Curtis Peterson is VP of Operations at RingCentral, a cloud-based business communications system.
The Internet of Things has garnered a lot of attention lately as innovators and entrepreneurs devise new technologies to connect our “stuff” to other “stuff.” From the Nest thermostat and wristband fitness trackers to sophisticated sensors embedded in roadways, products and packages, the Internet of Things promises to revolutionize the way we live and work.
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In fact, Cisco predicts that by 2020, more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet worldwide. That’s more than seven times the number of people on the planet.
Sure, the Internet of Things is a fascinating concept and shows tremendous potential to improve efficiency in nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives. But, shouldn’t we focus on connecting people first?
It sounds simple enough: when everyone’s working in the same location, collaboration, communication and camaraderie come easily. But, with workforce mobility on the rise, many businesses and their employees are becoming disconnected. Distributed teams, telecommuting, disparate phone systems, BYOD mobile devices and the high cost of travel mean that some co-workers may never even meet one another in person.
The modern workplace demands more flexible communication systems and technology that connect people and allow them to work the way they work best: anytime, anywhere and on a wide range of devices, while maintaining a sense of teamwork.
To that end, here are seven ways to make your team feel more connected and increase efficiency.
1. Mobile wireless “hot spots”
Employees on the go need connectivity on multiple devices—smartphones, tablets and laptops, just to name a few. Cellular data plans for each device can be cost prohibitive, forcing employees to hunt down free Wi-Fi to get work done.
But, that’s not always possible for remote workers like construction project managers, real estate agents or field service staff who may not have ready access to Wi-Fi. Cellular-based wireless hot spot devices allow field employees to connect multiple devices over one cellular plan to ensure connectivity anywhere, anytime at the lowest possible cost.
2. Cloud printing services
While this technically involves connecting people to things, Google, Brother, Epson and HP all offer cloud printing services that allow users to print documents on any connected printer simply by sending it to a specific email address. This can be very useful when an employee needs a hard copy of a vital document right away from a co-worker who’s out the office.
3. Cloud-synced to-do and task apps
Giving employees the ability to see who’s working on what, and to ask for and offer help, can be a powerful productivity booster, eliminating lengthy assignment and status meetings.
Apps like Remember the Milk, ToDoist and others provide mobile and desktop-based solutions that everyone can use on any device to schedule tasks and reminders in the cloud, so your team can stay connected and in-sync on who’s working on what, and when it’s due.
4. Cloud-based work management platforms
A major step up from conventional project management software, a new breed of cloud-based work management platform called AtTask combines task assignment and tracking, social-style collaboration, shared document storage and proofing, time and budget tracking and more, all in a single web-based hub that anyone can access from anywhere.
Tools like AtTask streamline processes and put everyone on the same page by consolidating work-related communication and documents onto a single system, rather than having it scattered across email, phone conversations, voicemail and the dreaded sticky note.
5. Digitize social activities
One way to foster interpersonal relationships and team camaraderie is to encourage or host social activities modified to work online. Some examples include book clubs; fitness groups; hobby, crafting or recipe-sharing groups—all of which can be facilitated in a social forum on the company intranet or on public social networks through closed groups.
This connection over shared interests can go a long way toward building a unified company culture and teamwork among employees who may never even get to meet in person.
6. Replicate the “water cooler”
One of the most vital aspects of teamwork—the personal connections made by simply being in the office together, sharing stories about family, hobbies and more—is typically lost with distributed teams. To restore this ability to strike up an impromptu conversation, a technology called Sqwiggle creates a real-time video chat portal where co-workers can interact just as easily as dropping by one another’s desk or office.
In a nutshell, Sqwiggle users keep their webcams on continuously while they work, and team members simply click on a co-worker’s video window in the portal to virtually tap one another on the shoulder and start a conversation. No more haggling over a meeting time just to ask a quick question, and it adds the non-verbal element of communication that’s often lost in teleconferences, but without putting a huge strain on bandwidth.
7. Cloud-based telephone systems
One of the challenges of merging mobility into the workplace is that everyone now has at least two phone numbers: one for the office/landline, a mobile and a fax number. In fact, 85 percent of SMB employees use different numbers for landlines and mobile phones, making it tough for colleagues, clients or customers to efficiently get in touch and turning “phone tag” into an annoying fact of life.
In BYOD environments, employees are forced to give out their personal cell numbers, which makes it difficult to keep business and personal data, time and relationships separate. Modern cloud-based telephony platforms solve these challenges with an all-in-one solution on a unified system. Employees can use the same number to accept calls in the office, on their cellphone and for video conferencing, while keeping their personal mobile number confidential. Plus, because cloud phone system don’t require the complex and expensive hardware of traditional phone systems, it’s cheaper to set up new users on the system.
Keeping your team connected while keeping up with the rapid pace and mobility of today’s business environment is critical, whether you’re a startup, SMB or large enterprise. Just as the cloud has revolutionized so many other aspects of business, the same technology is providing tremendous flexibility, affordability and scalability to empower the modern workforce.
While the notion of connecting “things” to our fast-growing digital Web of existence is certainly an intriguing concept, let’s not overlook that first, most vital connection: the human network.