This article originally appeared on Forbes.
I recently had an accident that entailed a lot of pain and emergency surgery. Indeed, it was the most significant medical trauma I have ever had to endure and required a lengthy, 5-night hospital stay. Unfortunately, my closest family and primary support group are parents whose ability to get around is quite limited, however they managed to come for the surgery. After returning to my room I sent them home to get some personal items, but after the second trip it was clear that the combination of hospital-area traffic and long walks through the hospital complex from the parking lot to my room were extremely difficult. We agreed it made more sense for them to stay home and just talk a couple times a day on the phone. In sum, I was left to the company of doctors, nurses, therapists, and the Net, since my iPhone and iPad with keyboard were among those items from home. Little did I realize how much comfort, sympathy and support these would bring. There’s a larger lesson here for companies about how to maximize the internal knowledge and collaboration between and groups and individuals, but first the backstory.
Despite the seeming isolation, I never felt alone. Within minutes of posting a picture of my hospital room to Facebook and explaining the context, I had a dozen responses that piled up for several days. Most were the “get well soon” greeting card variety, but the offers of support and empathy were extremely comforting. What turned out to be the most meaningful came from an unlikely source: a former work colleague that I hadn’t seen in years. We were once fairly close, but that was over a decade ago. Still, he offered to drop by one evening after work to chat and we quickly re-bonded. Long story short, I probably would have been discharged to a physical rehab facility instead of home if not for his help: driving me home, making the furniture walker friendly, bringing over an older chair of his that was much more suitable for someone with my physical limitations, setting up some bathroom railing, all the things I couldn’t do on my own. I had several other friends from afar offering whatever support they could provide, sending pick-me-up videos and generally making the whole sorry event much less isolating and depressing that it could have been.
SoMoClo Turns Even a Hospital Room Into an Office
The nexus of social, mobile and cloud technologies, what some term SoMoClo, also allowed me to handle many other work and personal issues: getting projects and meetings rescheduled, respond to inquiries or questions, ordering necessary supplies for home delivery via Amazon, get doctor contacts and follow up visits entered in my phonebook and calendar, coordinating transportation in real time with my friend via messaging, etc. Indeed, the technology allowed me to both stay connected and perform any kind of knowledge work without missing a beat, even as my body was broken and physical mobility was badly crippled.
So far, this is just another story of how we all too easily take for granted the actual life-altering benefits of these SoMoClo technologies, whose effects will only magnify over time. Yet there’s a lesson here for business: you’re almost certainly not taking full advantage of mobile technology and social collaboration, meaning you’re not operating at maximal efficiency and wasting a lot of your internal intellectual capital.
Internalizing Team Collaboration, Knowledge Sharing
Enterprise social collaboration is nothing new, but due to personal and organizational inertia has primarily been internalized by small companies or individual departments: mass adoption across large organizations is much less common. In most large companies, email and file shares remain the primary tools for information distribution, indeed many employees treat their mailbox as a giant file archive cum todo list. Products like Asana, Glip and Slack have been around for years, applying the best of social communication paradigms (news feeds, comment threads, linked documents, app integrations) to an enterprise context. Likewise, mobile technology is old hat, but here too individuals, not enterprises have led the way in changing habits and adopting new tools. Although, a CDW survey IT decision makers found that about half of respondents have one or two custom apps, a Mobility poll of actual employees showed that more than 40% reported low satisfaction with corporate apps and 58% abandon them altogether.
This isn’t the place for yet another review of team collaboration software nor an encomium to the wonders of mobile tech. However, both enable fundamental changes to the way people get work done and there are some lessons from my hospital experience on how remodeling your work processes with new tools can yield significant, measurable improvements.
For example, by aggregating work communications, comment streams, calendars, documents and even relevant external apps into a single shared news feed, organizations can reduce email tag, inbox and file share clutter and scheduling headaches, with a unified view of project or workgroup information that allows new team members to quickly come up to speed. A 451 Research report on Glip puts it this way, “Glip pulls work conversations into a manageable whole, or rather, it focuses on the conversations that get work done, ideally replacing reliance on the inbox.”
As my hospital experience illustrates, social collaboration also facilitates knowledge discovery and sharing within an organization. In my case, it was someone in my network volunteering to help, in the business context it can easily expose knowledge, expertise and information needs to a broad audience, most of whom you may not actually know. Whether it’s a project working with a new vendor, developing some code or writing content, when internalized into an organization’s work culture, social collaboration can identify others that have solved the same or similar problems before and prevent reinventing the wheel. Indeed, as I found out, you often have no idea where help can come from.
The nexus of SoMoClo technologies continues to dramatically change people’s behavior, in both personal and consumer contexts, and disrupt established companies and business models. Yet the application of both mobile and social technology in the business has been driven by employees, not IT or executives (see consumerization, BYOD) and has been slow to transform business processes and cultural mores. Doing so requires leadership from the top and incentives to employees to embrace better alternatives to old habits, but companies that systemically move on from PCs, email and Office docs will be at a competitive advantage through higher efficiency, agility and flexibility.