Business used to be a lot more time-consuming, but in its own way, a lot more relaxing. Think about it: say you’re an accountant for the British East India Company in, oh, let’s say 1750. Your boss bursts into your office and demands to know how the tea harvest is going in Tamil. You hastily write a letter, run it down to the docks, send it on the swiftest ship, run back to the office, then kick back and wait 18 months for the response.
Now, granted, this is a bit of an exaggeration, and there were other stresses – possible shipwrecks; a response coming back saying, “Sorry, what was that? We couldn’t read the letter”; no running water; plague – that balanced it out. The point remains though that there wasn’t the pressure to get things done instantly, because instantly was impossible. The tectonic technological shift, from the telegraph to the internet, shrunk our sense of distance, and with it, limited excuses for delay.
One of the prevailing and persistently irritating features of the modern workplace is the conference call. After all, everyone can be on the phone together, and it should make things much easier. This isn’t a new feature – it was satirized in an episode of Mad Men that took place in 1969, but it seemed really modern. No one able to hear each other, talking over one another, frustration, irritation, dead air. Even the advent of video conferencing hasn’t seemed to help much. However, a San Francisco company, HighFive, aims to change all that, by making teleconferencing fun and easy.
Creating productivity out of nothing
HighFive, introduced on Monday, wants to cut out all the nonsense that comes with teleconferencing. A Re/Code article recently explained how it works:
The Highfive device itself contains a high-def camera, an array of four mics and a mount so it can sit on top of a television. It’s sleekly packaged and, once set up, requires no additional cables or remote controls. It costs $799, which sounds like a lot, but, (CEO Shan) Sinha argues, it is the same as a nice iPad.
Highfive works similarly to Apple TV or Google Chromecast in that users can hand off content from a phone or computer to the big display. Highfive owners can invite people to join a video conference by sharing a URL. They don’t need a device to participate.
This allows the teleconference to become more portable, more accessible, and easier. A main conference room can hold the device, but people can plug in from anywhere. Documents can be shared across screens, able to be seen instantly by anyone. There is less fumbling, less irritation, and less time wasted. Meetings can even be… productive, which sounds impossible.
How mobile tech can actually reduce the stress of work
For anyone who has ever worked in an office, this seems like a thrilling development, which might actually make someone take a step back. After all, a cool mobile teleconferencing apparatus isn’t nearly as exciting or revolutionary as, say, an app that helps couple get pregnant. This is just about work.
However, work dominates a staggering amount of most our lives, and even if we love our job, that job comes with frustrations, time-sucks, aggravation, and the persistent sense that there must be a better way. We’re always worried about things, be it maneuvering for more time to get our work done or looking for ways to thwart hackers and protect our network. Anything that makes work easier and less stressful makes life a little bit better.
It isn’t a sure thing that mobile technology can do that. Go back to our British East India Company example, a scene I think I captured with nearly photographic historical accuracy. It isn’t true that you wouldn’t do anything for 18 months, but there was a limit to what could be expected. That limit is gone, and work is always in our pockets. The feeling that you are never actually away from work is one that can add a lot of stress to people’s lives.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and I don’t think it always will be. Mobile technology can actually make work a lot easier. There are tons of cool apps out there for work. One of my favorite is an app that scans paper and turns it into a document you can send – anything from a contract to a business plan hastily scratched on a napkin.
Now, granted, all of this sounds like a way to never stop working, and it can be used for that. But we need to have faith in people’s ability to figure out how to make life easier. I think we are eventually going to understand that the ability to have everything all at once means that things don’t have to be worried about. You don’t need to worry about that contract. It’s in your pocket. Don’t stress about the conference call. It’ll be smooth.
As mobile tech continues to improve, the expectations will paradoxically level out. You don’t have to rush to get something done right away, because you know that when it is done it can instantly go anywhere. That may or may not be better than sailing to India to check on invoices, but at the very least, it will never induce scurvy.