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Staying in Touch (April 01, 2007)


April 1, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

The greatest problem faced by the typical worker is not which technology to use to communicate, but when will you get an opportunity. Your colleagues who share the same office area can leave notes on …

The greatest problem faced by the typical worker is not which technology to use to communicate, but when will you get an opportunity. Your colleagues who share the same office area can leave notes on your desk, watch for you or even ‘stake out’ your office to catch you as soon as you arrive. However, those colleagues in another area of the mill may find it a little harder.

So, what can they do? This is simple if you are in your office, as the same options are available for people who are remote as for those on site: phone, email, etc. If you are not in the office, but the need to contact you is not urgent, an email or phone message can be sufficient. When you have an opportunity, you can respond — the key, of course, is that you must actually respond to the message! If the need to reach you is urgent, the options become much more limited. None of the computer-based options are suitable, as it is unlikely that you have your computer with you — this leaves phone or paging. These work well if you carry a phone or pager, and most engineers and management personnel carry one or both.

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With advent of small, cheap cell phones, pagers are becoming less common. Previously, pagers were smaller, had better coverage and longer battery life. Now, those advantages are mostly gone, so you are left with a device that will tell you that someone needs to talk to you (and usually who that someone is). However, you are still left with the task of contacting him. How much more efficient it would be to just take the call in the first place, if you have a cell phone. If it is convenient, you can talk to him on the spot, if not, your voicemail will record his message and your phone will alert you.

Cell phones have become a constant companion, for not only salespeople and technical reps, but for mill personnel at all levels. It used to be that only managers and superintendents carried cells, but now many, if not most, engineers carry them as well. The new trend is the migration of Blackberries down through the ranks — previously only for upper management, they are now being distributed to sales reps and the lower ranks in mills. These are great tools for anyone out of the office on a regular basis, as they allow the receipt of email anywhere there is a cell signal, as well as acting as cell phones. One advantage is that unlike answering a cell phone, one does not have to shout to answer email. However, with the greater capabilities comes greater complexity: Bluetooth headsets (a new way to introduce static and dropped calls); the need for training, particularly for the less ‘tech savvy’ employees; and, as it is really an extension of your company’s network, IT support. Introducing Blackberries is much more complex than handing out cell phones — if you can dial, you can use a cell phone. Blackberries require network maintenance and provide security headaches on the corporate side, and a new skill set for the employees — thumb boards, Bluetooth and reading attachments on a very tiny screen. In addition, you may need to carry a regular cell phone if you work in remote areas, as signal reception may not be as good with a Blackberry as with a conventional phone. Once you get used to them, many people find they cannot live without them, thus the slang term “Crackberry”. Still, they can be an invaluable tool, allowing you to maintain contact via both cell and email in almost any location.

There is greater convergence between different gadgets: Blackberries for email and cell phone; Treo’s for PDA, cell phone, email and camera; many cell phones have camera, video or music capabilities; Apple’s iPhone, which is their take on the phone/PDA/iPod convergence. It is important to resist the hype. Almost invariably, sacrifices are made to cram many features and functions into a portable unit and still attain significant battery life. Cell phone cameras will not take as good a photo as a stand alone camera. Holding a large blocky piece of electronics to your ear will not be as convenient as a simple, slim cell phone, so you might need an earpiece.

Keep in mind that most of the new gadgets are targeted at the consumer market — people who have the time and inclination to learn the features and functions of the latest gadget. The recently announced iPhone is very much a consumer item — it is not targeted for the business user at all. Personally, I choose my electronics on the basis of how they perform their main function. I do not need a cell phone/camera that is poor as both a phone and a camera!

However, it still comes back to responding to your caller — the most important thing to remember about all communications technologies is that their sole purpose is to enhance communications between people. The most feature-filled cell phone is a poor tool if it is never used to return calls…

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is a freelance writer. He can be reached at dan.davies@shaw.ca


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