What an alarm clock can teach us about online collaboration
About 3 months ago I bought a new clock radio. Last night, I found that I needed to use the alarm for the first time. So I looked at all the buttons, took a wild guess as to how to set the alarm, and managed to change the correct time to the wrong time.
But failed to set the alarm.
So I searched the web and found a copy of the user manual. After following the instructions, I successfully set the alarm so that it would ring at 5:30am on every weekend morning for the rest of my life. But I still couldn’t set the alarm to ring the next day.
The solution? I went to a 24 hour pharmacy, bought an alarm clock for $5.99, plugged it in, and pushed the button labeled “set alarm.” Worked like a charm.
So what does this have to do with using technology to support online collaboration? Too many tools try to do too much. As a result, users simply refuse to even try to learn how to use them.
This creates a big problem if you need everyone to use the technology for the workgroup to work.
The answer is to implement a solution that users can understand. The downside is that it won’t do absolutely everything, but the upside is that everyone will use it. After all, the whole idea is to get everyone on board.
As you consider possible solutions, begin by taking a hard-look at the user interface and sharing it with some actual users. See if they can figure it out. If they can’t, the most likely problem is that they are faced with too many options.
So limit the options only to those that are critical to the needs of the group. The good news is that technology providers are beginning to recognize that there is a market for collaboration tools based on the concept that less is more – that by offering a simple solution, it will actually be used, fulfilling the promise of allowing individuals with varying levels of technical expertise to all work together.
Which, of course, is the whole point.