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Research

A Laboratory for Collaboration

A year and a half had passed in the life of INT, and we were already facing some of the same collaborative challenges we had found in our previous jobs. And we have started from scratch and our team is not that big. We were continuously testing new collaboration software, hoping to find the ultimate solutions to how we run our team and processes. There is a lot of great services online for tracking time, keeping the team up to date and sharing knowledge, managing project assets and versioning of files, and assigning tasks and responsibilities (to name a few).

But none of these services managed to create the complete overview that we needed. Taking into account that people are creatures of habit (and changing behavior and user patterns rarely happen overnight) we decided to rather take matters into our own hands.

Enter Co-Lab, our own little laboratory for finding better ways of collaborating. Our discussions, research and ideations started out wide, and brought to the table interesting topic such as efficiency, culture — and the challenging balance between structured and flexible solutions when collaborating.

Time and automation

How do we spend our time? Can we be more efficient?

We were curious to see what we could learn from monitoring the activity on the various devices we use in our work (while still considering the privacy of the employees) - from general observations such as “at what hours do we do what kind of work”, to more specific measurements such as “how much time do we spend reading and writing emails”.

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We tested various monitoring software, and found potential in ways to automate repetitive tasks such as time tracking, as well as how we could visualize “the hidden” effort people put in after the day is done, and how we could ensure administrative work (such as communication through emails) remains visible in a project - and therefore also billable. We also found that too much valuable data was stored only in emails, and that we spent too much time searching our inbox. This initiated our move from emails to systems.

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

- Bill Gates

Transparency and culture

Do we share our knowledge well? Can we be more transparent?

We wanted to explore how we can ensure that employees have the tools to share what they are doing - and how they feel about it, so everyone can contribute to our projects and create a company culture of participation and pride. We also wanted to look into how can we share more with our clients, to make them a bigger part of a continuous process, and easier for them to find what they need (latest files, milestones overview, conversations, etc).

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We had for a while been using the service iDoneThis (https://idonethis.com) where people can report to their team what they’ve done simply by sending an email that later is collected and sent to the team. It was a good idea, and we found that by making it more visually rich it worked better for our teams. This sharing of “work in progress” contributed to more and better discussions, as well as a data source of automating time tracking at the end of the week.

Structure and flexibility

Can we have resilient systems without losing out on new and better technology?

New systems that revolutionise our workflows come to life all the time now. For example, many companies can now not imagine a day without Dropbox - and it hasn’t existed for many years. On the other end of the scale, the “one-size-fits all systems” that have been tried and tested, often don’t take different roles (i.e. project manager, designer, programmers, directors) within a company and their different needs seriously in their solutions, and quickly get outdated. How could we ensure the best of both worlds - both the “big overview” as well as the flexibility of various, and varying, services we use in our processes?

 

The answer was API - with a customized view for the different kind of users. And a ruthless client and project naming regime.

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We got in contact with the developers (they were just an email away) of all of the services we were using at the time (iDoneThis, Dropbox, Dropmark, Harvest, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Flow) and found this was all doable.

And so, now we’re looking for someone to make this product together with. Perhaps it is you? Get in touch!