Managing Coworking

Posted on
January 29, 2011

When I was working in a team of about ~15 at an Advertising Agency, we were commonly trying to perfect how we all interacted with each other.

Building off of 37Signals concept that work doesn't get done at work, we wanted to prevent intrusive chit-chatting and undelivered IMs. The main problems were: Is this person currently in the office? What is the person currently working on? Is this person available to talk about current projects, new projects or other matters? I recently saw a TechCrunch post about Yammer which was a potential solution to those problems that never really worked. It's very hard to integrate yet another app into a teams workflow. We already had Basecamp, Jira, Google Docs, IM, etc. so adding Yammer, which needed to be consciously updated every time someone switch gears (left the office, started a project, switched to another project, had a meeting), had a high barrier for most people.

Every team has a suite of apps they use to manage all of their internal workings; the problem of perfecting internal interactions shouldn't be handled by another app to add to the suite. Instead, we should refine the way we access that suite of apps.

The Internal Start Page

Lots of you already use a start page for your web browsing and if you're like me you probably have your business apps (time tracking, invoicing etc.) pinned to your start page for easy access. This has always helped me in remembering to sign into Basecamp and log my hours, or check out the bug tracking app to see what should be resolved today. But, it's not a perfect fit. This is where the internal start page comes in.

Internal Start Page

The above is a very simple prototype, that could potentially solve this inter-office interaction problem. Like the suite offered from 37Signals for accounts using more than one product, there is an area containing unique icons for each app used by a team. This provides the basis of an internal start page. Where it becomes useful in improving interactions with coworker is the team list on the right (this layout would only suffice for small < 25 person teams) where it shows all members of the team, and their current status.

Where's The Magic?

On it's own, this is just the same nuisance as when we tried to use Yammer—each person is required to update their status every time the are busy, available, in office, on the phone, etc. The magic idea is in the portal. Each linked app would have API access (most web based apps for teams have API's). When a person accesses an app and does some kind of unique activity, the start page would know, automatically adjusting that person's status.

Why Am I Sharing This Idea?

This internal start page idea would require a decent barrier to setup each app and team member's account. It would also require a decent amount of programming to make this work. And, could it really work? Let me know what you think @staydecent!