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At StartupNation, we see quite a few technology startups with cute, nonsense names and quirky URLs that offer some sort of digital service to supplement or replace elements of our physical lives. Some are really great, like the app to call and pay for a private car to my location for slightly more than a taxi. However, after hearing numerous pitches and trying out many items, I have become convinced that some elements of our lives, specifically our office lives, do not need replacing. In fact, some traditional methods actually increase productivity and perform their functions better than their flashy digital replacements. Here are three office must-haves in particular that StartupNation views as critical.
One app that was recently recommended to me was Clear. Using intuitive swipes and a nifty reactive user interface, it makes building and checking off to do lists almost fun – if you open it, that is. The reason sticky notes work so well is their versatility; they do not operate within the confines of operating systems or software hierarchies. I can stick a note right to my forehead if I want to, a parody that has become cliché. However, it is illustrative of their usefulness. So far, all the sticky note would-be replacements fit into the digital ecosystem that is by its very nature organized. Sticky notes reject that and block part of my screen or obscure parts of my desk. I want them out of my way and, therefore, am more likely to get what is written on them completed.
I have a smart phone, and I love it. I love it so much that sometimes I worry I have become its slave. When it lights up or makes a noise, I feel so strongly compelled to pick it up that I feel an anxious guilt if I ignore it. But my smartphone has its limits, especially in my office. I often feel like I have to raise my voice on my cellphone, which means everyone else in my office has to as well, adding to the din. Service is not always optimal, and I find that Internet-calling services, while great, are not foolproof and drop calls. On the other hand, a solid office phone system like the Syn248 business phone system from AT&T makes conference calls super simple and still lets me walk around my work area or take a call elsewhere in the office. It also keeps my work separate from my personal life. This classic technology, updated for today’s business environment, is a big win for those who integrate it into their small businesses and offices.
PowerPoints have come to dominate meeting agendas and that is a scary trend. Not only do they eat up valuable time for those who prepare them – endless tinkering with layouts, fonts and graphics – but they are inherently one-sided. They do not invite collaboration or ongoing improvement and updating. Whoever prepares the PowerPoint has days of time to reason out his or her arguments on each slide, which makes them great vehicles for selling an already agreed upon idea. PowerPoints come up short in a collaborative setting with stakeholders from whom you want feedback. A PowerPoint is a speech, whereas white boards are conversations. Inside the StartupNation office, nearly every work space has its own white board. They are the proverbial campfire around which employees can gather and visualize ideas in real time, rather than mocking up a PowerPoint.
Digital services are fantastic in many arenas, no argument there. However, the shimmer of something new can often obscure the utility of tried and tested methods. I often feel like I am at fault when I cannot integrate some new digital product into my life and habits, but then I remember that the best-designed products fit themselves in seamlessly.