Hand-Held Devices Offer New Meeting Design Options
By Mike McCall

Posted January 02, 2009

Just as computer keyboard skills were once an inhibiting factor in using technology for collaboration, is there a similar concern with Smart Phones, Blackberries, iPhones, iPod Touch’s or phone keypad devices?

Back in the very early 90’s, when I first started exploring the use of computers for collaborative work, there were a number of technical issues. Of course, in those days we had the usual issues of reliable networking, software and hardware infrastructure to support collaborative environments. As challenging as these were however, the tougher issue for most organizations to address was whether managers and executives would resist participating in online collaboration if it meant that they needed to contribute via a computer keyboard.

Over the past 20 years that issue has faded as a more keyboard savvy generation of managers and executives have taken over. That said, there is a new trend emerging where devices such as iPod Touchs, Smart Phones and even cell phones with 10 number keypads are becoming the data input device for collaborative sessions.

A year ago I ran my first meeting using only this type of device – we used iPod Touches – with a group of executives. My client was intrigued because it seemed edgy and high tech. And, we eliminated network wiring or power cords by using Wi-Fi networking and long lasting batteries; the client didn’t have to concern herself with the robustness of the hotel’s internet service. The ability to provide feedback and vote via such a small device with a touch screen keyboard seemed fun.

But the question from the early 90’s returned. Will senior managers who have only recently begun using smart phones and other such devices be willing to use them in a collaborative environment?

Our client took the challenge and was very excited when the approach received positive reviews. Unlike my daughters who text message at 90 words per minute using a 10 key keypad on a cell phone, we designed the conversation with the assumption that these participants would be willing to type a few words or short sentences. The voting was also kept very simple with pull down menus which were easy and accurate to use. With these constraints taken into account and designed into the meeting approach the event proved to be a great success. The executives and meeting owners all loved the session and found it fun.

From this experience I concluded that one can expect a greater openness to using these types of devices in collaborative sessions (afterwards we found out that nearly half of the participants already use their cell phones to check and reply to emails). If I am correct, it will give meeting planners tremendous flexibility in meeting design and offsite portability. It will mean that the meeting room won’t need to look like a computer training class. A working session using web-based collaboration tools could take place at a resort, at a retreat or on a cruise ship (as was the case in my example).

Has anyone else experimented with using hand-held devices to do collaborative work? What are your conclusions?

Posted by Mike McCall