting (chatter) and task assignment is very important for minimizing hyper-interruption (the killer of personal productivity).
How you say “yes” and “no” is critical to productivity. The world has become too competitive to just do whatever projects you grab from the pile. Now we need to spend more time focusing and what to say no to and being aware of project profitability. False starts, too much multi-tasking and poor estimation can really hit the balance sheet hard. Collaboration tools by their nature are data warehouses and can provide the organization with new insights into how well the business runs (or doesn’t).
We are still in the early days of the collaboration revolution. There is no one online super tool. Leaders have to try out multiple tools, learn from those experiences, and work with their teams to help them embrace change. Continuing to work the same old way but expecting to enjoy incredible new results is just wishful thinking. Online collaboration tools are corporate culture changing and will be even more so in the future. If we (the tool vendors) do our job right, work will become more rewarding and fun. It’s our job to make sure tools work together and do more good than harm.