What are the biggest differences between a typewritten letter and an email? Besides the fact the former probably did not include any live links to cat videos, the differences come down to visibility.
A typewriter produces just one copy that just one person can read at a time. To share it, you have to physically hand it to another person, or copy it and hand out individual copies. Obviously, with email, you can send the exact same message to as many people as you want, all of whom can view and respond to it simultaneously, from almost anywhere in the world.
You already know all that, so what’s my point? There are probably some aspects of your current work life where you—yes, you—are using the equivalent of a typewriter in a digitized world. Let’s explore 10 of them.
Visibility Killer #1: Paper Planners
Whether or not you’re aware of it, there’s been a quiet resurgence of paper planners taking place right under our noses. Think Filofax or the FranklinCovey Day Planner, circa 1998, but festooned with stickers, embellishments and something called “Washi tape.” As of this writing, there were 1.9 million posts under the #planner hashtag on Instagram, and most look something like this:
Business Insider has even reported on the trend, noting that planner decorating videos on YouTube can garner 10,000 to 100,000 views. Many “planner addicts” confess to maintaining more than one planner at a time.
Whether it stems from nostalgia or a desire to express creativity every day in a tactile way, this trend has one giant problem—apart from the fact that so much planning surely must get in the way of any actual doing. The problem is, of course, that paper planners can’t sync with your desktop or your mobile device.
In order for them to be useful as actual planning tools, they must always be with you.
If your planner gets lost or stolen, there’s no available backup. And even the fanciest planner around can’t alert you that your next meeting is starting in 30 minutes.
But, I get it. Your Google calendar and your average productivity software are not nearly as pretty.
Visibility Killer #2: Email as a Proofing Tool
Email certainly has solved some of the visibility problems we suffered from in the past. Unlike faxes and paper memos, email can be viewed and accessed from multiple devices, and it provides a searchable record of past conversations and decisions. (Just ask Hillary Clinton.)
But when used to circulate proofs to multiple people for approval, it has a big visibility problem. Each commenter opens the attachment and replies with feedback, but they can’t simultaneously view the comments others have made, so they are likely duplicating effort or contradicting other suggestions.
Furthermore, some stakeholders will hit “reply” while others will “reply all,” which results in multiple email threads for the original sender to comb through.
At the end of the day, the person who sent the proof has to manually aggregate all of the feedback, and reach out to resolve competing suggestions.
There is a better way. Today’s online proofing solutions make it possible for all stakeholders to review and comment in a shared online space, where all suggestions are visible to everyone, all at once. If an important stakeholder fails to weigh in, that will be immediately obvious, too.
Visibility Killer #3: Microsoft Word for Document Reviews
Microsoft Word is great if you are asking just one person to review your document using the “track changes” feature. You can see every suggestion and correction, and accept or reject them one by one.
But if you’re asking multiple people to review a document simultaneously, you suddenly have multiple copies out there, each with a separate set of tracked changes you’ll have to comb through and somehow combine.
Google docs and other similar platforms, on the other hand, will host your document online, allowing multiple reviewers to edit it at the same time and leave feedback that everyone can see and comment upon.
If you need feedback on something more complex than a word document (i.e., graphics, pdfs, videos, web pages and other media-rich assets), a digital proofing solution is your best bet.
Visibility Killer #4: Instant Messaging for Project Questions
Google chat and other instant messaging services are a great way to see who’s available for a quick question. (If they have a green dot next to their name, they probably are.) It’s also a great way to get question answered without having to pick up the phone or trek across the office to their cubicle. Slack and HipChat have similar benefits.
The disadvantages? There are only two people privy to both the question and the answer, and while the conversations are usually archived, they’re not organized by work project or topic. They’re hidden inside a chronological stream of all your other IM activity, including those snarky side conversations you have while you’re supposed to be paying attention to a conference call and the Internet memes you inevitably send and receive.
For greater visibility, use the commenting and updating features inside your work management solution. This way, all questions about a project are collected alongside the other details about that job, providing a record for anyone who has a stake in the project, now or in the future.
Visibility Killer #5: A Whiteboard for Tracking Work Progress
Many Scrum and KANBAN purists say there’s nothing better than a physical whiteboard and sticky notes for your Burndown Chart or Work in Progress board. These tangible tools are colorful and eye-catching, they reflect the current status of all work, they’re easy to update, and they’re almost always located in a central, highly visible space. That’s all the transparency you need, right?
Well, whiteboards work great for some teams, but there’s always one big drawback: they’re really only visible to project teams while they are in the office (unless you decide to train a webcam on your whiteboard for remote employees). Executives and other stakeholders remain in the dark unless they actually wander into the team’s workspace.
Instead, look for an enterprise work management solution that supports Agile, such as Workfront, where you can use an electronic board to track team work. If you like the large, physical-display aspect of the old whiteboard, install a large monitor that displays your electronic board in a public area.
Might as well get on board now. Electronic tracking will grow increasingly important as the trend of remote working continues to rise. (In our 2016-2017 State of Enterprise Work report, 52% of workers believe that most workers will be remote in just a few years.)
Visibility Killer #6: Lengthy Email Chains for Scheduling a Meeting
What’s the problem with sending out a scheduling email to six people, asking each to share the dates and times they’re available (or not available) for the coming week? Just like with the proofing problem, some will hit “reply” and others will hit “reply all,” leaving you with several email threads to sort through. And people can’t easily see or absorb anyone else’s availability before they respond.
For better results, make sure all key players in your company, as well as contractors, use a shared calendaring system, like Google calendar. Once you get the system set up, with all the right people granted the right amount of visibility, scheduling a meeting is as easy as clicking the “find a time” button. All open appointment times for all invitees are instantly displayed for the time range you select.
But what if you work with contractors or dispersed employees who are all on different systems? Give Doodle a try. This service allows you to send out a survey of available meeting times, and invitees can respond with just a few clicks—and see other people’s responses dynamically displayed. This little extra dose of visibility will save you valuable time, and eliminate the back-and-forth of a lengthy email chain.
Visibility Killer #7: Greeting Cards for Employee Recognition
When was the last time a Hallmark card killed anything, let alone visibility? Well, this might be a first.
By all means, send a private and heartfelt love note to your significant other on Valentine’s Day or your anniversary, and seal it inside an envelope, spritzed with perfume. (In fact, we’d all prefer that you do this, rather than broadcasting your devotion on Facebook.) This is a great use of the greeting card, as are Happy Birthday wishes, condolences, and notes of appreciation for acts of service. No visibility needed here.
But when it comes to recognizing an employee for work well done, why keep that sentiment private and hidden? Why not applaud your employee in a more public way, so others can appreciate her too and be encouraged that they could receive similar praise for their own great work?
Use your work management solution to offer specific praise or feedback on team member’s accomplishments, and tag as many relevant parties as you can, especially that person’s manager. That will mean more than all the private praise in the world.
Visibility Killer #8: An Internal Server for Managing Digital Assets
Believe it or not, 48% of creative teams are not using any form of digital asset management solution. As for the remaining 52%, many are using outdated solutions that are installed on-premises, meaning they lack the power and flexibility that cloud-based solutions provide.
If you have all of your digital assets stored in a series of folders on a company network, your files may be accessible, but they’re definitely not visible. You’d have to know the filename or approximate date of creation of any file you hope to locate. And then you have to have the right software installed on your computer to be able to open half of the files to even see if they’re the right ones.
With a digital asset management (DAM) solution, you can view and find files fast, convert and share files without leaving the interface, and ensure the right files are used properly by managing access and permissions. Robust metadata, filters, and searchable keywords make it even easier for anyone to zero in on the file they need, without needing to through a human gatekeeper.
Visibility Killer #9: Locally Installed Design Software
Those who were used to individual Photoshop and Illustrator licenses installed on individual computers weren’t exactly thrilled when Adobe Creative Cloud first debuted in 2013, with it’s SaaS model and monthly fee structure. But 8 million subscribers can’t be wrong.
According to prodesigntools.com, “Prior to the launch of Creative Cloud, Adobe had an installed base of 12.8 million customers using different versions of the older CS tools, which had been built up over a decade… The latest subscription figures show that they have attained over half that user base for the new Creative Cloud products in the space of just a few years, at a steadily faster pace – a rather impressive uptake.”
One of Creative Cloud’s clear advantages is improved visibility and compliance, a big deal for IT professionals. According to Softchoice Advisor:
“With Creative Cloud you know exactly how many Adobe licenses you have deployed in your environment, and who has them. You can also see the cloud storage use for each user, to confirm whether they are actually using the software—allowing you to scale back on unused licenses. More importantly, because Creative Cloud is subscription-based, there’s less chance of deploying licenses beyond your Adobe agreement and finding yourself unexpectedly out of compliance.”
Beyond the benefits to the IT team, Creative Cloud also improves visibility with its invaluable integrations with work management solutions like Workfront, digital asset management software, and other cloud-based tools.
Visibility Killer #10: Multiple Disconnected Tools
If you have a half-dozen different tools, all promising you increased visibility, transparency, insights, and more, but none of them are synched up with each other, you still have a big visibility problem. You’ll find yourself manually entering information from one system into another, duplicating work in different systems, and wasting time on other inefficiencies.
What to do? Before you ever invest in a new software solution, make sure it plays nice with the other systems you currently rely on.
Writing specifically about DAM, Workfront CMO Joe Staples recently said:
“Your DAM solution should support integration with other IT systems, eCommerce systems, content management systems, websites, intranet sites, project management solutions, and design software like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. And don’t forget Single Sign-On, which conveniently allows employees to use their existing credentials to access the system.”
But the same holds true for any cloud-based solution. Workfront, for example, integrates seamlessly with Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Manager, ProofHQ, Workfront DAM, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Word, Box, SharePoint, ExactTarget, Salesforce, Jira and more.
I Can See Clearly Now…
You wouldn’t dream of using a typewriter in the modern work environment, unless you were pulling an ironic stunt. And yet there are plenty of subtler visibility killers that are still seeing widespread use, despite the fact that better options exist. Which of the 10 barriers listed above is clouding your vision the most? Address these issues in your organization one by one, and watch all aspects of your work and productivity come into sharper focus.
About the Author
Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.Follow on Twitter More Content by Heather Hurst