Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bo on a Stick

Image 1 - Bo on a Stick
That's me on a stick (image 1). For the last two months I've been testing this virtual mode of communication with my team. I'm basically an iPad on an IV stand with a shirt to make me a bit more human. It's a great look, right? I'm in California and the team is in the Design Studio in Austin, TX.

The project I chose to contribute to as a stick involved a collaboration with three teams, including a Winter Designcamp team of three newbs, my own digital properties team, and the IBM Design studio team. The project: To redesign The IBM Design external website. Here are my takeaways from the experience:

I really felt immersed

There was more than one time that I mentally joined the Austin time zone. The open channel with the design studio is a strong connection and I think the brain has a pretty easy time jumping across the interweb to be on the other side in good cyborg fashion. I'm quite introverted and feel much more productive in my office alone without distractions, but it was pleasant to join the studio environment, feel the energy, and tap into the stream of information that only happens person-to-person. A+ on the immersion quality. Caveat: iPads are really amazing pieces of hardware and I think this experience relies on a great connection, video, and sound.

It takes a community

As a senior member of the community, it is hard for me to ask anything from my team that will change their rhythm or impose on their normal routines. It's really impossible to simply walk up and sit down at the table when you're an iPad. So, the effectiveness of the medium relies on both the assertiveness of the remote collaborator and the compassion of the team. This is one of the more major hurdles because it exposes a departure from the metaphor of actually being in the room. In one circumstance, I was left staring at an empty table and had to text a peer to bring me to a meeting. #awkward! The dependence can be a bit daunting. A remote "on" switch would be a wonderful enhancement... and then a neck, and legs... and a chocolate-covered unicorn.

It can be really fun

The best part of being on a stick is when the team wheels you around the studio and you see people working and smiling. Friends come up to wave and say hi and it feels a bit like a hovercraft ride through the space. It's easy to share jokes at the table and listen to friendly conversations that happen organically. It's really nice to people-watch as if you were inside the studio and the culture, though a little muted, really does flow through the wires.

Image of Home Office
Image 2 - Home office with iPad on a stand.
Ultimately, the success of this remote collaboration technique depends on a really good team understanding of roles and expectations. While I had a great time being immersed with the team, there were still pretty major challenges trying to design with them during physical activities such as sticky note exercises and whiteboard sketching. The stick fills a gap in communication but still needs a bit more evolution to become a bigger bridge. I would definitely recommend using this medium of communication if you have the option.

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