Tag Archives: virtual work

What is a Digital Workplace and Why Should You Care?

telework, digital workplace, virtual work, telecommute Digital Workplaces aren’t yet taking the world by storm but they are emerging as a very powerful enabling  technology for the future.  Moreover, they will probably be seen as a critical need as the world becomes more mobile and businesses begin to rely more heavily on social networking.

Before considering the potential value of using a digital workplace it’s important to understand what one really is. Even though the term was first used almost 15 years ago there is still disagreement as to what it  means.  Or perhaps it would be better to say that the term is used in several different ways.

 

What is a Digital Workplace

In Paul Miller‘s excellent book, The Digital Workplace, he defines the digital workplace as, “the technology-enabled space where work happens.”  He further states that, “it involves all the tools we use to do our jobs:  email, phone, text, intranet, micro-blogging, Internet, office documents, shared documents, teleconferences, video, software packages, smart phones, tablets, and the cloud.”

The Digital Workplace is about an overall philosophy and approach for managing a very flexible and free organization.  He is referring to the digital workplace as the entire underlying technical infrastructure that allows such an organization to exist.  It is a very broad usage that includes all of the technical capabilities that power a modern business organization and really focuses on a management philosophy rather than on how to use a specific system to implement that philosophy.

Mark Morrell, a noted internet blogger, defines the digital workplace even more generally as, “Work is what you do, not where you go to.”  Again, this definition focuses on an overall philosophy for how we approach work.

For the purposes of this blog series I’m going to focus much more specifically on a digital workplace as a collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to work much more effectively together, especially in an environment where the participants may be physically separated from their offices, and from each other, by hundreds or thousands of miles.

For the purposes of this blog entry, a digital workplace is an integrated collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to connect, communicate, collaborate, and conduct all of their required work activities wherever and whenever they may be working.

 

Elements of a Digital Workplace

Specifically, a digital workplace should include five basic elements:

1.  Connectivity and Communication:

Information sharing -

  • Intranet – the backbone of connectivity and information sharing
  • Individualized employee homepages and rich profile data
  • Organization charts and employee directories
  • Expert locator

Messaging -

  • E-mail
  • Instant Messaging
  • Micro Blogging

2.  Business Applications and Online Productivity Tools:

  • Word processors
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Presentation software
  • Domain-specific applications
  • Design tools
  • Expense forms
  • CRM systems
  • ERM systems
  • Etc.

3.  Collaboration and Business Social Networking:

  • Online communities
  • Employee blogs
  • Team meeting rooms
  • Wikis
  • Web conferencing tools
  • Team forums

4. Employee and Customer “Crowdsourcing”: 

  • Employee polling
  • Employee surveys
  • Idea generation sites

5.  Remote Working and Mobility:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Mobile/smart phones
  • Home office support
  • Satellite office support
  • Hotspot locator
  • Cellular data communication devices

Why You Should Pay Attention to Digital Workplaces

Digital workplaces have been around for more than a decade and haven’t seen rapid growth during that time.  Moreover, many analysts believe that they are still far from a tipping point.  While growth has not been spectacular there are a number of forces that are likely to drive much more rapid adoption in the future.

In my recent book, Four Dead Kings at Work, I described the basic forces that are driving the world toward virtual and mobile work.  These forces include the explosion of mobile internet access and social networking along with the ubiquitous availability of data and applications by way of the cloud.

Ultimately, digital workplaces are designed to provide a work environment that allows businesses to be most effective in responding to those forces by combining aspects of social, mobile, and cloud.

Why should you care about digital workplaces?

Because the world is going mobile, like it or not.

Historically the story of telework has been about a limited number of workers who decided to work outside the normal office, most of whom choose to telecommute meaning that “outside the office” meant working from home.  Today the concept of telework has evolved to “mobile work” and it involves the vast majority of workers rather than a select few.  Today’s employees are working on a blended stream of business and personal activity that extends from morning until night.  Some of that activity occurs in a traditional office environment but most does not.

The businesses that learn to work most effectively in this mobile environment will have competitive advantage over those who do will be left behind.  Digital workplaces will play in key role in gaining that advantage.

 

 

 

The Digital Workplace Series is Coming

telework, digital workplace, virtual work, telecommuteI’m not writing to claim that Digital Workplaces are taking the world by storm.  They aren’t.

But I am writing to claim that they will be at some point in the future.

One of the debates regarding digital workplaces is about what the term actually means.  For the purposes of this discussion I define a digital workplace as a collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to work together wherever and whenever they may be working.

This implies the need to enable effective communication and collaboration and to do so without regard to location;  moreover, it also implies the need to support such communication not only between coworkers but in some cases also between workers and customers and partners.

The term has been in use for at least ten years but during most of that time the digital workplace community did not see much growth.  In today’s world digital workplaces are still in a formative stage but there are many reasons to believe that  they will be taking off in the not too distant future.

The growth of digital workplaces will be driven by the same basic forces that are driving virtual work in general – the explosion of mobile and social media and the ubiquitous availability of the cloud [http://goo.gl/P2GBn, http://goo.gl/bdBv4].

Over the next ten weeks I will be posting thoughts on the power and potential impact of digital workplaces, the challenges they face, and the possibility of combining digital workplaces with other technical advancements to form even more powerful environments.

Specifically, I will be posting a ten-part series that will cover the following topics:

1.  What is a digital workplace?

2.  Is a digital workplace simply a reskinning of an “intranet?”

3.  The power of digital workplaces.

4.  The limitations of digital workplaces.

5.  The forces driving the adoption of digital workplaces.

6.  Why some middle managers HATE digital workplaces.

7.  The Achilles Heal of digital workplaces.

8.  The value of digital workplaces for global virtual teams.

9.  Combining a digital workplace with other advanced technologies.

10.  What are the three best digital workplaces available today?

 

I hope you have a chance to read the posts and I look forward to your comments.

 

 

Photo is by Canned Tuna and represents the Curtin University Digital Workplace Vision Jam

License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Virtual Work: New Book on How Work Will Develop in the Future. Four Dead Kings at Work

 

virtual work, telework, telehealth, elearning, future of workWhat will the world of work look like in the future?

 

Four Dead Kings at Work is a new book where I share my thoughts on how the future will develop.

 

The key observation is that many of the “truths” that we hold to be self-evident will soon cease to be truths at all.

There are several fundamental forces that are working together to drive these changes.  These forces include the continuing globalization and virtualization of the world along with the explosion of mobile devices.

Taken together these forces have driven very rapid social change that impact both our personal and professional lives.  One of the most important impacts is the tendency to force those lives to merge which in turn drives decentralization in all aspects of the work environment.

These forces will eventually kill off the “kings” of the current workplace; that is, those basic “truths” that have existed for many years.  The future workplace will change dramatically in terms of place, time, decision-making, and the tendency of employees to be associated with a single organization.

As these kings fall new forms of virtual work along with new structures and mechanisms will emerge to take advantage of the new decentralized environment.

Pick up a copy of Four Dead Kings at Work and read a short discussion of how this may all develop (http://goo.gl/w8cjx).

I would love to hear your comments about where you feel it is correct and where it is way off base!

Telework Futures as Seen From 1964

telework , virtual work , future, virtual teamsWhat is the future of telework? Or, more precisely, how did the people of 1964 imagine telework in the infamous “year 2000?”

Check out the following video:  http://officeinsight.org/?p=2095 .

It’s a “must see” for anyone interested in the future of telework.  It’s also one of the things that got me interested in telework in the late 1960s.

Arthur C. Clarke, scientist and author, appeared on BBC’s Horizon program in 1964 to share his vision for how work, and cities, would exist in the future.

It is an amazing video, when viewed from 2013.  It’s notable both for how well he envisioned the future and for how the full realization of that future is really still in the future.

The basic concepts he described have come to pass.  What hasn’t been realized is the scope.  Telework has yet to drive the fundamental change in human society that he envisioned.

The really interesting question is “why not?”  There are three big answers to that question:

Telework Transitions to Virtual Work

Telework is an important aspect of the virtualization of work.  But telework, as it is usually envisioned, involves an individual who is working from a location outside the traditional office.  That is clearly an important aspect of virtual work but it isn’t the whole picture.

Virtual work is the more general concept of people working in a virtual environment, where the defining characteristic is the fact that the parties involved don’t work together face-to-face.

That includes those who telecommute and telework, but it also includes members of global virtual teams that may be working from offices but have little or no opportunity to interact directly with their teammates.  They are working virtually, at least relative to many of their key teammates.

The current hot spot of virtual work is the growth of mobile work.  With the explosion in mobile devices people around the world are engaging in virtual work for at least part of the day. In that sense almost everyone is a virtual worker at one time or another.

The broader sense of virtual work also includes those aspects that are based on some specific form of work.  Telemedicine is simply virtual work where the work involves healthcare and the “parties involved” are doctor and patient instead of coworkers.  The same concept applies to various forms of eLearning and virtual training.

Clarke’s future is much closer to realization now that “everyone is virtual.”

 

Moving Beyond Virtual Meetings

For many years much of the focus of virtual work has been on the idea of improving virtual meetings.

For those same years the concept of telework assumed that a teleworker was located in some remote office, occasionally connecting with the broader world by way of some telecommunication or virtual meeting.  Members of distributed virtual teams have used those some virtual meetings as a way of interconnecting as well.

Today’s virtual environments go far beyond virtual meetings to provide full-time virtual work environments.  For example, Flipside Workspace (http://goo.gl/UyjhO) is a 3D virtual workspace that provides full-time virtual offices for their users.  Rather than simply providing virtual meeting spaces this approach provides virtual spaces where users will spend the bulk of their work time.  This approach allows workers to “drop by” and interact with other workers much as they would in a physical environment.

 

Virtual work technology needs to capture the essence of humanity

There is one major issue that stands between us and the future that Clarke envisioned in 1964.

Before we can realize that future we need to have virtual work technology that provides virtual interaction that is much closer to the experience of face-to-face interaction.   Moreover, that capability needs to be available in a high-quality form on mobile devices available to everyone all the time.

In my experience, any discussion of virtual work will soon lead to someone saying some version of, “but we still need the human interaction that comes only from face-to-face interaction.”

WHY is that face-to-face interaction so important?  The key answer is that most human communication is non-verbal, with some studies claiming that up to 93% of communication occurs beyond language.  Most virtual systems do no transmit most of that non-verbal communication.  Audio meetings provide no non-verbal communication, video conferencing provides some but doesn’t provide the sense of a joint meeting, especially on mobile devices, and 3D workspaces rely on avatars that do not include non-verbal expressions.

Given that situation it isn’t surprising that people feel that it is important to interact in person.

The good news is that we are likely to see a dramatic change in that situation in the next few years.

Developers are taking several different approaches to tackle this problem:

Computer Vision Supports Effective Virtual Work

Existing computer vision technology can be used to track facial expressions in real-time and replicate those expressions on a personalized avatar.  Using this approach the participants in a meeting would look into their webcams, much as someone would do on skype, and their facial expressions would appear on their avatars in a 3D virtual workspace.  This approach would transmit most of the non-verbal communication associated with facial expressions and would produce an experience that would feel very much like a face-to-face discussion.

Computer vision can also be used to track and reproduce gestures on those same avatars.  These gestures, especially in conjunction with facial expressions, account for a large majority of all non-verbal communication.

 

Gesture Recognition and Virtual Work

There are other technical approaches to reproducing gestures.  MYO, an armband device that released just days ago, does an amazing job of tracking hand movements and gestures.  It is being introduced as a computer control mechanism but the same approach could be used to capture and replicate gestures on avatars in a virtual space.

 

Holograms Make Real Progress

I remember when I saw one of the first moving holographic pictures at the MIT Media Lab in the late 1980s.  It was small, blurry, jerky, and amazing.  Holograms have come a long way since then.

One of the hottest pop stars in Japan is Miku Hatsune.  She routinely fills stadiums with tens of thousands of worshipers.  That isn’t unusual for pop stars.  What is unusual is that Miku is completely virtual.  She appears as a hologram on stage.  There are other notable examples, including the use of a hologram to bring Tupac, the late rapper, back to life.

Beyond the use in entertainment there is a lot of interest in using holograms to provide rich communication in virtual meetings.  In the  near-term this technology would likely be applied only for high-end meetings but the costs will probably move down from the stratosphere fairly quickly.

The use of holograms, and other visual technologies, is supported by advancements in display technology.  ”3D without glasses” and ultraclear 4K displays were everywhere at the Consumer Electronics Show this year.  They are moving forward rapidly.

 

All of these advancements point to the fact that we are on the cusp of realizing the vision as Clarke laid it out in 1964.

 

Lastly, there is one tiny nit in his forecast that is off base, and thankfully so. Note that he describes how men will be working in the future.  Fortunately, in the world of 2013 the world of work isn’t available only to men.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future as seen from 1964.

 

Photo by Ell Brown

 

Yahoo, Marrisa Mayer and the Telework Ban. Much Ado About Nothing?

yahoo, marrisa mayer, teleworkMarrisa Mayer’s recent edict banning telework and ordering Yahoo employees back to the office has garnered an incredible amount of attention.    Comments have gone all the way from informal blogs posts and tweets to articles from major newspapers.

One major newscast in Silicon Valley ran a segment about “things that were supposed to be good ideas but failed.”  They listed three items, one of which was telework.  [Another was solar energy!  :) ]  The inclusion of telework on the list was explicitly tied to the Yahoo announcement.

When I hear all this I really want to say, “Good grief people.  Get a grip.”

After some thought I’ve decided instead to say, “Overall I think that the response is excessive, and, most of all, is missing the point.”

Think about the following:

What’s the real significance of the Yahoo announcement to the telework community or to companies in general?  Nothing.

What should our reaction be?  Ignore it.

Why is that?

 

Is  This About Telework? More to This Than Meets the Eye

The first thing to understand is that there is likely a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

To understand what’s really going on you have to think like a CEO.

In spite of the wording of the announcement, all of this may actually have very little to do with telework per se.

I have enormous respect for Marrisa Mayer.  She has taken on a tough assignment and has to deal with a huge set of problems.

What can she herself personally DO to resolve the problems?  Little or nothing.

A CEO can’t do much of anything directly.  A CEO has to accomplish her goals through indirect action.  She can send messages, influence thinking, shake up some people while encouraging others, indicate direction, etc.

In short, most of being a CEO is about optics.  It’s about doing all you can to encourage and influence people indirectly to move in a desired direction.

Many observers note that part of the problem at Yahoo is that some workers have become complacent and have lost their edge.

If you’re Mayer one of the main things you need to do is shake them up.  Send a clear message that you’re serious and that the old days are over.  To this last point, one of the main things you need to do is simply ensure that change is in the air.   At some level you don’t even care what the change is.  You’re just trying to get the organization off of top dead center and get it moving.  If are trying to encourage movement the sending “shake up” messages is one of the ways to do it.

That one point may very well explain the announcement.

By the way, a conventional wisdom has already formed in the Valley.  The Valley has concluded  that the real intent behind the action is to perform a soft layoff.  She knows very well that if you tell a bunch of telework people to “get in the office or get out” some percentage will get out.  And it won’t break her heart of some of them do.  It’s a lot easier and cheaper to shed people that way than it is to do a formal layoff.

Was this just a shot over the bow to make a point and shake things up?  Was this just a “soft layoff?”  Was it simply an action to start some form of change?  It’s tough to really know the answer to those questions.  But one thing is for sure, it is very likely that there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.  It is likely that this isn’t really just about telework and all the articles posting statistics supporting telework are missing the real issue.

 

Don’t Generalize – Yahoo is a Special Case

The real risk in this situation is overgeneralization.

No matter what the reality behind the announcement, the fact is that Yahoo is a special case.   Yahoo is a great company that has made awesome contributions to society.  Unfortunately, they’ve fallen on hard times and some pretty drastic steps have to be taken.

The key point to understand is that they are hardly typical of the state of play in Silicon Valley.  After a few decades here I can tell you that telework is an accepted element of life in the Valley.  Life here is largely about management by results, whether the managers like it or not.  People in the valley tend to be pretty free in terms of work style;  basically, they work however they want as long as things are getting done.  Now, it shouldn’t be lost that in this process the 60 hour work week is standard and a high percentage of people will be working much more than that.  But, still, they tend to work those oppressive hours however they choose.

In short, the general situation is that if one were to make that kind of edict for the Valley overall it would generally simply be ignored.  Most people would just keep doing what they are doing.  My guess is that most of the people at Yahoo will have exactly the same reaction.  In general they will ignore the edict.

The point here is that one company, especially one outlier, does not a trend make.  It’s a little early to announce that telework is a failed concept based on one announcement from one company.

 

Get Real.  The Order is Impossible.

The order said basically, “we need to collaborate so all you people who are working from home need to find an office and get in here and work.”

Is that even possible?

The first point is that most large companies in the Valley do not have anywhere close to as many cubes as they have employees.  And half the cubes that exist are empty much of the time.

The simple reality is that world has gone mobile.  People are working outside the office – whether at home or at Starbucks – whether Yahoo (or anyone else) likes it or not.

Companies are well aware of this and are trimming office expenses as a result.  Most companies only have cubes for perhaps 75% of the employees and the trend is downward.  I’m working with one large Valley enterprise that is in the process of reconfiguring all their large office buildings.  Their standard is to assume that 40% of their employees will be “mobile workers.”  This is not unusual.  In a few days I’ll be meeting with a large architectural firm to discuss putting in place new major capabilities to be able to help large companies in their efforts to “rightsize” their spaces in light of current reality.

Note that Yahoo is telling workers to “find an office.”  The wording implies that it will be a struggle.  Good luck on that.  The days of assuming that everyone would work from an office are over, and they aren’t coming back.

And second is that part about collaboration.  It is entirely true that one of the big issues for any company like Yahoo is the need for teams to collaborate.  Those of us who encourage “management by results” tend to ignore the fact that getting those results often involves people working with other people.

This is a valid issue for telecommuters.  Unfortunately, it is a valid issue for their office-bound teammates as well.

The fact is that the “large-team collaboration” problem isn’t solved by getting everyone in a room together.  First of all, it’s hard to get 10,000 people in a room together.  At best only a small subset of people will really be interacting directly together.

I used to manage a large division of a company that was similar to Yahoo.  We were in a large multi-story building in Silicon Valley.  I tried very hard to get the people there to interact directly  and collaborate more.  It was a hopeless task.  The reality is that people would almost never walk even to the other end of their own floor.  And over time I worked out an informal algorithm for the “acceptable horizontal distance to acceptable vertical distance” ratio.  It’s about 10 to 1.  The simple version is that people simply refuse to go up a floor or down a floor.  Many people would never directly interact with their teammates who were located ten feet above them on the next floor.

All of this is now exacerbated by two factors:

1.  Companies are increasingly formed as collections of people from all over the world.  Yahoo, like most other companies, operates large virtual global teams.  Most of those team members will never interact directly no matter what order the CEO issues.  What real difference does it make if I work from home when I spend 70% of my time in conference calls with people in another country?

2.  A huge percentage of collaboration is now virtual, even for people who share the same office building.  The Yahoo folk may be successful in “finding an office” but even if they do the majority of their interaction with other employees will be virtual.  Employees today often use electronic communication to interact  – whether it’s email, Yammer, Skype, Lync, blogs, forums, Sharepoint, Webex or any other application.  Most importantly, they often use electronic communications to interact with people in the same room, much less the same building.

 

So, overall of course I disagree with the order but all-in-all I’d say that it has very little significance to the telework world.  Virtual work is moving forward and Yahoo can do little to stop that (even if they really do want to).

 

Mostly, again, I think that using the Yahoo announcement as a lever to declare telework  a “good idea that failed” is over the top.

 

Those are my views, I’d love to hear yours.

 

Photo by TechCrunch50-2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work/Life Tangles are Unraveled by Tracky

 
tracky, collaboration, telework, task managementThe changes occurring in the workplace today result in lives that I’ve labeled as beige;  where beige describes the fact that in today’s highly mobile world work life and home life tend to blend into one tangled mass that continues non-stop from morning until night.

I recently discovered Tracky, a product that can really help to unravel and sort out that beige life.

Tracky was developed by a Las Vegas-based startup that is hosted at Switch, the world’s largest data center.  It introduced the application as a public beta launch in March, 2012 at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX.

Tracky has been described as, “an application for planning, collaborating and getting tasks done.”

At its heart Tracky is a collaborative task management tool, with all the pieces that are required for a group of people to work together on a complex project.

 

All-in-One Platform

Tracky is an all-in-one platform that is available on PCs as well as on mobile devices.  It brings together a collection of functions that are required for groups of people to work on projects together.  These capabilities include functions such as email, chat, task collaboration, file sharing, and social publishing.

Given that there are dozens of tools and applications that are addressing this space in one way or another, many of the things a user sees in Tracky will be very familiar.   It looks a lot like Yammer in some ways and more like Dropbox or Basecamp in other ways.

Given this similarity, and the fact that the space is already somewhat crowded, it’s fair to ask what Tracky is really adding that is new or unique.  One way to look at the answer to that question is to recognize that it isn’t so much what Tracky is adding to the world; it’s more about what it is taking away.

All of the things that are available in Tracky can already be done in other tools and in most cases multiple tools.  In fact, the key insight is that most users do, in fact, have to use multiple tools to match what Tracky will do.  More importantly, most users will have to use multiple instances of multiple tools to perform these functions in the different aspects of their beige lives.

A typical member of Tracky’s target cohort is probably currently using Outlook at work to do email, create calendars, and manage simple tasks.  They might also use Basecamp for more complex task management, Dropbox for file management, and Yammer for collaborative interaction.

As they produce results from these projects they may then turn to social tools such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to share the results with the world.

One challenge with that approach is that they are going back and forth between tools; opening and closing constantly, having to remember multiple interfaces, working from different devices, and entering duplicate information across those various tools.

This is where Tracky can be viewed as something that takes away from the existing environment rather than adding to it.  The truth is that using the existing collection of tools requires a great deal of wasted overhead to accomplish any kind of complex task.  Users slog their way through a swamp of inboxes, task list, friends lists, app interfaces, and notifications just to make their way to the work they really want to do.  It’s hard to really get anything done when so much effort is required just to remember all the logons and passwords.

Tracky cuts through that entire muddle.  It provides a complete collection of tools that all operate under a consistent, easy-to-use interface.

It isn’t too surprising to find that the functionality of Tracky is all built around the idea of a track - as in,“keeping track of something.”  A track is short blurb of information that describes something that needs to be done.  It can be a single action or one of a series of actions that are required to complete some larger action.  The Tracky team describes these as, “tweets for do-ers.”

Any kind of information can be stored in a track.  One common example is a file that is associated with the action.  For example, if the task were, “pick up groceries for tonight’s dinner” then the file stored with the track might be the shopping list.  The files are stored in the cloud and can be viewed by anyone who has access to the track.

Users can see a livestream of their tracks which shows the tracks themselves along with information on due dates, priorities, etc.  They can also access a complete calendar and chat with other members from the same interface.

 

Social Sharing

Beyond being an all-in-one tool for task management,  Tracky is really a social collaboration system.

Tracky supports social interaction within the Tracky environment and also supports connecting to the outside world through existing social networks.

Internal to the Tracky environment, users can establish Groups of people who will work together on some program.  Tracks can be marked as secret to just the people assigned to it or private to some particular group.  They can also be marked as public and the information is then available to and discoverable by the online community in general.

A variety of collaborative tools are provided to support the group members who are working together on various tracks.  The availability of public tracks makes it possible for the general population to explore interesting tasks and topics and to engage with the content creators.  Security is protected by way of private tracks that are invisible to the public.

This provision supports powerful internal collaboration but it also takes advantage of the current trend toward crowdsourcing.  The owner of a track can engage in a bit of crowdsourcing by encouraging the public to explore open tracks and contribute wherever they can.

Lastly, Tracky connects tracks to external social networks such as TwitterFacebook, and Buffer to share information and results.  This capability can be hugely important for many users.  For example, someone working social marketing tasks might be using tracks to manage the basic activity and connecting to external social networks to share actual marketing postings (the results of completing the tracks).

 

Unraveling a Beige Life

In spite of the power of the capabilities described above, the most interesting, unique, and powerful aspect of Tracky is its ability to help unravel the complications that result from the beiging of life.

It is certainly true that the average person consumes a lot of valuable time dealing with all the clutter that is associated with using multiple tools.  The real killer is the fact that the average user is struggling to try to keep up with multiple lives; or, more accurately, with the beiging of life.

Almost all of the existing tools assume that the user is working within one specific activity context.

For example, assume Ravi Sundapali is an operations manager working for some company named Advanced Offices Services.  AOS provides maintenance and operational services for large high-rise office buildings that are located in dense urban areas.  Ravi spends much of his day working tirelessly for AOS.  But he also has a large family and they engage in many family activities, some of them in the US and some internationally.  Beyond those family activities Ravi also contracts his services to one outside firm, does volunteer work at his kids’ school, works for a one local charity and one international charity, belongs to an online photography club, and  belongs to the local unit of Office Services Professional Association.  Of course Ravi also like to spend some time on Facebook and Twitter and likes to try his hand at Gardens of Time and online mahjong with his friends from China.

Ravi uses a typical set of tools to accomplish his work at AOS.  He keeps his basic tasks and calendar in Outlook and uses it for email as well.  He is quite tech savvy so he uses Basecamp to manage complex projects and Dropbox to share files. He would likely agree with the statement that these tools “help him connect and collaborate with all the people who are required to accomplish the work that he has to do.”

That statement is true, as long as the discussion is confined to Ravi within the ACS activity context; that is, the tools help Ravi connect and collaborate with his AOS community.  Over lunch Ravi plans to do some work for the local school.  That will be a different activity context, and so will involve a different set of people, a different set of projects, and a different set of tasks.  Moreover, the people who know Ravi within the school context will see him as being in a different role than he is with ACS.

Ravi has a dozen or so different activity contexts within his beige life.  That may seem to be a lot, but actually it  isn’t at all unusual in today’s beige world.  Where should Ravi store the tasks that he needs to complete for the school projects?  He could just put them in Outlook along with his ACS tasks except that ACS rules strictly forbid the use of ACS system for personal data.  Besides, he may not want his admin to see his school activities appearing on a company calendar.

Ravi’s real problem is that he has to consider this issue not only for work vs. school, he has to consider it for a dozen different parallel contexts.

Tracky was built to deal with this problem.  It is uniquely positioned to help unravel the enormous clutter that occurs due to the beiging of life.

It has been noted that Tracky “has the ability to help both individuals and companies.”  That statement is true but a key insight is that Tracky should be viewed as a tool that helps an individual, the Tracky user.  It will help that individual manage his or her various lives, including those that involve personal activities and those that involve one or more companies.

Tracky provides a very simple interface to accomplish this apparently complex task.  The user can simply establish multiple contexts using the Group capability.

Ravi might set up one group that includes only people from ACS.  All of his activity within that context will be visible only to people from ACS.  They don’t even need to be aware that any of this other contexts even exist.  Similarly, he can set up a group for school and one for family.  Each of these will constitute independent parallel contexts and are the key mechanism for unraveling his complex beige life.  Meanwhile, he can easily combine all of these contexts, and include the whole world, when he wants a broad distribution of a request for charity funding when he chooses to do so.

 

A Case Study 

The following is an example of the use of Tracky in a real-world activity:

South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) is one of the largest tech conferences in the world. It happens every March in Austin, Texas. It’s the event-of-the-year for startups seeking media attention and users, but it’s nearly impossible for their lean budgets to contend with the likes of Twitter and Foursquare. To make a splash, smaller players have to combine forces.
Las Vegas,NV is home to 250+ startups.   In the fall of 2012 the local Las Vegas tech scene decided to join together to create a disruptive SXSW experience (using the hashtag #VegasTech to bring it together).  In the end, #VegasTech successfully secured the largest pavilion at the trade show and organized and marketed two of the biggest parties at the 2013 conference. The community’s collaboration planning made such an impact that it garnered support from top SXSW officials and financial support from established Las Vegas businesses as well as local and state government and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

How did such a small, lean tribe manage to pull off such a large result?

 

Open Social Collaboration
In the beginning, there was enthusiasm. Gabe Shepherd (@gabeshep) instigated the idea and brought it to the community. After all, #VegasTech is a growing entity and the more attention it gets, the better chance the community has for longevity. Forbes has dubbed Vegas as the sixth best “new tech hot spot” due to its growth, collaborative vibe and dedicated leaders (such as Tony Hseih of Zappos and Rob Roy of Switch).

Promoting the tech community at SXSW had potential far-reaching implications for startups in need of media exposure and funding, drawing in specialized talent, and diversifying the local gaming-driven economy.

Gabe knew that passion and community alone weren’t enough to bring the idea to fruition. There were hundreds of tasks to coordinate. Since this was a community project, volunteer help was essential.  All sorts of people would need to pitch in – with disparate jobs and technology comfort zones. Email would be easy but it would be a management nightmare. Facebook groups could rope in people but couldn’t handle tasking workflows. Typical project management software could organize but it couldn’t provide the social engagement and public sharing that the project needed.

#VegasTech’s productivity solution needed to be disruptive: private and public, open and shared, individually accountable yet community-building. And everyone needed to jump in for free.

The Solution Was Tracky.


When passion, community and open collaboration come together, very big things can happen. Starting in the fall of 2012, #VegasTech focused efforts around a couple dozen high-level tracks which solicited community engagement on items like sponsorship, swag ideas, mobile app development, music talent acquisition, housing and travel logistics, volunteer needs and social sharing strategies. Many tracks were made public to encourage crowdsourcing beyond the 60+ group members.

Tracky allowed event organizers to share parts of the project via social networks, like Twitter and Facebook and still work privately on things that weren’t for public consumption. Public track sharing is a search strategy too. Because public “tracks” are crawled by search engines, anyone who searches the term “SXSW” or “Vegas Tech” will potentially see, in addition to the website, a link to the Tracky group and the actual public tracks themselves.  This gives the public opportunities to get involved and immediately jump into the conversation and share with others.

Those, along with the #Vegastech hashtag and personal relationships, were the catalysts for growing this successful event.

 

Flipside Workspace – Should You Use 3D Virtual Workspaces for Meetings?

3D virtual workspace, flipside, telework, virtual workI used to be CEO of a company that built 3D virtual workspaces for use in virtual meetings, training, rehearsal  and other business applications.  As a result of that role I’ve reviewed a host of virtual meeting environments and spent hundreds of hours in meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces.

Recently I discovered Flipside Workspace, a new 3D virtual work environment.

After spending some time in the environment I asked myself if I would choose Flipside if I were a company looking for a virtual meeting environment.  After some consideration I realized I was asking the wrong question, or at least was missing much of the point of Flipside.

Having said that, I think that 3D virtual workspaces are very valuable meeting environments, particularly as compared to other options:

3D Virtual Workspaces vs. Other Virtual Meeting Options

The most widely used option for virtual meetings is still audio conferencing.  They clearly work, since there are roughly 11 million audio conferences per day just in the US, but they also leave a lot to be desired.  How many hours have you spent in teleconferences, staring at a small speaker in the middle of a table while scratchy disembodied voices drifted up from it?  It’s often hard to tell who is speaking, voices are often not clear, and it is impossible to include visual information.

There are excellent web conferencing tools available and they provide powerful capabilities beyond simple audio conferencing.  The ability to have a shared view of slides, images, and videos provides a much stronger meeting environment.

Video conferencing adds the huge dimension of being able to actually see the participants in the meeting, however, most high-end video conferencing systems only operate in fixed locations and can’t be used in a mobile environment.

Meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces have huge benefits as compared to audio conferences and web conferences.  They provide almost all the capabilities of audio or web conferences but they also create a strong sense of presence.  (This “sense of presence” may not be immediately obvious but with extended usage it becomes very apparent.)  This strong visual environment improves engagement and interaction and helps provide participants with a strong visual memory of the meeting.

Unlike many video conferencing users, virtual meeting participants feel like they are in one room together in much the same way that they would in a physical conference room.   The use of avatars leads to much engagement and more human interactions among the participants. This visual participation can reduce unwanted “hidden multitasking.”

3D virtual workspaces also have great potential for adding capabilities that make them much more powerful than face-to-face meetings or video conferences.  Some of these can be very simple.  For example, given the graphical nature of the environment it’s possible to add labels to participants that display personal profile information when clicked.  On the more sophisticated end, importing 3D graphical objects  improves communication and collaboration regarding physical products.

In the near future we are likely to see language translation inserted into a virtual meeting environment and real-time translation can’t be too far off.  Automated virtual assistants will be attending the virtual meetings of the future and automated transcription services will provide records of all the conversations.

3D virtual workspace, telework, flipside

There are other benefits that may be less obvious.  One of the things that I observed  by attending many virtual meetings is that people who were naturally recessive came out much more strongly in meetings held in 3D virtual workspaces.  They are much more assertive than they ever were in any other form of meeting, including face-to-face meetings.  It seems that they were much more willing to step forward when acting behind the “security” of an avatar.  3D virtual workspaces are very valuable for the billions of business people who live in cultures that discourage contact between men and women.   They also hold great promise for bringing more disabled people into the workforce as well as for supporting continued employment for retiring baby boomers.

 

 

Addressing the Fundamental Issues in Virtual Work

Flipside can definitely support strong meetings.  They have resolved some of the primary technical issues that plagued 3D virtual workspaces in the past.  For example, most systems of the past required high-end graphics systems to execute properly and required large downloads and installs to begin operation.  They were also limited to desktop environments.   Flipside operates in a browser, does not require heavy downloads, is easy to use, and is mobile.

But back to my statement that I was wrong to think of Flipside as a meeting environment.

What I missed in my first analysis is that Flipside is much, much more than a meeting system.

 

Rather, it begins to address the most fundamental issues that have plagued virtual work forever.  Companies today are moving toward environments where much more of their workforce is virtual – whether from telework or mobile work.  Studies have shown that even though knowledge workers still have cubes those cubes often don’t have knowledge workers.  The majority of such cubes are vacant most of the time [http://goo.gl/PtWVj].

Companies around the globe are racing to reconfigure their physical spaces to emphasize shared common areas and hoteling cubes.  More and more employees are doing at least a significant part of their work at home or on the go.

This evolution creates a number of well-known problems.  Those who are working from home feel disconnected from their colleagues at work and they lose a sense of the office social environment.  Studies have shown that even those who remain full time in offices still feel  a loss of social interaction because so many of their companions are working outside the office [ http://goo.gl/EzlCQ]

Creating “common work areas” and dropping individual cubes may make for efficient building utilization but it creates huge problems for individual workers.  I recently participated in just such a transition for an enterprise company.  I spent several hours talking to an employee who was distraught about the transition.  I pointed out that he was rarely in his cube since he spends most of his time in a  hardware lab so I wasn’t sure why losing the cube was SUCH a big issue.  His answer was pretty simple:  ”Now I won’t have anywhere to hang my daughter’s picture.”

Issues associated with a loss of a sense of personal space and community participation are huge issues that companies must face as they seek to reconfigure both their work areas and their operational environments.

Those issues are the real reason there’s a Flipside Workspace.

 

Passive Perpetual Presence

Email and telephone are still the most widely used telework tools, which is telling in regard to what  is lacking with most online communication tools.  Why are email and telephone so popular? Of course, the obvious answer is they are familiar and easy to use.  But the less obvious answer is they are perpetual and personal.  “This is MY phone number and MY email address”.  It’s a way to be found, a way to be contacted, and a way to be connected at all times with minimal effort or invasiveness.  It’s passive presence.  And it is perpetual presence.   Those connections are always out there.  And they are yours, and yours alone.

Flipside is a virtual office environment, not a virtual meeting room.  Each person in flipside can have their own permanent office which they occupy for the entire workday.  There are conference rooms for large meetings, but any given worker will spend much of their day in their virtual office.

3D virtual workspace, telework, flipsideGiven this approach, Flipside Workspace provides the passive perpetual presence that is lacking with other forms of online meeting choices.  It is the place where mobile workers can “hang their hats” and be found without having to continuously set up meetings, or hangouts, or calls.   It is  the home base where workers can direct their colleagues and clients – “I’m in MY Flipside Workspace office 8-5”.  As a result, it is common to see workers who are simply sitting and chatting together in an office, much as they would a physical office.

This passive perpetual presence is rich in passive communications and visual cues that just aren’t present in email, telephone, web conferences, or even video conferences.  In Flipside, employees can visually see if the person they are trying to reach is available.   They can see if the worker is  busy conversing with someone else.  Their presence is observable, so a visitor can easily be included (or not) in an already ongoing conversation.  All of this provides an environment that is much more like a normal physical office environment.

 

Improved Online Experiences

Now back to that discussion about meetings.

Much of the problem that exists with online meetings isn’t about the technology that power the meetings, it’s about the lack of a surrounding environment and about the behavior of the meeting organizers and participants.   In Flipside, the goal is to mimic the experience of working in an office.  A meeting in an office doesn’t  start when the moderator takes the microphone, it starts before that…choosing your seat, saying “hi” to other participants, engaging with participants before the meeting starts and strengthening those professional relationships.

During the meeting, the experience includes seeing who is speaking and speaking up to clarify  ideas or words.  All of these behaviors are extremely difficult to mimic with existing virtual meeting technology, both because of the limitations of the technology itself and because they are designed to simply conduct meetings and don’t provide for a larger office environment.

 

Professionally Oriented Community

3D virtual workspaces, telework, virtual work,

Isolation is a commonly cited problem for those working from home.  In a physical office there are people around that you can bump into and ask quick questions.   Flipside Workspace provides a combination of passive perpetual presence and community

This combination recreates the experience of working in an office and eliminates those feelings of isolation while still maintaining the flexibility that

virtual work affords.

A company based in Flipside could have a receptionist who greets visitors during “office hours”, individual offices for workers, and the use of public spaces to invite casual interactions.   All of this contributes to making the Flipside users feel like they belong and that they have a  presence among their virtual peers.

All of this also allows companies to maintain a key corporate culture even as they transition to a hybrid of physical and virtual operation.

 

Here Come the Millennials

Whether you call them Millennials or GenY’s they are coming on strong and they have a natural affinity for virtual environments.  One of the things that I found most striking about watching users in 3D virtual workspaces is how strongly their reactions were associated with their demographic age group.    Older workers, who did not grow up with video games and Massively Multiplayer Online Games, sometimes struggled with the whole idea of avatars and resisted the idea of having to move them around.  Younger workers would pick up the interface in a matter of a few minutes simply because it was similar to what they had always known.

As those workers move up to dominate the workplace they will insist on the ability to work virtually and they will be expecting a Flipside-like environment to support it.

 

Flipside Workspace is pretty cool.  I recommend giving it a try.

 

[Thanks to Flipside Workspace for the photos.  Just for the record, I have no association with the company.]

 

 

Internet Extortion Drives Collaboration In Many Professions

 

collaboration, telemedicine, telehealth, second opinion, crowd sourcing, virtual work

The internet has been a mixed blessing for health care professionals.

It’s improved health care in innumerable ways, from simplifying appointment procedures to turbocharging telemedicine, but it’s also introduced new challenges for health care providers.

Many of today’s healthcare providers feel that the internet has become a de facto second opinion for virtually every case.  If your neighbor happens to be a family physician ask her if she has noticed that the internet seems to be encroaching on doctor-patient relationships.  You’re likely to get a smile and a nod.  Or perhaps a grimace and a nod.  She is likely to be very familiar with the pattern where a patient enters the examination room with a wad of internet printouts tucked under his  right arm.

 

Internet-Based Self-Diagnosis Changes the Doctor-Patient Relationship

While many doctors accept the fact that the internet is the de facto second opinion the realty is that in many cases this isn’t quite true.  On the contrary, since as many as 77% of patents reach for the internet for medical information before opening the doctor’s door, in some cases it could be said that it’s the doctor who’s really the second opinion (http://goo.gl/vAmTM)!

The fact that SO many people use the internet in this way creates serious problems for professionals and patients alike.  It can take considerable time for a doctor to disabuse a patient who has come pre-armed with an internet-brewed diagnosis. There is also a growing tendency toward cybercondria - people incorrectly concluding that they have serious medical conditions based on reading information from the internet (http://goo.gl/dkirH).  Given that typing “flu-like symptoms” into Google returns almost 20 million results its easy to see how there could be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

 

A Mild Form of Extortion

It’s not surprising that many doctors find this situation to be pretty annoying.  Most people don’t savor the prospect of having a critic permanently peering over their right shoulder, set to pounce on any statement that they question.    Most people would find it particularly distasteful if this uninvited guest were generally incompetent and often misinformed.

In some cases patients may use the threat of a second option as a mild form of extortion:  ”Give me some antibiotics for my cold or I will have to get a second opinion.”  Given the flavor of the internet “de facto second opinion” it can feel like a similar form of “extortion” even if that really isn’t the intent.  This is especially true when a patient goes to the internet AFTER she sees her doctor.

At a bare minimum this type of interaction can feel disrespectful and unnecessarily challenging.

 

Doctors Aren’t Alone

This type of interaction may be most common in the medical community but the truth is that doctors are hardly alone in this situation.

Educators also find that some “problem parents” search the internet for information to be used to challenge the teacher, sometimes almost to the point of bullying.

Twenty years ago an enterprise could announce an annual raise pool along with data regarding the “industry comparables”  with little fear of that data being challenged.  Today the data regarding that “industry standard” is likely to be challenged by ten employees with internet-based data in a matter of hours.

Architects of yesteryear could propose a concept layout with little fear of fundamental challenge from their customers.  Those same architects today might well see ten internet-sourced competing “ideas” in an hour.

Dentists who declare that “those teeth can’t be straightened” are likely to see a pile of teeth-straightening printouts in a heartbeat.

Across professions and around the world the internet is being used as a basis for assembling data that is used to challenge expert opinion and assertions.

 

Challenges Ultimately Drive Collaboration

Many professionals find this trend to be pretty disturbing but there are aspects that can be very positive.  The ultimate impact of this trend is that it forces a more collaborative approach to decisions making and problem solving. It also has the effect of involving patients, customers, clients, partners, and the community more in decisions by encouraging experts to provide more information and to explain the basis for their decisions.

For example, in a paper that advises doctors on how to manage the prevalence of misinformation from the internet Dr. Hunderford advises his fellow doctors to, “Produce white papers for patients to read before entering into any discussions with them explaining what you do and why” (http://goo.gl/L3IX7).   Many researchers have concluded that, “the Internet offers far-reaching potential to engage patients more fully as partners in medical decision-making and in their course of treatment (http://goo.gl/VCqGV).

Beyond these indirect forms of increased collaboration the internet also increases opportunities for direct and explicit collaboration.  For example, telemedicine applications allow doctors to collaborate together on specific cases and allow expert specialists to assist general practitioners located in rural areas where specialists are few and far between.

Similar approaches are used in various e-learning systems and other virtual work applications.  All of them result in more client involvement in decision-making processes and in clients having a better understanding of the decisions that are made and the conclusions that are reached.

In a nutshell, internet-based “extortion”, although annoying, is valuable in that it forces more discussion and interaction.

 

Crowdsourcing

The general trend toward a more collaborative form of decision-making culminates in the growing concept of crowdsourcing.    This concept, introduced in 2006 (http://goo.gl/6bMn0) involves the “outsourcing” of tasks or other goals to a group for resolution.  Specific variants of crowdsourcing are based on specific applications. For example, crowdsourced design (http://goo.gl/LaC0H) employs the crowd to make design decisions and crowdfunding  using a crowd to raise money.

 

All of these trends have the effect of shifting the control of key decisions from a single decision maker to a more collaborative body and  they tend to include the client, customer, or patient more in the decision-making process.

One thing they do not do is change reality.  If a patient has lung cancer then they have lung cancer, regardless of what the crowd thinks about it.

The impact of crowdsourcing and other internet-based moves to more collaborative solutions doesn’t change reality; rather they help those impacted by the decisions better understand the basis of the decisions and help ensure that the best decisions are reached.

Telecommuting: Dumb Claims Regarding Work-Life Balance

telecommuting, telework, work-life balance

Several recent articles have been critical of telecommuting, some claiming that it increases work hours and damages work-life balance while others claim that it makes workers fat and damages the environment.

One widely quoted paper is The Hard Truth About Telecommuting (http://goo.gl/QGmhd).  It sets out to answer several questions regarding the effectiveness of telecommuting, including the following: “Can telecommuting live up to its promise as an effective work-family policy that helps employees meet their nonwork responsibilities?”

Eventually the paper concludes that not only does telecommuting, “not unequivocally helpful in reducing work-family conflicts” it also claims that, “telecommuting appears to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours.”

The Times of India ran an article titled Telecommuting Ruins Your Work-Life Balance (http://goo.gl/d53tS) that concludes that telecommuting is an “electronic sweatshop” and that “many employees who telecommute occasionally end up doing far more work than before their emancipation.”  This article also notes that telecommuting can cause employees to gain weight and that it adds to the total number of miles driven.

Another paper titled Telecommuting ups work hours, UT study finds (http://goo.gl/9xzlM), claims that telecommuting, “blurs the boundary between work and home.”

There have been a number of other recent articles that warn readers in one way or another to, “avoid the trap of telecommuting.”

The conclusions drawn by these articles are in serious error largely due to a failure to understand WHY employees value telecommuting and a failure to clearly distinguish between different forms of virtual work:

 

1. Telecommuting isn’t about avoiding work

There is an amazing tendency to assume that telecommuting employees will do everything possible to avoid work.  The Mayor of London famously implied that Londoners are sloths and referred to telecommuting as a “skiver’s paradise” (http://wp.me/p2nZ8P-cS).  A whole body of work concentrates on how to ensure the telecommuters are really working and the Times article focuses on how telecommuting make it difficult for managers to determine if their employees are really working.

These discussions provide no evidence that telecommuting employees are motived by a desire to avoid work.  One thing that most telecommuters do want to avoid is the commute.   Even if it is true that telecommuting employees work more hours it isn’t necessarily valid to refer to that situation as a trap;  many employees would gladly work more hours just to avoid the commute.

 

2.  Work-life balance isn’t all about total hours worked

The Hard Truth paper’s claim that telewoking is, “not unequivocally helpful in reducing work-family conflicts” is based on the observation that teleworking increases the total number of hours worked.  They also state that to be effective in terms of improving work-life balance telecommuting must be, “instrumental in substituting hours at home for hours onsite.”

This misses the point that work-life balance can often be improved by providing flexibility in work hours even if the total number of work hours increase.  A working parent might feel that their life was far more balanced if telecommuting gave them the opportunity to be available to pick up their children, even if doing so required them to work some additional time.  Other employees might welcome the opportunity to go see a movie in the afternoon, even if they end up working a greater number of total hours during the evening.

 

3.  Blurring work boundaries isn’t really the result of telecommuting -

The UT article explicitly states a point that is at least implied in the other articles, namely that telecommuting “blurs the boundary between work and home.”

This point raises what is becoming a major issue and shows every sign of being a trend that will have a large and potentially very negative impact on work-life balanced in the future.

As I noted in a previous post(http://wp.me/p2nZ8P-rf), it is absolutely true that the boundaries between work life and home life are blurring.  In fact, in many cases they have all but disappeared.  In the US many workers are working off and on for the entire day and also engaging in personal activity off and on all day.  Many people check their cell phones as soon as they wake up and just before they go to sleep.  In most cases they are checking both work and personal email in a blended stream.  50% of Americans say they check work email in bed and 75% admit that they check it while in the bathroom.

While it is true that this has the potential to wreak havoc on work-life balance it isn’t true that it is primarily the result of telecommuting.  The issue of blending of work and life is a general issue that affects large segments of the population overall.  Most of the people involved in that trend are not telecommuting – at least as telecommuting is normally defined.

 

 

There are certainly issues and concerns relative to telecommuting but for most potential participants it is not a trap and in many cases it can play a key role in improving work-life balance.  Most of all, employee need to have the flexibility to choose that open when they want to as long as it is appropriate for the type of job being considered.

Mhealth – Get An ECG on the GolfCourse. A Sea Change in Healthcare

telemedicine, telehealth, mhealthA new i-Phone based heart monitor introduced by AliveCor demonstrates how much the healthcare world will be rocked by telemedicine and mhealth devices.

The AliveCor Heart Monitor (http://goo.gl/6ONsr) is an amazing device that operates with an iPhone to provide an ECG recorder that fits in a pocket.  According to the company’s site the device will record an accurate single-channel rate and rhythm assessment in a matter of seconds.

The device is currently cleared for sale only to US licensed medical professionals, but I assume the intent is to put it in the hands of consumers.  Specifically, the site states the following:

The device is not currently available for pre-sale to patients and consumers.

We will have more information available for patients and consumers in January.

It’s when the device reaches the consumer market that it becomes really interesting.

This kind of device could be priceless to me as a non-medical professional in that it has the potential to bring some level of clarity to what are now giant black holes in my own decision making process.

Let’s think about the current real-world situation.  If I’m out golfing or sailing and I begin to feel chest pain what am I REALLY supposed to do?  I’ve read those how to tell if you are having a heart attack sites.

They include phrases like “chest pain” and “lightheartedness.”  The problem, as a practical matter, is that I have no way of determining whether the kind of chest pain that I’m experiencing is the kind that the rule writer had in mind.  Maybe my lightheartedness is simply from fear of a heart attack.  Or maybe it isn’t.  Should I just forget it?  Or should I be hoping for an ambulance.  Or it really such an urgent crisis that I should be hoping the hear the sound of a helicopter?

The fact is that is that I really have no way of knowing and no clear way of deciding.

The advice that is given most often is that if there is any doubt call 911.  That’s certainly good, conservative advice but following it results in a huge number of unnecessary emergency room visits.  ”Unresolved chest pain” is one of the most common reasons for an ER visit and a high percentage of those are not really required (http://goo.gl/UzmRe).   This results in huge costs and wasted time on the part of both patient and the care provider.

This type of device has the potential to bring real data to the decision process – and to does so when I’m out on the golf course.  For the first time I might get an expert eye on my data long before I reached the ER – and when I am making that critical decision as to whether I should go.

While this is interesting as it relates to the specifics of this device it’s also interesting in that it indicates the extent to which telehealth, and in particular mhealth,  are changing our everyday lives.   Just this one device has the potential to make a significant improvement in the lives of millions of people.  As other similar devices are developed they will impact the lives of billions.

It is also a great example of telehealth that isn’t about making rural life better.  One of the recurring themes of telehealth is that it can be instrumental in improving health care for  rural residents.  This device is an example of how mhealth devices can benefit the population in general by providing medical care that goes with them wherever they go.

I think this is a brilliant device and it’s an example of great things to come.