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Old Technology in the New World of Work

Nov11
Does your business have equipment that is barely better than a paperweight? Many tech-savvy workers and desperate managers have looked for ways around this tech bottleneck.

The “Bring your own device” concept” (BYOD) has emboldened some businesses to leave the details of how a job gets done to the workers who already know the tools – iPhones, laptops, tablets and the like.

That’s the concept. In practice, some businesses are saddled with tech legacies that will not be replaced. Documents are saved in antiquated formats. Emails pass through clunky clients. The 10-year-old multifunction machine is more a hazing ritual for new hires than an office solution.

Some workplaces are constricted by government or corporate policies, security or privacy demands, or other strictures, while some just don’t have the cash on hand to upgrade their old technology. But for someone willing to try and outrun or outsmart slow, dumb equipment, there are some solutions out there.

Reconsider How You Communicate

Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants details the former Microsoft manager’s stint at WordPress.com. WordPress’ teams are distributed, engaged, and always seeking to escape slowdown. One interesting result: they do not use email for discussions about work.

I challenged Berkun during a recent podcast interview, and he confirmed and clarified. Teams and their members post what they’re working on and struggling with on internal blogs. Chats are kept open all day, using the very old but dependable IRC system. Skype comes in when a meeting or semi-private discussion is needed.

Not everybody can simply drop email, but if email is a low-tech pressure point, consider trying out free or low-cost replacements: Campfire, IRC, Hangouts, Yammer, or Skype.

The Flip Side: Use Email and Text Messages to Your Advantage

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. Maybe email is the only thing that does work around your office. You may even enjoy it. The same goes for text messages – while some can’t stand receiving 100 texts a day, they do get people’s attention. And that means they may be even more powerful than you think.

I switch computers quite a bit during the work week, from a Linux-based ThinkPad to a Google Chromebook, occasionally into a MacBook Pro, and then a Windows machine (mostly for games and Office needs, but still). As such, I try to make sure my tools work on whatever system I happen to be using. Here are a few of my favorite multi-platform tools.

  • With project management tool Basecamp, I can create and reply to to-do lists, start discussions with coworkers, upload files, and create new group documents entirely from email, whether online or offline. Some days, I never even have to load the Basecamp website; I can simply work and coordinate projects by email. Other tools like Evernote and Remember the Milk offer similar email-based controls.
  • Stuck without a working web connection or browser on you? You can send a text to 4INFO (44636) with a search for news, stocks, weather, or more. You can even have the headlines of certain websites and blogs delivered in a feed to your phone (this is not recommended if you don’t have unlimited text messaging).
  • When I’m feeling really nerdy and connected, I head to IFTTT (short for IF-This-Then-That) and set up all kinds of email and text message “recipes.” Some of my favorites: adding events to Google Calendar by text, getting a text whenever a certain person or address emails you, or automatically sending the contacts you meet your contact information.

Find Alternatives, Free and On the Web

You don’t need Photoshop to resize, crop, and touch up images if you can open a browser and head to Pixlr.com. And if that image you found is in a strange format, you can convert it using CloudConvert. Need to fax something to another office with similarly outdated gear? No need to get up and work the fax machine. Just load HelloFax and fax that document (which you already signed in HelloSign). Yes, it actually works—I even tested it with my local DMV.

A lot of tools have popped up on the web over the last several years that serve the needs of not only web-loving technologists, but those with old technology that might have trouble even running a web browser reliably. Try a Google search for “web-based X,”, substituting “X” for whatever software you might not be able to install on your machine. A good place to start is AlternativeTo.

It Might Be Time to Upgrade

While you may be able to get by with some old technology in the office, there are certain items for which upgrading makes the most sense. If cost is an absolute priority, try focusing first on key business areas like network infrastructure. With data security more and more of an issue for businesses, having the latest protections against malicious hackers, worms, Trojans and viruses can be invaluable for your bottom line. Look for services that offer end-to-end solutions from computer hardware, to servers, network equipment, system software, and data protection solutions. They say you have to spend money to make money – in this case, you may have to spend money to save it.