Today’s workplace no longer consists solely of the Office package with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, assisted by Acrobat Reader and the in-house tool e-mail. Rather, our Office has long since included x number of other applications with other features, and the e-mail function is no longer sufficient for agile communication. That’s why Trello, Slack and Confluence are presented here. And an insider tip.
Have you ever felt like you’re behind the times when you write an email? At the same time, you’re interacting on LinkedIn, attending events via Xing or Meetup, and representing yourself or your company via Instagram or Facebook. How does good old email fit in? Not really. Here are the reasons.
Reason 1: Email ≠ Agile
In fact, email is something that no longer fits properly into our time: because you are linear. They go to one or – worse, but more on that below – several people and have to be answered again in the same way. And incoming mail has to be sorted out according to dossiers, urgency, medium-term or deposition, or goes straight into the trash. Here, the agile communication tools There are keyword searches for search actions and, in the form of projects, filing locations for information with a longer half-life. There is no need for extra storage and filtering.
But what is still “disturbing” about e-mails? They have long since ceased to represent the agile working world. Agile means getting to know things quickly, absorbing new things quickly, discarding and moving forward. Agile also means implementing something quickly and, under certain circumstances, forgetting it again quickly. These are the forex of agility. And it does so across industries and purposes. This doesn’t sound like email, which is weighty, takes itself seriously and comes across with an appellative character: “You must take me seriously”, “You must answer me”. Email has more of a file status than spoken communication. But agile communication, which resembles spoken language, is currently highly important. Not least to ensure a functioning exchange of knowledge and information.
Reason 2: Email ≠ collaborative benefit.
With agile, smart collaboration tools, a basic principle of mail traffic has been reversed. If an email corresponds to the “push principle,” it is a vehicle that must draw attention to itself: by announcement, by the subject line, or by an exclamation point for urgency.
The pull principle, on the other hand, corresponds to what is visually presented, held out, and only needs to be fetched according to interest. The user is therefore just as free to follow something as not to follow it. She decides for herself how often she looks at something, follows it or works with it.
Now – you don’t have to give up mail in a knee-jerk way, especially if your ecosystem, your own company, still uses it. But: where you can design, for example in your team, in your inner circle: use other, more agile apps like Trello, Slack, Confluence to collaborate and communicate. Because: new types of apps for the office work in real time and thus offer added value. They show a stream that records everything that comes in. But it doesn’t have to be constantly observed, it can also flow by.
They thus fulfill a primary communication purpose, because they allow information to be shared easily and, of course, without comment (no more “subject line”). And it can still be commented on. They are therefore suitable for all environments where people work on an equal footing, on their own responsibility and largely autonomously.
They can often be used as a planning or meeting tool, because they are more visually designed than a mail program and have included tools like index cards.
They also allow direct messaging without everyone involved; but at the same time, they allow for the participation of any number of people who should potentially receive a piece of information or message. There is no need to actively reflect on who needs what information. Attachments, images and other files are shareable by all. They are easy to use via “share buttons” and can also be used on the smartphone.
Reason 3: E-mail ≠ creativity
The purpose of working in an agile manner is always to be able to generate something new. This is contradicted by the principles of e-mail. And those of the approaches for more innovation and for an environment that promotes creativity. Creativity is based on thinking new things out of existing things. Unfortunately, however, the many ideas for innovation come only very, very few that are actually good. That’s why we need lots of ideas and an environment where lots of ideas can emerge and also submerge again. And a collaborative resonance space where comments can take place.
So agile tools also represent the intuitive principle of letting important things pop up and the trust that ideas are good and right at all times and have their justification. Regardless of how long-lived they are. Haven’t you tried wiping something away on your computer screen?
Communication tools should take these principles into account. The e-mail, for example, also contradicts this as a garbage generator: easily recognizable by the paper baskets, which illustratively contain the “junk”. It’s good if something can be researched in case of need, but actually – hand on heart – it’s rarely important. So we don’t need to see the full wastebasket either. Ideas have something to do with “flow” and that should keep us awake and stimulated.
What also belongs to it: Delegation of responsibility
Possible critical objections to giving up emails could be: Knowledge gets lost, no one looks at it, how can I make sure everyone knows the most important stuff? Well, with these agile collaboration tools, the principle of self-responsibility is involved: that means: there needs to be a basic culture of trust and delegation. There is a working climate where everyone decides for themselves what they do, when and how. This is not a matter of course, but it becomes so clear why companies that have installed self-organized teams rely on these very apps for collaboration. What’s more, the apps have search capabilities.
The new collaboration tools thus resemble the push and pull principle. If e-mail was still committed to the push method, Trello & Co. correspond to the pull method. Push means: attention must be drawn to the product – in this case, the email; it must be advertised and its importance pointed out. Pull, on the other hand, means that everyone is responsible for sharing information themselves: both asking and offering. Participation takes place exactly to the extent that seems appropriate at the time. Not everything has to be perceived by everyone in the stream and at the same time; everyone has the choice to look for something afterwards or to decide that at the moment no active connection to the information and communication stream is necessary. In this way, time resources are also efficiently distributed and everyone decides what to do and when. This is also an agile concept, where everyone pulls together.
Etiquette remains important
This does not mean that there are no longer any rules for the form of interaction. As in networks in general and in self-organized units, it is even more important to agree on rules. The rules to delegate responsibility also means the duty to be responsible for one’s own information, but also for the tone of voice. This is the complete opposite of a still hierarchically controlled top-down information policy, which graciously determines who receives what information and when, and by means of cc) also sometimes serves second-rankers or by means of bc) also sometimes additionally informs someone. Who does not have a vivid memory of diplomatic missteps caused by too many, by missing or wrongly addressed cc)s? Exactly: e-mails cement hierarchy according to the motto, he who has will be given. Trello and Co., on the other hand, embody the common playground, freedom from fear (not for nothing has the method of “non-violent communication” become fashionable again in companies) and the common whole.
Benefits and specifications of Trello & Co.
Here’s a little explanation of what apps are for what. The Internet is full of comparisons between apps, so you can take a look at them. The best way to decide is based on a survey of peers you trust to pick up experience. And who work in similar contexts. Information about free and paid features can also be found on the web. Often, basic features are enough. Pro features should be carefully considered whether you need them, but may be necessary or make sense. Most important: take your time and try them out. And: in addition to the intuitive simply go in and see what the tools can do also look at the functions that are not so important at first moment. Often you don’t do this and most people only use fractions of the features of their apps. Here are some details:
Trello is primarily a collaboration tool that has cards that can be moved intuitively according to the principle done/to do. This is a great way to document to-do’s of team tasks and check off implementation. Literally: check marks can actually be made. Looking up what was decided and when is easy and visible for everyone. It takes someone to shepherd the Trello board for this function. One or a facilitator or old fashioned administrator. Therefore, when group decisions are made, it should always be co-determined who is responsible for the entries on Trello.
It is practical, however, that collaborative work can be done simultaneously on the Trello board in an analog or virtual session. Anyone can then add a sentence or a decision in front of everyone. In this way, the distribution of responsibility would also become obsolete if one agrees to make the entries ad hoc.
The dial-in via an account is low-threshold and guests can easily be brought in with a link. The Trello support, if it needs to be contacted directly, translates from German, but answers in English. Visually, Trello is attractive because it is designed like a wall and colors and images can be stored individually.
The advertising slogan on the login page speaks for itself: “With Slack, your team is always just a mouse click away. Accordingly, a team room can be set up with a “Workspace”. Slack corresponds more to the information flow principle, but can also be used for projects, especially if, for example, Trello embeds what Slack allows.
Slack offers threaded search and any number of channels, e.g., topic-based, and direct messaging options. In terms of interface, it resembles Facebook in the broadest sense. And it can be embedded and documents linked to as desired. The support is also German-speaking, which can be an advantage.
Confluence offers similar functionality that combines both of the tools presented. It is more powerful and serves primarily as knowledge management and is suitable for huge, cross-company areas analogous to an intranet. However, it requires more configurational groundwork and systematic thinking through before getting started. So some dedicated programming or administrator work, while the Slack and Trello are, so to speak, immediately usable.
Therefore, Slack and Trello are suitable for small teams that want quick solutions; Confluence thus spans both but requires upfront work and diligence to implement. Visually, it’s more sedate in a reliable blue, but can be color-customized via the “customize” feature. It also combines documentation with collaboration and differentiated commenting possibilities and offers every conceivable storage and search function, hence the type similarity to the well-known intranet. Especially in a larger collaborative discussion space Confluence has added value, as well as if you want to have it as an intranet-like tool.
Up to 10 people can use Confluence for free; however, since it is aimed at much larger groups, Confluence costs something.
Conclusion and selection
As always in the digital world, it is important to get a picture and define the need as precisely as possible and compare it with the expected benefit. Finally, these little helpers also force us to focus on a common culture. A lot of work for bosses who want to change the culture in their company, knowing that leadership increasingly means pure culture work. “facilitating” in new German. And as an additional tip: in addition to virtual documenting, seancing and discussing, a good old tool that is much older than e-mail has a revival: the telephone.
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