Recently I found myself needing to join an important teleconference just as I had to begin my commute into the office. No problem, right? That’s what mobile technology is for.
Thinking ahead, I knew that if I started the conference at home, it would drop as soon as I left my Wi-Fi range. So I left the house early, parked down the street, connected my Bluetooth headset and joined the meeting with mere seconds to spare before hitting the road.
To my surprise, no one could hear me. So I had to pull over again and leave the meeting to fix the settings of the app I was using. I then had to retrieve the call-in details from my email again, and scribble the access code on a scrap of paper so I could call back in. Despite my good intentions, I was six minutes late and had to apologize profusely to the person I left hanging.
I’ve learned many lessons like this as I work increasingly from the road. I’ve found that there are some fundamental differences in how you succeed in a mobile work environment compared to a traditional office environment, and some additional factors to consider.
Mobile collaboration requires a new mindset. In order to be both effective and “present” while on the go, avoid some of these common mistakes:
1. Not preparing for the X factor
A mobile work environment, by definition, is in constant transition with lots of variables. You’ve got to be ready to adapt to each situation and be prepared for anything and everything that WILL get in the way of your productivity.
That can mean anything from stocking up on portable chargers and cables, to always building an extra fifteen minutes to your schedule in case of delays. The last thing you want to do is be the reason 14% of people have heard a toilet flush during call – a finding from a global survey we did on building better meetings.
Planning to join a conference call right after your plane is scheduled to land? I’ve learned from experience how important it is to warn colleagues in advance so they aren’t left hanging if my flight is delayed – and to put a backup meeting on the calendar later in the day, just in case.
2. Neglecting Relationships
‘Water cooler’ conversations just don’t happen when you’re mobile. But those informal, personal connections are so valuable for building the strong relationships based on trust and respect that enable you to get more done. According to a recent mobile collaboration study by Plantronics, it’s those impromptu collaboration opportunities and relationships that workers missed the most when out of the office.
One member of my team is 100% remote and based thousands of miles away from me. To make that distance feel shorter, we depend greatly on frequent videoconferences. This helps us avoid misunderstandings that can arise when we aren’t able to see each other face-to-face.
To that end, collaboration tools and instant messaging platforms are great for having the same kind of real-time, informal connection you might have if you ran into a colleague in the office kitchen. You may not be there in person, but you can reach out via phone, a quick IM or even video chat. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled call to check-in and see how a colleague is doing.
3. Not being mindful of how you’re coming across
We should all aim not to be “that person” on a conference call. You know the one – they show up late, apologizing for technical difficulties, and overshadow the conversation with a slew of background noise like chatter, traffic, barking dogs and worse.
When you’re mobile, you lack the benefit of non-verbal communication to help convey your message. In the absence of visual cues, listeners focus even more acutely on what they hear. In fact, in voice-only conversations, 87 percent of a message is communicated through tone of voice alone. Unfortunately, this same principle also applies to any background noise, with more than 64 percent of people surveyed by Plantronics stating that they are often distracted by surrounding noises while on a conference call.
In order to make the best impression possible while on the phone, try standing up while you speak to convey energy and confidence. Consider the acoustics of the room if you’ll be on speaker. For video calls, pay attention to your background and lighting. And be sure to have the right tools at your disposal such as a noise cancelling headset with an easily accessible MUTE button – its strategic use can make or break a call.
4. Not choosing the right medium for the message
There are plenty of ways to communicate these days, from emails and IMs to video, phone calls, and text messages. Each one can be the right choice, depending on the message you’re trying to deliver and the urgency of the matter.
Lately, I’ve been impressed by some of the newer collaboration platforms hitting the market like Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams. They recognize that different messages require different mediums, and offer everything from group messaging to integrated screen sharing and video conferencing as part of a unified platform.
If you have yet to find a platform that suites your needs, remember that there are always new options. For example, my colleagues in Southeast Asia use WhatsApp as a primary tool to collaborate, and exchange messages and photos.
5. Getting sidelined by technical challenges
Successful mobile collaboration depends on a fairly robust infrastructure to support it. It’s critical to think through all the necessary elements for successful interactions in advance. Otherwise, you might give off the impression of someone who is unprepared or unprofessional. Meetings starting late are a particular example we can all relate to, with 70% of people reporting 3-8 minutes on average of delays due to technical challenges – another finding from a global survey we did on building better meetings.
For example, many people working from home discover (when it’s too late) that their home Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to support the download and upload speeds necessary for a video conference or to download a large file from a remote server. Or you may plan to take a phone call from a remote location, only to discover that your cell phone service in that area is unexpectedly poor.
Preparation is the key here. Evaluate your connectivity to ensure it supports the work you’ll need to do.
For phone calls, test signal strength prior to dialing in. For particularly important teleconferences or videoconferences, you could even do a test run with a colleague and make sure you come through loud and clear.
The evolution of mobile collaboration has been exciting and empowering for many. The first wave of mobile collaborators sought the same access to information and tools that their office-based colleagues did. Now that access is nearly identical anywhere, we can turn our focus toward expanding the social interaction of an office so we can be “present” from any distance. Mobile collaboration delivers real business results, and by avoiding these pitfalls you can make it even more effective. Click here for more tips on equipping the members of the mobile workforce for success.