Collaboration In The Workspace

Business Innovations

06 August 2018

Collaboration In The Workspace

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

This article wouldn’t have gotten written if not for the collaborative effort, or the collaboration of, my team members. Someone is good at research, someone at writing, and another at editing and proofreading.

We’ve all collaborated with colleagues; there’s nothing new about that. We gather around in meeting rooms for discussions; some physically present and some via video; tasks get allotted and we all then get down do doing our part to meet a common goal. We work with people outside our teams and help get work done, either for ourselves or someone else.

But it’s not just individuals who collaborate; companies collaborate with each other to further their business or market reach. Why, even nations do, collaborating on technology or medical research or defence strategies.

Is collaboration the same as teamwork? In a manner of speaking, yes. While teamwork is when people come together to fulfil short-term goals, collaboration is more strategic and long-term, and might not always have an immediate, direct reward. Let’s read a bit more, together, shall we?

Meaning: What’s in a word?

Today everyone wants to ‘collaborate’. Unfortunately, the word has been so overused and overhyped that it’s almost lost its meaning. Everyone is trying to push for ‘new ways of working’ that it is leaving companies and people alike confused. And this ironically comes in at a time when business experts are constantly stressing on the importance of nurturing collaborative organizations.

So what exactly is collaboration? By definition, it is: Two or more people working together towards shared goals. But it’s not always been like that.

A mildly tainted history: the good and the bad

The word traces its origins to the mid-19th century to the Latin term collaborare, which means to ‘work together’. Around the 1830s it was limited in use to united labour in literature or scientific studies.

The meaning took a bit of a turn for the worse when it came to mean ‘traitorous cooperation with an occupying enemy’, with the earliest recorded references being made to the Vichy Government of France in 1940. It also had a bit of a tainted history since 1922, when ‘collaborationist’ was used disapprovingly as socialist lingo.

Luckily today, the meaning and usage of the words has gone back to being positive and it is much sought after by all professionals.

The business benefits of collaboration

Collaboration is the fuel that drives a business. As stated above, collaboration is a working system where individuals work together, could be towards a common goal and to realise a business benefit. Loosely, it can be split into:

Synchronous: everyone part of the team interacts in real time – through online meetings, instant messaging, via Skype, etc.

Asynchronous: here the interaction can be time-shifted, such as when uploading documents or annotations to shared work spaces, etc. A brilliant example of asynchronous collaboration is making contributions to a wiki page.

Collaboration brings unexpected benefits to an organisation, including:

Cultural innovation: Collaboration encourages innovation. It works from within and makes a difference to the business and the industry at large.

Original thinking: There are a bunch of online collaboration tools that organisations can use. Collaborating using those can help form connections between departments and teams that couldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Actual ROI: An innovative and collaborative environment is naturally more productive, and it will generate stronger ROI across the business.

Collaboration today

Collaboration is about the community as a whole. While teamwork means bringing together varied resources to achieve a specific goal, collaboration is about supporting people beyond teams and departments, when they need it. There may or may not be a direct reward from doing so, other than the warm feeling of having helped a fellow professional.

Shared workspaces offer the perfect crucible to foster and develop collaboration. Disparate people, either through chance or deliberation, come together and create something entirely new. Organisations can use these common working spaces to bring their team members from across geographies for a ‘brainstorming session’, which is nothing but collaboration in a different suit.

Genuine collaboration involves:

Awareness: becoming part of a working body with a common purpose

Motivation: working collectively to solve a problem

Self-synchronization: existing as individuals and doing things when they need to happen

Participation: wholehearted contribution and expecting the same from others

Mediation: negotiating and finding a middle path

Reciprocity: sharing, disclosing and expecting the same from others

Reflection: being open to considering alternatives

Engagement: being proactive and taking active ownership

 

Conclusion

From start-ups to entrepreneurs to large companies, everyone collaborates. While on one hand the idea of collaboration is largely dependent on openness and knowledge sharing, it also requires focus and accountability. Governance, in the form of a leader, should be put in place simply to ensure delegation of responsibility and to ensure genuine collaborative effort.

2019: will it be the year of the coolest tech?

Business Innovations

08 March 2019

2019: will it be the year of the coolest tech?

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

There is no doubt that tech is finding newer, better and more extraordinary ways for businesses to connect with the consumer. You can’t really say technology is evolving anymore as that would indicate it builds on existing tools; instead, technology today is disruptive. It challenges the status quo and comes up with answers to questions that haven’t even been asked yet.

When we scoured the internet for cool tech finds of 2019, we were truly taken aback by the sheer array of amazing ideas and innovations that are coming up. There are hundreds of super cool tech gadgets and gizmos that have made it into 2019, and our hearts. But in all the din that is the latest and the craziest, only these six have made it to our list of the coolest tech of 2019.

Family Hub Refrigerator

There was a time when the kitchen or the dining area would bring the whole family together. Today, if Samsung has its way, this role looks primed to be taken over by a single gadget in the kitchen – the Family Hub Refrigerator. The Samsung Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled family refrigerator comes with a 21” touchscreen and a Bixby voice control that takes food refrigeration to a whole new level. The Family Hub synchs up food storage, better connects the family and can also be networked with the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem allowing consumers to control their washing machine and smartphone from the refrigerator’s console.

You can digitally label foods with expiration dates, check the content of your fridge from the grocery store using your smartphone, and also leave a digital note for other family members on things to get done before you return. You can even synch up the screen to your Samsung television so you don’t miss the action while cooking.

A television that rolls away when not in use

If you are in the market looking for a new television that blends in with the décor of your home, how about looking for a television that can disappear?

LG’s OLED TV R is a television that simply rolls out of sight when you are done with it. The screen drops away slowly into its console with the push of a button to come out when you beckon it again. Besides this truly amazing feature (and we really can’t get over it), the rolling television has support for Alexa voice controls as well as the Google Assistant. Hold on, there is more. The television has also integrated Apple’s AirPlay2 for seamless media playback. And you can do all this when your television is rolled out of sight.

Foldable phone by Samsung

If you are still dazed by the rolling television, here’s something just as extraordinary, but for something that fits your pocket (but maybe not your wallet).

The Samsung Galaxy Fold (umm, a less obvious name would have been fun) can be literally folded to half its size depending on your need. There are two screens, a full one when the phone is open and a smaller one for when it is closed. The layout of the intuitive UI will immediately change depending on whether the phone is open or folded. You will also get app continuity. So, if you are using an app in the folded screen and you open the phone, the app will automatically continue there. The larger open screen will allow you to run three apps simultaneously on the display, taking multitasking to a new dimension altogether.

The phone has three rear cameras like the earlier Galaxy A7, but the ones on the foldable phone promise to be more powerful. Now it’s simply a question of waiting for the phone to come out so we can snap it up in a jiffy.

First ever Quantum computer

When it comes to computers, there’s a new kid on the block – quantum computers – and both IBM and Google are racing with each other to see who can build the nextgen supercomputers first.

Quantum computer

Without getting into the details of quantum mechanics, let’s just say that these computers deal with atoms and molecules. This will allow the machines to work with far greater precision than ever imagined on tasks like complex chemical processes which our current crop of machines can’t even wrap their heads around. It’s like comparing two digital cameras, identical in all respects except that one has more pixels than the other.

It can get tad technical, so if you want to read a bit more about quantum computing, this should help.

5G: the possibilities are just getting better

The next thing after 4G, fifth generation or 5G, is expected to be better and faster. Yes and yes, and so much more.

5th Generation

5G capabilities include higher data rate (cheers to that!), reduced latency, cost reduction, energy saving (cheers to these two!), higher system capacity and improved device connectivity. Basically all your cellular woes thrown out the window. The biggest draw of 5G is that it will be 100 times faster than the current cellular technology. While the first phase is expected to be completed by April this year, the technology will be available to all consumers by 2020. It seems a long way off, but it is definitely something worth waiting for.

Nreal Light Mixed Reality Glasses

It might seem cool to own funky digital glasses, but the sheer size and image quality of a lot of players left much to be desired.

So when a Chinese startup, Nreal, jumped into the market with something interesting, it was worth giving a second look. These are low-profile mixed reality glasses that look and feel just like ordinary sunglasses but let you do so much more.

These glasses project digital imagery on the real life scene unfolding in front of your eyes. So you get the best of both worlds. Lightweight, and with a host of features like dual microphones, brightness control switches on both arms, and even Bluetooth headphones if you wish, the possibilities with the glasses are mindboggling – video games, entertainment, telepresence calls and more. Have prescription lenses? No problem. The Nreal takes care of that so you don’t need to wonder what to do with your existing pair.

Conclusion

Six cool tech ideas that have got the whole world excited. We can’t wait to see some of them in person. While the costs for a few might be prohibitive for some of us, there’s no harm in checking them out when they hit the stores soon.

 

What’s been your favourite tech gadget till date? Also, let us know which of these excited you the most

 

What’s in a name? How did some of our favourite brands get their names?

Business Innovations

08 February 2019

What’s in a name? How did some of our favourite brands get their names?

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

Brands and brand names are deeply entrenched in our lives; almost staple, one could say. We all ‘Google’ information, Skype with friends, and love to treat ourselves to a Häagen-Dazs ice cream every now and then.

But did you ever stop to wonder where these brands got their names from? Surely someone or a group of people sat in a boardroom and came up with these names. But what do they actually mean? Let’s look at some of our favourite ones, shall we, in no particular order?

Google is a typo!

Google’s founder, Larry Page, was brainstorming with a bunch of graduate students at Stanford University to create a massive data-index website. Someone (no one is sure who) suggested ‘googolplex’, which means the largest describable number. A student misspelled the name and that’s how ‘Google’ came to be.

And you thought Adidas stands for ‘All Day I Dream About Soccer’?

Sorry folks, the Adidas name has nothing to do with athletic sports. Story goes, the founder of the brand, Adolf Dassler, started making shoes when he returned home after WWI. He needed to give a name to the brand, so he combined his nickname Adi, with the first three letters of his last name. As simple as that. Now use this knowledge to correct someone else’s misinformation.

Twitter means just what it stands for.

The podcasting company, Odeo, was brainstorming one day. Jack Dorsey, who was then an undergraduate student at NYU, came up with the idea of an individual using an SMS service to send messages to a small group. The original name given for this service was ‘twttr’, an idea inspired by Flickr as much as the five-character length of American SMS short codes. In fact, the service was launched as ‘twttr’ also because twitter.com was already taken. Six months later the domain was purchased and there’s been no looking back since. According to Dorsey, “…we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Did you also believe IKEA to be a Swedish word?

IKEA is a fine example of a make-believe word. And no, it has nothing to do with Sweden, not directly at least. Founder Ingvar Kamprad created the brand name by combining the initials of his name, IK and then adding on the first letters of the farm and village where he grew up in southern Sweden: Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd. We, for one, are glad that he went with the initials only. Can you imagine saying those names aloud!

Amazon is named after the world’s biggest river.

Amazon, launched in 1995 as a bookstore, was meant to be called Cadabra by its founder, Jeff Bezos. It seems, however, that the company’s first lawyer, Todd Tarbert, felt the name sounded too similar to ‘cadaver’. Bezos then chose Relentless (if you visit relentless.com you will get redirected to the Amazon website. Try it, we just did.), but he eventually decided on Amazon – the world’s largest river. In fact, the company’s first logo even had an image of the river.

Starbucks finds its origins in Moby-Dick.

Starbucks cofounder Gordon Bowker tells an interesting tale of the origin of the name. They definitely wanted something that began with ‘st’ because it sounded powerful. Somehow the conversation veered to the old mining map of the Cascades and Mount Rainier. The old mining town of Starbo caught their eye, and Gordon immediately thought of Melville’s first mate, Starbuck, from Moby-Dick.

Häagen-Dazs is real, but the name is all made up.

Reuben Mattus, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, wanted to pay tribute to Denmark (the only country that saved Jews during WWII) and decided to name his ice-cream company Häagen-Dazs. The name doesn’t mean anything, but the combination of letters, especially the umlaut, does the job splendidly.

Xerox isn’t random, unlike what you might have thought.

We’ve seen made-up names and names that used initials of the founders or those that got their inspiration from entirely unrelated subjects. Xerox isn’t one of those; it has a clear etymology. It comes from the word xerography, which is a technical term for the dry copying process used in photocopiers, which itself is derived from the Greek words xeros (dry) and graphos) writing. That ‘x’? It was added for some techy punch. So popular is the brand name that today Xerox has gone on to become the generic word for the act of photocopying.

Sony needed something simple in English.

Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (as Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering) made perfect sense in Japan, but wouldn’t have the same impact in the US. How did the company overcome the hurdle? By reinventing the brand as something short and simple. Sony seemed to be a good choice as it was easy to say, and additionally it also suggested ‘sonus’ which is Latin for sound. Moreover, it was similar to ‘sonny’ an American slang for a young lad. That made the name friendly and approachable.

Facebook or Facemesh?

When Mark Zuckerberg was studying at Harvard’s University, there used to be an online directory of all the students in the college called Face Book. The idea behind this was to familiarize all the students with each other. If you’ve seen The Social Network, you will be familiar with how Mark hacked the servers and created a competition of sorts to ask people to choose who looked better. He initially named it Facemesh. This later evolved into a networking site where people could communicate with each other and even put up their photographs, and he reverted to calling it Facebook.

Then there’s Pepsi, named after dyspepsia (meaning indigestion) because it was meant to aid digestion. McDonald’s is named after the two brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who ran a burger restaurant. Gap literally indicates the generation gap between adults and kids. Nike is the Greek goddess of victory (apt, isn’t it?). Skype is derived from ‘Sky peer-to-peer’, which was shortened to ‘Skyper’. However, the domain name was already taken, so the ‘r’ was dropped to make it Skype. Gatorade was launched as an energy drink for the Florida Gators.

Whew! The list of brand names and their origins is actually endless, but these are just some of the more popular ones that we encounter almost daily.

Conclusion

What does this list tell you? Original, unique and catchy names are very important to building great brands, as against descriptive or rational ones. Fun business names have more power and it is important to think out of the box when naming a brand.

Do you have any names that you think are quirky in their own right? Tell us in the comments below.

Do you know what your chatbots and customers are talking about?

Business Innovations

23 January 2019

Do you know what your chatbots and customers are talking about?

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

Artificial Intelligence is here, and it is here to stay for good. As machine-learning technology advances, it is paving the way for better self-learning machines that are showing the promise of being able to do almost everything that we humans can.

The benefits are indeed countless and more businesses than ever are getting excited about taking AI from behind the scenes to a more customer-facing role. This could be as simple as offering customer support, to helping close sales or even creating content for a blog.

But as is the case with everything new and exciting, this is unchartered territory and it comes with its posse of risks. While it might not be as dangerous or life-threatening as The Terminator, it could still create mischief and hurt your business. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of having chatbots interact with your customers.

An employee that’s always working, but that means constant supervision

What makes machines better than humans is their indefatigable ability to work. Given a chance, with uninterrupted electricity, they could work all day long, all days of the year, year after year. No lunch break, no sick leave, no overtime, and no home to go to.

This is extremely beneficial when it comes to interacting with customers. An AI chatbot can take care of customer calls after hours or from anywhere across the globe. Or if all your customer representatives are busy (and haven’t we all been on the other side of the unending recording), a chatbot can step in and handle more routine calls or trivial cases.

However, AI cannot be 100% perfect all the time. You cannot afford to let your AI chatbot run free to handle the night shift all on its own. Perhaps your chatbot could face an unanticipated problem, or it could interact with a troll, or there could be a language issue. While this doesn’t mean someone needs to be managing it every moment, you do need to have in place a system that contacts specific employees when the AI is stumped. If you don’t maintain a supervisor in place, you could face unhappy customers or worse, loss of business.

AI finds the most efficient solution and repeats it perfectly, but it leaves no room for improvising

The beauty of AI is that it finds patterns; could be through trial and error, or through the analysis of large volumes of data. Once it finds the patterns, it knows how to replicate them perfectly, over and over again, without messing up ever. In customer service it could be about finding a solution to their problems; in sales it might mean convincing them to agree to a follow-up call or even buying a product.

However, AI will not be able to improvise, like a human can, and respond to that one situation that is outside of the established pattern. While a human will quickly improvise and come up with a response that deviates from the pre-written script, AI will struggle in this scenario.

Data collection happens easily, but it can make you a target for hackers

An AI chatbot is the prefect repository of information on a customer. As it talks to a customer, it collects and analyses data, and learns more about the individual and uses that information to improve the experience.

What is the kind of data that can be collected? It isn’t just restricted to likes and dislikes, or the types of offers a customer responds to. The data collected can include some valuable and personal information, such as addresses, bank details, payment information, full names, and other information that can be used for stealing an identity.

This makes the chatbot and your database a target for hackers. To counter that, a business needs to invest in high-level security which means virus protection, firewalls, long and complex passwords, and educating employees on security best practices.

AI can develop a personality through customer interactions, but that leaves you open for manipulation

Earlier AI chatbots were simply question-and-response systems that sounded robotic. But as technology improved, AI chatbots have only grown better. Today customers often don’t realise that they are talking to a chatbot. With the right interactions, it is quite possible to build a distinct personality that meets the needs of the brand better. This could mean including specific words, starting conversations in a distinct way, and even using memes and emojis.

The downside to this is that if people figure out, they are talking to an AI chatbot, they could try and manipulate it. We all know what happened to Microsoft’s AI chatbot Tay on twitter. In less than a day, trolls taught it to issue sexist, racist and Nazi propaganda tweets, while also insulting anyone that tried engaging with it.

In all likelihood, this will happen to your chatbot as well. To avoid this, you must have qualified people go through your AI’s behaviour meticulously to remove traces of any negative habits it might have picked up. You must also have specific blockers against learning negative habits, such as abusing, calling people bad names, inappropriate content, etc.

Conclusion

The possibilities with AI are only as limited as our imagination. Or that of the abilities of AI itself. This powerful technology, although a little creepy, can perform tasks in minutes that would take a human, weeks to complete. It can overcome prejudices and learn from its mistakes quickly. Is it any wonder that more businesses are jumping on to the AI bandwagon?