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For Business
November 7, 2013

Mastering collaboration with mobile technology

We used to absorb entertainment collectively by gathering around a single television screen or radio as a household. These days however, we each have our own tiny screen in our pockets; one that allows us to view bite-sized chunks of on-demand entertainment in the form of YouTube videos, blog posts, and social media streams, all absorbed by an audience of one.

The shared consumer experience has become fragmented. Any interesting or inspiring discoveries we make can be shared at arms-length through RTs, emails etc, but the syncopated ripples of experience are a world away from the collective consciousness that comes with real-time viewing, together as a family, team, or community.

The same can apply to the work we do. In the always-on, “work anywhere, be everywhere” world of mobile, the real focus of communication technology in a professional environment translates to something much more liberating: collaboration.

Not every project requires collaboration, but when initiated it’s a process that sees us bursting out of our private bubbles of experience and broadening our awareness, insight, talents, and worldview by welcoming others into a piece of work, for construction, review, and reiteration.

Mobile technology allows this process to thrive regardless of geographical location – increasing the potential for collaboration on an international scale. In many cases the physical distance between contributors can actually be a benefit, not an obstacle.

Distance and flexibility can result in a more fertile environment for fostering independent creative thought, free from distraction and constraint, while simultaneously having guidance and peer review within arm’s reach via email, Skype, and file sharing services.

For some organisations, collaborating with colleagues remotely isn’t just a technological luxury, it’s standard operating procedure. Taking matters one step further, Silicon Valley’s version-control and code repository service GitHub prefers to collaborate through different time-zones too, via a process called an asynchronous workflow.

Asynchronous workflows occur when team members involved with a project maintain overlapping business hours; most commonly in the case of international businesses with offices that span entire time zones.

Technology blogger Vivek Haldar sums up the fundamental differences between these two working styles in practice as follows:

“A regular, synchronous working style is one where some of all of the team has to regularly stop what they’re doing, meet and discuss and agree on the next steps together, and then get back to work implementing those steps. These synchronous ‘join points’ are frequent, unavoidable, and built into the structure of the work.

“An asynchronous working style is one where the entire team rarely, if ever, gets together for big agreements and discussions, each individual team member more or less works on their own and at their own pace, with collaboration and agreement being handled by asynchronous mechanisms such as e-mail and shared online documents.”

The shift away from these ‘join points’ often ends up manifesting itself as a productivity STACK as opposed to the more traditional ‘real world’ alternative of a FLOW timeline; by working asynchronously in a digital space, time ceases to become a constraining factor.

As written about in our Mobile Mastery ebook (), the notion of stacks and flows requires a vital mental distinction to be made between media stacks which require individual attention for each item, and media flows, which should be dipped into when we need assistance or inspiration.

Your email inbox, when properly tamed, is a prime example of stack media in action. Twitter on the other hand represents flow media, which can be just as useful, but runs the risk of dragging us away from our working purpose for the reliable and addictive dopamine hit of infinite scrolling.

By transferring standard collaboration from the ‘flow’ format of a physical, bustling office environment to the virtual ‘stack’ space of the mobile web, asynchronicity allows for a calmer, more considered approach.

Another simple technique for ensuring your colleagues get the best out of you when working together is to foster a policy of declaring “unless I hear differently”, an ingenious solution to creating a bias for action in your workplace.

Examples of this concept being put into practice may be stating “unless I hear differently, I will send the files to print at 4pm” or “unless I hear differently, I will prioritise this particular client”.

Besides clever tricks like these, there are hundreds of excellent digital tools available to solicit creative collaboration, and each will appeal to specific needs that vary from group to group, but a few of my own personal favourites are:

Microsoft Office – one of the most versatile and effective systems for creating and sharing documents with colleagues comes built into every Nokia Lumia device as standard.

Basecamp – an excellent web-based project tracker, with clear and simple functionality for discussions, task-lists, and file sharing. Camper is the official Basecamp app for Windows Phone.

Trello – an intuitive, collaborative service that works equally well for keeping colleagues up-to-date and on-track with large-scale business projects as well as doling out household chores for your family. MyTrello is a Windows Phone app that connects to your Trello account.

Evernote – an easy, customisable note-taking system with built-in reminders and document sharing, for exchanging thoughts, lists, and progress with your colleagues on the go.

Do let us know your own preferred modes of digital collaboration in the comments section.

This article is part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with the latest ideas on productivity, collaboration and technology adoption. To download our latest ebook Mobile Mastery visit

Image credit: leoplus