Smartphones for Collaboration – Good or Bad?

Dennis asks if smartphones are bad for collaboration, and gives a number of reasons why they can be:

1. Some collaboration requires developing and reviewing a document or file of some sort (word processing document, spreadsheet, image file, etc.)
2. Members of the collaborating group participate via a mix of devices (phone conferencing, desktop computers with fast connections, smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.)
3. People using smartphones are hobbled in terms of file viewing and file manipulation due to device screensize or performance limitations.
4. Whoever is running the group must accommodate smartphone users by providing more support and time consuming explanations after the fact.

It’s #4 that I think is the most serious issue. Accommodating less-than-ideal access to a file under development can add an inefficient layer of “overhead” to group interaction in terms of added time, cost, delay, and potential for mistakes and confusion.

Can the increased mobility and flexibility provided by smartphones through reduced reliance on desktop and laptop machines outweigh such potential problems? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

My Comments
1. No device will be perfect all the time, given the range of places we work, the time-shifted nature of much collaboration, and the multiple time-zones we work across.

2. I think there is a net-benefit of having mobile devices included as access and contribution points within a collaboration system. But as Dennis says, “sometimes” that access/contribution is sub-optimal – especially if joint work on a document / file is required, and some people only have smartphones.

3. If a particular user is joining a meeting / file review session via a smartphone, it’s probably likely that they aren’t in the best environment anyway to take part. Perhaps they’re calling in from the back of a cab in New York, the Tube in London, or a cafe in Paris – because they are in the middle of travel and getting their work done. So, the real secret to success, in my view, is to be clear in advance of a particular meeting / file review session about what will be required of the participants who attend – so they can either choose the right device to join with, or send in their apologies for the meeting. If it’s critical to have a given person there, make sure they have the right device available for taking part.

4. The iPad has, and like devices will, fundamentally change this equation. Via an iPad, it is much more possible to make a productive contribution on the move, via a mobile device that’s not a laptop. The iPad has changed the rules of the game … as have netbooks. For more, see Mobile and Wireless Access to Collaboration Systems from September 2009.

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