I realized yesterday, as I was driving to Denver, that my comm channels shifted again after I returned from sabbatical in December. This happens periodically, mostly as a result of me taking some time away and changing things up on re-entry.
The largest change is that I’m batching my email. Rather than reading and responding to email on my phone throughout the day, or using slack time in my calendar to check and catch up on email, I’m doing a pass in the morning, another pass late in the day, and then finishing up at night. While grinding through 200 emails at a time in 90 minutes isn’t awesome fun, it’s enhanced by having some Nine Inch Nails playing loudly while I’m doing it. So – instead of an always or or interrupt channel, my email has turned into a more periodic (several times a day) comm channel. This feels good so far.
That shifted my real time channels to a few different things since there isn’t a single unifying answer. The active set is Voxer (audio), Slack, and iMessage, probably in that order. Techstars runs on Voxer as do several companies I’m involved in and my partners use it for longer discussions. We use Slack internally for short stuff and I’m in eight other Slack instances for companies I’m on the board of. iMessage ends up being the least common denominator for everyone else for real-time messaging.
Of the three, I find Voxer by far the most satisfying and convenient. I went through an intrigued phase with Slack when I started engaging with the Slack instances for several of our companies, but I quickly found the noise overwhelmed the signal for me so I use it for specific things and periodic scans of a channel I’m particularly interested in (say – the FullContact Chrome 2.0 channel since I’m obsessed about the new version coming out), but mostly it’s now a direct message channel to the CEOs and a few other people on various leadership teams.
Interestingly, Skype is completely absent from my workflow. I’ve also largely eliminated Twitter and Facebook from my daily information flow given the high distraction characteristics. I do monitor Twitter for DMs and @bfeld’s via Twitter for Mac, but it mostly hangs out quietly on the far left side of my screen. Facebook gets my attention once a day when I scan it as part of my “daily routine“, but that’s about it.
I also find that I’m spending much less time looking at shit on my iPhone, which I think is likely a result of cutting Twitter, Facebook, and email out of the always on / interrupt flow. The result is that I feel much calmer and focused throughout the day, and able to concentrate on what is in front of me, rather than what is flying at me.
I’m curious if anyone out there has discovered, or is using, something that effectively unifies different channels. We are investors in Sameroom and I’ve used it effectively in some cases, but mostly to integrate across different Slack instances, since Slack doesn’t handle that very well.
And, if you have other favorite comm channels, weigh in on them and I’ll react to how I have, or haven’t used them in the past.
I’ve tried to aggressively shift to video conferencing instead of audio conferencing for anything longer than a 15 minute call. I’m also giving a lot of talks around the world, especially on Startup Communities, so rather than travel and burn a day (or more), I’m doing 30 minute videoconferencing things remotely. And, as anyone who has ever asked me to speak to a class of students knows, I have a huge weakness for always saying yes to this so I’ve been doing this via videoconferencing as well.
After exploring a bunch of different options last year, I decided to use Skype everywhere since it was “good enough”, simpler, and portable. I equipped my desktops with HD cameras, took my MacBook Air on the road, and didn’t look back, until recently.
I noticed that twice last week I had horrible Skype connections. One was a US call and one was for a 30 minute presentation to a group of about 200 people in Barcelona at the Silicon Valley Comes to Barcelona event. In the US case I was using my Verizon 4G MiFi, in the Barcelona case I was tethered to my AT&T iPhone.
Skype completely failed in each case. Audio worked but we couldn’t get a sustained video connection. Each time we tried Google Hangouts as a backup. It worked flawlessly on exactly the same connection.
This was a classic A/B test. Yesterday, when I was on a Skype three way call, where one of the callers kept freezing and the other kept getting higher resolution focus, all I could think was “I wish we were on Google Hangouts.” After talking to a friend at Google who said that Hangouts is now pervasive at Google, I’m going to try it more frequently.
Any feedback from any of you about performance / quality of Skype vs. Google Hangouts?
I get asked to talk at a conference on a daily basis. I’m flattered by the interest, but it’s impossible for me to accomodate even a small percentage of the requests. I don’t charge anything to speak so I can’t use that as a filter, so I end up using geography and type of participation as my filters.
A while ago I wrote a rant against panels and decided I would no longer participate in them. I hate them, I hate being on them, and I hate listening to them. Every now and then I’ll agree for a friend, like I did for Howard Lindzon at the Thunderbird Global Business Dialogue in Phoenix on 11/10, but only because I know that Howard and I will simply have a blast talking about whatever we want with our poor, unsuspecting co-panelists. Plus I wanted to spend a weekend in Phoenix with Amy. So – that’s an easy filter – no to panels.
My geography filter has become refined to “I’ll do it if I’m already planning to be nearby.” Again, I make a few exceptions, but since I already travel so much it turns out that this works out ocassionally. But this is a frustrating filter for me as there are a lot of things I’m invited to talk at that I’d like to – often in conjuction with students or groups of entrepreneurs (who I love to talk to) – but doesn’t pass the geography filter.
Recently, I decided to try doing conference talks and lectures via Skype. If it’s a keynote, I figure 15 – 30 minutes is plenty. If it’s a class, an hour seems to be the appropriate length of time.
The early response has been awesome. I’ve gotten great positive feedback from the conference organizers who appreciated my involvement. The technology infrastructure is really easy – all that’s typically needed is already there given the A/V requirements of the other speakers. For me, it’s a physical dream – I can do it from my office, from the road, from a hotel room, from my house, or from Tuscany. Suddenly, I feel very untethered in the conference context.
While I don’t get the benefit of participating in the conference, nor do the people at the conference get to spend time with me, this wouldn’t happen anyway since I’m not an avid conference goer. However, if the content that I’m providing is really valued, this approach seems to work really well.
The double bonus of this working in a classroom setting is really appealing to me. I’ve always been a huge fan of incorporating guest lectures into undergraduate and post-graduate education. I love some of the revolutionary things going on in the field of education around Khan Academy, SkillShare, and our new investment Sympoz. However, for now, the traditional university classroom still exists and to the extent that I can participate regularly with students and professors who want me involved, I now have a way to make it work that let’s me relax geography as a constraint.
I’ve been on a number of board calls this month while I’ve been in Paris. About half of them have been via Skype; the other half have been standard audio conferencing. I’ve also had a bunch of other meetings, discussions, and pitches via Skype.
The quality of the meeting and interaction – when all attendees are in person or via videoconference (in my case Skype on my laptop) – was 10x better than the ones via audio conference only.
I’ve been vacillating between a “physical attendance at all board meetings” approach or “video conference at all board meetings approach” to life. It’s impossible for me to physically attend all board meetings, but there’s no reason why I can’t attend by video conference. I’m now encouraging everyone I work with – as well as everyone that has a board meeting – to have a physical + video conference approach. It is so much better than having people on audio conference.
In several of the meetings, we simply set up Skype on a laptop and put the laptop at the end of the table. It’s a simple, low cost (free) solution, that works awesomely well. In one case, there was more than one person on Skype. Rather than try to do a Skype three-way (which works well also), the company simply set up two laptops with a separate Skype session on each. Skype audio seemed to work just fine in all cases but one, so we did an audio conference for voice and Skype for video.
While there will always be adhoc conference calls on short notice for boards that need to ratify something, for any meeting over an hour, or any scheduled meeting, putting the effort into getting everyone either physically there or on video makes a huge difference.
I know it sounds trite, but it’s remarkable how much better – even in a one on one conversation – the discussion is when it’s video instead of just audio. The calls are higher impact, body language is apparent, and people pay full attention rather than “minimally acceptable attention + email”.
We’ve been waiting for and talking about video conferencing for a long time. I think it’s really ready this time.
Amy and I created a tradition about a decade ago we call “four minutes in the morning.” We try to – fully clothed – spend four minutes together every morning 100% focused on each other.
I’m an early bird – usually getting up around 5am regardless of the time zone I’m in (except on the weekends – then I sleep until I wake up – sometimes 1pm.) Amy sleeps a little later (usually 6:30am). So – I often have around 90 minutes alone every morning, which I treasure. I have a well defined morning routine that includes a cup of coffee and 85 or so minutes in front of my computer.
When Amy gets up, I try to remember to jump up from my computer and start our four minutes. Sometimes I forget and notice it when she thumps me on my head or clears her throat loudly. But I eventually remember. We then leave the office area, go to our living room, or outside on our porch, and spend our “four minutes” together.
Of course, the “four minutes” is metaphorical. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes. A few times a year it turns into an hour when we end up in a discussion about something. But it’s always 100% bi-directional attention, except for our dogs who often want in on the discussion.
I travel a lot so this often translates into a phone call in the morning. We recently started using Skype instead and it makes an amazing difference. This morning, as Amy was in Keystone and I was in Boulder, we caught up with each other in our un-showered goodness. Now, if we only had smell-o-vision, the experience would have been complete.
I miss Amy a lot whenever we aren’t together. We’re lucky that we get to travel together a lot and that each of our work experiences have lots of location flexibility. Skype has helped in a surprisingly nice way with one of our routines.
My recommendation to all my guy friends out there – try the “four minutes in the morning” routine with your significant other. It’ll pay many dividends.
While I still don’t have my jetpack, I do have my picturephone.
I was four when the AT&T PicturePhone appeared on the scene. This dude went through a lot of iterations over the year – my favorite is in this Western Electric ad.
This morning as I was drinking my coffee, waking up, and trying to get motivated to go running in the rain (I think I’ll go swim instead), my dad called on Skype. I answered and we had a nice video chat. I heard about my mom’s newly rediscovered Corvette lust (go mom!) and the hike they were going to do. I saw the study in my Keystone house where they are staying which made me smile. And then I said a quick hello to my mom.
I really hate the phone. I always have – and spend much too much time on it. But for some reason I like the videophone. Maybe it’s the novelty of it, maybe it’s a different way it grabs my attention because I really engage fully with it.
Regardless, the future is catching up with my childhood in interesting ways.
Well my Mac experiment is going extremely well. I’m not sure I remember how to use a Windows PC, nor am I sure why I’d want to. I’m using a Mac that is at least a year old (2.4 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB RAM) so I’m not even tuned to the max but I’m absolutely loving the overall experience. As so many people have told me, “shit just works.” And so far, whenever I’ve had a problem, I’ve been able to quickly find the answer with a Google search (e.g. “three pane mail view in Mac Mail” – two choices: WideMail or LetterBox).
As I’m starting to go well beyond the things I did with my Windows PC, I’m starting to bump into some issues. I’m using Skype constantly for video and audio calls, including regular phone calls. It’s way better than my iPhone (oh – the irony) and given how solid the audio / video on the Mac is I feel like I can just use it whenever I’m in front of my laptop.
But – there are a few things I’m struggling to figure out. I’ll lay them out here for y’all in case anyone has suggestions. I’m also interested in any Skype-related Mac happiness people have found – please leave hints in the comments.
Issue 1: I’m still using Exchange for my mail, address, and calendar store. Mac Mail, iCal, and Mac Address Book are working great – no issues at all other than sending large attachments through the Exchange server (which is a well documented issue.) But for some reason I can’t figure out how to get Skype to include all my Address Book contacts. I only seems to integrate with the contacts listed in the “On My Mac” folder, which is empty since I have all my contacts stored on the Exchange server. Any clue how to get Skype on the Mac to read the Exchange contacts?
Issue 2: I can’t find a Safari plugin for Skype. I’ve got a Firefox one – where any phone number gets highlighted. But I’d like one for Safari also.
Oh – and if you want to reach me via Skype, it’s just bradfeld.