Working Outside the Inbox: Those pesky status updates

imageYou know the pain: You’re on a team, likely in a support role covering the phones on shift work taking calls from clients. Or, perhaps you’re on a project team, covering some critical piece of the puzzle, or waiting on a colleague to close out their piece so you can move forward… And your inboxes are bulging at the seams with both critical information as well as those “nice to know” status updates.

In so many cases, we all find ourselves under this barrage of status update emails, FYIs, and other important, yet immediately unnecessary and irrelevant messages. Do we need to know that you’ll be off the phones for the next hour or two? Do we need to know you’re working from home for half the day? Yes, we likely do. Do we need to know that information right now? No, we only “need to know” when we need to know, and likely will only care or even remember if the information gets to us right at the moment we need to know. Is an e-mail the best, most effective and efficient way to let people know? Likely not.

But what IS the better way? That answer, dear readers, all depends on your team. There is no single best practice or use case to follow here. Each team has differing needs and demands based on location, shift, task, or even management preferences. While I can’t do anything for the last, perhaps there are some solutions to address the others which will in turn help convince management of better ways if that is a concern:

  • Instant messaging statuses: Judicious use of custom status settings here can do wonders to let your team know if you are available or not, on their time, when they need to know. Going off the phones for an hour? A simple Instant Messaging status noting “Off the phones to work a problem” will cover that info for those who need to know, and will be even more appreciated once you’re back on the phones and your status has changed again. E-mails aren’t the best for quickly changing statuses like these.
  • Lotus Connections Profile statuses: Working on a project and need help? Want to promote your work? Or out of the office for the day? Updating your Lotus Connections profile status can be a simple and easy way to let people know. This is a little heavier than an IM status, but still light enough and flexible enough to allow for quick updates for often changing statuses.
  • Intranet wiki page: Don’t have Lotus Connections to provide robust profiles? Have no fear, there are surely wiki solutions already in place in your company, and if not, there are numerous open source solutions to host collaborative wiki pages. I’d recommend these for longer term status updates from daily to weekly as they relate to projects or other work. A table on a wiki page can be easily updated by the entire team depending on how work shifts, and updates can generate auto notifications to let you know when changes have been made… of course you’ll probably want to follow those via RSS rather than e-mail ;)
  • Shared Team Calendars: This one should be rather obvious, and easily implemented if you haven’t already. If you’re using Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook, you have team calendar functionality and should be using it. This, of course, is for more robust statuses, like days off for holiday or even illness, but shouldn’t be overlooked for smaller time frames like meetings and and other time blockers. Smart use of calendaring for your team can not only provide quick views of current availability, but also provide higher level views into team dynamics and show ways to remove blockers as well.
  • And lets get even more provocative here… internal microblogging: Assuming you don’t want to use external Twitter or microblogging themes, there ARE internal solutions to microblogging which can be used for team updates. I know the fine folks over at (the crew who develop the WordPress blogging engine) use an internally hosted installation of WordPress with a robust microblogging theme for their team updates with quite a bit of success! In IBM we even have our own microblogging platform which is available company wide and mimics Twitter in the following/follower and 140 character limit paradigms, perfect for quick status updates.

    Of course, implementing a Lotus Connections installation in your corporate topology will allow for nearly all of these alternatives above to be implemented in fashions appropriate for your needs. Yes, I am a bit of a fan-boy convert to the Connections Communities after having used them for the past 4 years with varying degrees of success both as a community owner as well as simple user. I really can’t recommend it more, and that’s not because I’m an IBMer, I really do believe in the tool!

    The real key to success for any of these ‘alternatives’ to e-mailing statuses, is simple agreement and definition of expectations. If the whole team agrees and expect statuses to be posted to a particular solution, and then of course follows up with actually DOING that, then a successful transition away from e-mail for these use cases will be successful, and provide immediate results.



    image credit: (cc) Some rights reserved by LivingOS