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What’s next for the digital workplace?

Published
  • The big idea

    Image copyright: Chiara Vercesi for Quartz

    The pandemic has fueled a burgeoning market for digital tools designed to help colleagues collaborate at a distance.

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  • The billion-dollar question

    Do collaboration tools actually make us more productive? 

    It’s a valid question. Between the danger of distraction and blurring the lines between work and home life, these tools can quickly go off the rails. A workplace needs the right culture to keep them being useful.

    “A lot of it depends on how technologies are used, how they’re adopted, and the organizational culture you develop around them,” said Jennifer Gibbs, a communication professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Read more about the pros and cons of workplace tools.

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  • By the digits

    $500 billion: Anticipated value of the collaboration software market in 2027
    115 million: Daily users of Microsoft Teams in 2020
    40%: Proportion of a worker’s day spent multitasking between communications platforms and other tasks
    44: Hours in an average work week in the US
    10%-15%: Slack activity outside typical working hours
    6 minutes: Time elapsed between checking a chat app or email for the average knowledge worker

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  • Person of interest

    Stewart Butterfield is CEO of Slack, the collaboration software industry’s biggest dreamer. Born from the ashes of a failed video game company, its business is built around making work communication more playful and fun—and CEO Stewart Butterfield isn’t shy about making sweeping proclamations about its potential to solve almost any problem plaguing work.

    “It’s not just messaging or integrations or collaboration. It’s all of it. It’s helping people work together better than they ever had before: more efficient, more productive, happier,” he told investors in 2019. “In that sense, Slack is like electricity, or the internet. What problem does electricity solve?”

    Read more about Slack’s pitch to change the world, and how a new slate of companies is building on it.

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  • Quotable

    “…Nowhere in this are we actually reducing the amount of communication or becoming more efficient or strategic about how and when we communicate. We’re just adding more and more. And so it’s not surprising to me at all that we’re going to think the tool is broken or needs to be fixed. It’s really just the way we’re using the tool.”

    —Melissa Mazmanian, an associate professor of management and computer science at the University of California, Irvine. Read her full Q&A with Quartz.

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  • The startups that want to rule your work

    Not satisfied with the way workplace collaboration goes today, these companies think they can fix it. Here’s an overview of some up-and-comers in the space, and what each one offers or promises to users.

    📝 Notejoy Take notes and share with colleagues

    👩‍🏫 Mural Work together on virtual whiteboards

    🖌 Figma A collaborative design tool

    🗣️ Otter Voice to text

    🎥 Around Serves poorly rendered video in small circles for each participant’s face pushed to the side of the screen so you can fill most of your desktop with the thing you’re actually working on.

    👯 Teamflow A virtual office space that connects colleagues via video and audio if their avatars get close enough

    👾 Gather 8-bit renderings of offices where workers’ avatars “sit” at desks and “walk” to meeting rooms

    💭 With An interface like a shared desktop where colleagues who are sprinkled around can talk on video and audio if their avatar bubbles get close together

    😒 Sneek Intended to replicate the act of glancing at a colleague’s desk to see if they’re available to chat, Sneek takes a photo from your computer’s webcam every few minutes and pops it into a Brady Bunch grid, along with snapshots of all your co-workers’ faces

    💥 Reslash Co-workers build a shared screen with gifs, images, games, and links to create a tumultuous, overlapping, nonlinear mess

    Read more about the companies that want to make the physical office obsolete.

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  • That one weird trick!

    In 2013, when Quartz editor Michael Coren was working on the software startup he founded, his co-founder quickly informed him that his management of the development process was pointing toward disaster. He writes: “I made project requests by email. I would periodically call to “check in.” Meetings were scheduled without a clear agenda. We didn’t clearly document work goals. We were, in [my co-founder’s] eyes, a mess.”

    To snap operations into place, Coren and his team created something they desperately needed—a process. He continues: “We started documenting everything about the product in a task-management tool (Trello, then Jira). Internal email was forbidden. Status calls were banished. Updates moved online for anyone to see. Everything had a clear, accessible place for information to pass between people without much effort. The face-to-face time we did have together centered on solving (well-documented) problems. Even after returning to journalism—famous for overflowing notebooks and inboxes—I stuck with a system and never looked back.”

    Read more here.

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  • Keep reading

    How to nurture company culture when everyone’s working from home. If remote teams are our future, we better know how to make them feel like teams. 

    Thoughtful tips for managing people in a pandemic and its aftermath. They’re pretty useful during normal times, too. 

    For some Indian software startups, it’s almost like Covid-19 lockdown never happened. A host of Indian software startups have had a field day amid the pandemic as their clients’ dependence on technology increased. 

    Who’s ready for a 29-hour virtual office party? A cautionary tale of Zoom fatigue.

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