Published on February 25th, 2011 | by Linda Souza

Why Immediate Gratification Is Fueling Collaboration

As I was scanning through my February 21 issue of TIME Magazine, the following statistic caught my attention:

“Web-based e-mail use by 12-to-17-year-olds dropped by 59% in 2010 due to the increasing popularity of social-networking sites”

But that decline isn’t limited just to teeny-boppers. According to comScore’s 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review, the source of the data, e-mail use declined by 8 percent across all age groups.

Why? And what does this mean for business?

Waiting for hours (gasp, sigh!) is so 2010

The “why” is easy: we are clearly living in a technology-enabled era of immediate gratification. The trouble with email is that it no longer fits our need for instantaneous answers, and this impatience crosses over to business. Gone are the days when issuing our electronic missives and waiting for hours for those messages to be received or answered was acceptable. Communication must fit our real-time information demands.

Will email disappear entirely? No, not anytime soon. Rutgers University’s director for the Center for Mobile Communications Studies, James E. Katz, postulates that e-mail is not dying, but being downgraded as we are presented with more communication choices. Texting and social networks simply do a better job of mimicking how we communicate in person due to their immediacy. (The New York Times: E-Mail Gets an Instant Makeover)

Email can be too much work

Emails are as fragmented as they are slow. It’s not uncommon for a single discussion to fork into two or more threads, especially as the number of participants goes up. In rapid-fire environments, keeping track of all that feedback, consolidating and synthesizing it into something meaningful creates…well, more work…as we build elaborate folder systems à la Dewey Decimal System in an effort to categorize our email knowledge.

“Folders are for old people.”

“Folders are for old people. It’s all about tagging.”

I recently had lunch with a customer who asserted, “Folders are for old people. It’s all about tagging.” As if that didn’t make this GenX-er feel old enough, he went on to say that, “No one listens to the radio anymore.” I cringed at first given that I offend on both accounts, but he was making two solid points:

  1. Information must be at our fingertips at any moment. If I need to know something, I want to know it now, not in 10 minutes or two hours or two days. Information should not be siloed or hard to find.
  2. We will only tolerate relevant information. If I listen to the radio, I must listen to the commercials and the songs I don’t like. I can switch the channel, but I’m not in control as I am with my iTunes collection or a service like Pandora.

Social collaboration: Meeting the demand for “now”

Social collaboration platforms provide the interaction, intensity and immediacy of social networking sites, but in a business context. How? Social collaboration enables you to:

  • Access your information immediately. Cloud-based social collaboration solutions like Central Desktop serve as a centralized communication hub for all your files and discussions and the people you work with. You’re not tied to a specific computer or network. Wherever you go, your stuff goes with you.
  • Get answers – now. Status updates and recent activity logs allow you to check up on project progress without having to wait for answers. Everything is transparent. Social tagging and robust search help you locate relevant files and discussions without digging for the information. And yes, you can even use folders to organize your information if you’re old-school like me. It’s not an either-or question; you can have both.
  • Control information chaos. There is no shortage of information in a business; the challenge is to reduce the noise of information overload and separate the wheat from the chaff. Create workspaces or information hubs where you can invite only those people for whom the information is relevant. Prevent important information from being sucked into the black hole of email with centralized discussions. All comments and decisions related to a specific topic or file are logged centrally and tied to that document so there’s no confusion and no searching for answers days, weeks or months later.
  • Find subject matter experts and internal pockets of knowledge. Wikis make it possible for your entire team to contribute to an internal knowledgebase, ready for your reference at a moment’s notice. Going up against a competitor for an important deal? Check the knowledgebase to see how others in your organization have fared in similar situations. Looking for advice on a certain industry? Find your go-to person in the knowledgebase.
  • Work in parallel, not sequentially.

  • Work in parallel, not sequentially. Waiting for a document to make the rounds can be painful and also leaves less time for each participant in the process, particularly those who follow a procrastinator in the chain. Social collaboration platforms that are fully integrated with MS Office programs enable team members to simultaneously co-edit documents without overwriting each others’ changes or stepping on toes, speeding up the process significantly.
  • Replicate the face-to-face experience. Sitting behind a monitor will never be quite the same as meeting in-person, but conferencing and screen-sharing, real-time editing, discussions and status updates about what you’re working on help you stay more connected. There’s more of you to go around without having to personally reach out to each person individually, similar to social networking sites.

Channeling our need for speed

Business is no different from our personal lives when it comes to the importance of immediacy. In many cases, the urgency in business is less exaggerated than the urgency for information consumption and interaction in our personal lives. But immediate gratification is engrained in our culture – certainly here in Los Angeles and one could argue in the U.S. as a whole – and social collaboration leverages the best elements of social networking and brings it to the business setting to make us more effective in our day-to-day work.

But I do have a confession: This “old person” will continue to use folders as a way of organizing my information – I can’t stand a disorganized jumble of files nestled together all willy-nilly – but my customer’s comments gave me pause. I’ve started using tagging as a way to search for and locate files quickly, especially those documents and discussions that could easily fall into more than one folder or category. Why choose when I can have the best of both worlds?

But enough about me. What do you think?

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About the Author

Linda Souza

is Central Desktop’s AVP of Marketing. Linda enjoys writing about technology as a means to solving a problem and shares in her posts ideas and observations to help business professionals focus on the things that really matter. Inspiration for Linda’s posts often stems from current events, interesting stats, commercials, hallway banter and pop culture.

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