Staying in touch
One of the most important things we do in our jobs is communicate – whether we are a line operator, manager, engineer, CEO or maintenance worker. In these days of cell phones, pagers, instant messaging, e-mail, VoIP, voicemail and Wi-Fi, you would think it would be easy to stay in touch. However, the most advanced electronics cannot convince the person you are calling to respond (there’s an idea: a combination cell phone and taser…)
The greatest problem faced by the typical worker is not which technology to use, but when will you get an opportunity. The more portable a device is, the more likely it is to be used. That is why cell phones have become a constant companion, not only for salespeople and technical reps, but for industry personnel at all levels. It used to be that only managers and superintendents carried cells, but now many, if not most, engineers carry them as well.
The new trend is the migration of Blackberries down through the ranks. Previously only for upper management, they are now being distributed to sales reps and others ‘in the trenches’. These are great tools for anyone out of the office on a regular basis, as they allow the receipt of e-mail anywhere there is a cell signal, as well as acting as cell phones. One advantage is that, unlike answering a cell phone, one does not have to shout to answer e-mail.
However, with the greater capabilities comes greater complexity: Bluetooth headsets (a new way to introduce static and dropped calls); the need for training, particularly for the less ‘tech savvy’ employees; and, as it is really an extension of your company’s network, IT support. Introducing Blackberries is much more complex than handing out cell phones. (If you can dial, you can use a cell phone.) Blackberries require network maintenance and provide security headaches on the corporate side, and a new skill set for the employees – thumb boards, Bluetooth and reading attachments on a very tiny screen. In addition, you may need to carry a regular cell phone if you work in remote areas, as signal reception may not be as good with a Blackberry as with a conventional phone. Once you get used to them, many people find they cannot live without them, thus the slang term “Crackberry”. Still, they can be an invaluable tool allowing you to maintain contact via both cell and e-mail in almost any location.
There is greater convergence between different gadgets, such as Blackberries for e-mail and cell phone; Treo’s for PDA, cell phone, e-mail and camera; many cell phones have camera, video or music capabilities; Apple’s iPhone, which is their take on the phone/PDA/iPod convergence. It is important to resist the hype. Almost invariably, sacrifices are made to cram many features and functions into a portable unit and still attain significant battery life. Cell phone cameras will not take as good a photo as a stand-alone camera. Holding a large blocky piece of electronics to your ear will not be as convenient as a simple, slim cell phone, so you might need an earpiece.
Keep in mind that most of the new gadgets are targeted at the consumer market–people who have the time and inclination to learn the features and functions of the latest gadget. The recently announced iPhone is very much a consumer item; it is not targeted for the business user at all. Personally, I choose my electronics on the basis of how they perform their main function. I do not need a cell phone/camera that is poor as both a phone and a camera!
However, it still comes back to responding to your caller. The most important thing to remember about all communications technologies is that their sole purpose is to enhance communications between people. The most feature-filled cell phone is a poor tool if it is never used to return calls.
Freelance writer Dan Davies can be reached at [email protected].