We know that no kind of virtual communication beats a face-to-face meeting and that the most effective organisational tool is called “having lunch”. But this kind of working is becoming rarer. In Germany 20 per cent of all companies already offer their staff the option to “telecommute” and studies see this number rising to 80 per cent by 2020. In a recent poll three-quarters of German employees said they would like to work from home for part of the week.
Mobile working has moved from being a buzzword to a reality for many people but often the tools to do this in a productive way are still lacking. Two new services presented last week at Hannover’s tech-fair, CEBIT, are setting out to change this. In February, the London-based company WorkSnug launched an iPhone app that uses so-called “augmented reality” to give business travellers information about their surroundings.
Imagine standing in a street in a foreign city looking for a wi-fi or power connection for your laptop. With WorkSnug you use your phone to scan the buildings around you and a sci-fi-like text appears over the image to tell you where to find that cosy café to go online or recharge. It even gives information about the quality of the coffee. “Work is no longer a place we go, it’s a thing we do,” says WorkSnug’s founder Richard Leyland, “for millions, the city is our office.” His service is already live in London and Barcelona – Berlin and Paris are among those that will follow in the upcoming weeks.
Meanwhile, Tony Crawford wants to make teleconferencing less of a drag. He started off coaching employees at multinationals in presentation skills. Now, for the conference-call generation, he has started a new kind of training for “acoustic intelligence”. In cooperation with tech company Plantronics he has launched the Speech Impact Academy, where managers and employees train how to effectively use “pace, pause and pitch” to make people listen and to trigger actual results when briefing on the phone. “Your voice is the key business tool today,” Crawford says. “But most people have never learned to use it properly.”
The one mistake most people make in a teleconference? Not sounding engaging enough. Crawford finds clients from Germany the most challenging to work with: droning on in a monotonous voice tempts other participants to daydream or answer emails while on the line. Listen for that faint clicking next time you are on the phone with people for more than 20 minutes, especially if you are German.
The idea of a voice-coach for conference calls may sound like a gimmick dreamt up by HR people who don’t know how to spend their budget. And holding your phone up in the street to find a café instead of asking a passerby for help could be just further proof of how much technology has eroded basic communication skills. But both ideas look as though they might be a success: electronic communication is here to stay, as is the mobile executive. But many of those teleconferences may still end with an exasperated “Let’s have lunch when you’re in town.”