Unified Communications (UC) Defined. Finally. Gen-X vs Millennials + UC.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the divide between the Millennials and Gen X'ers. Millennials are often criticized for their tendency to be dreamers and Gen X'ers are said to be directionless and disaffected but got their jobs done regardless. I have been following this season of Survivor where a cast of unlikable characters attempt to outwit, outlast, and outplay in tribes - Millennials vs. Gen X'ers. The Gen X'ers fault the Millennials for receiving participation trophies and tout their own life-long hard work. The Millennials give each other nicknames, struggle to construct a shelter, and excel in physical challenges.
The way these groups are split sparked a lot of debate with my friends because we are all on the generational cusp. We all played 8 bit Nintendo, but I never had my own Atari. My Godmother cried when she got me my first Cabbage Patch doll after waiting in line at Toys R Us for hours. I accidently taped episodes of Growing Pains over home videos. I watched real music videos on MTV. These things make me really feel like a part of Generation X, I am, right?
When thinking about what really defines these groups I think that those that know life without the prolific influence of the Internet SHOULD be a proud member of Generation X. I distinctly remember a time when the internet was not a part of my life. My first memory of using a computer was playing Oregon Trail on a 3x5 floppy disk in the computer lab at school. My first memory of the internet is hearing the whoosh and whirl of the dial up connection and then getting immediately booted because we only had 1 phone line and an inbound call would take priority. I have "Asked Jeeves," made friends on MySpace (and Friendster), Live Journaled and didn't have the better judgement to avoid AOL chat rooms (a/s/l?). There is always going to be a part of me that is the reluctant Millennial little sister who ruins the borrowed Gen X'ers Doc Martens.
How the Internet has Played its' Part
The internet and the way in which I communicate has evolved tremendously in both my personal and professional life. Regardless of my personal alliances to the Millennials or Gen X'ers, I need to bridge the gap and develop communication strategies that work efficiently and effectively for both groups. My career now is centered and focused on implementing and utilizing Unified Communications. The problem as I see it; UC is a myth. It means many different things to many people. There is no list of boxes to check to equal a pure UC solution.
A simple Google search of Unified Communications yields 5,420,000 results. The first 4 are sponsored ads followed by the Wikipedia definition which defines UC as "a marketing buzzword." I hope the guy who came up with this buzzword is on a beach with a Mai Tai right now because this buzzword has created a technology revolution. If you are a member of an IT team from Admin to Intern you are responsible for managing the phone system, a job previously done by "the phone guy." Thanks to that one UC marketing guy, the phone system is not just a phone that makes calls anymore but a communication conglomerate.
Gone are the days when your phone just needed to work. IT administrators are tasked with finding a new phone system that is a “pure play UC solution”, one that effortlessly marries voice, video, presence, text, file transferring, and screen sharing, social networks, and faxing. It also needs to look cool, be easy to use, easy to implement, and easy for all users to adopt. Did you get all that? Big problem… this idealistic fantasyland simply does not exist.
Unified Communications Exzplained. Finally.
There are some UC features that are pretty universal. The necessity for some level of mobility is a necessity. Although I am not one of the 50% of people who check their work email in bed, I am one of the 38% that will at dinner. While traveling in Europe on a long vacation, I stayed in touch with the office and won employee of the quarter while still in Europe! No participation trophies here! Allowing users to access as many UC features as possible from wherever they may be is not only convenient for the user, but it also leads to more hours worked, a bonus for the leadership team. Mobility allows me to be available when I want to be, unavailable when I don’t, while remaining personally anonymous. In my after work hours I value being able to choose to receive or not to receive business calls on my personal cell. I truly enjoy providing excellent client service, and I also, truly believe that I should unplug from the office sometimes.
Being able to toggle between personal cell number and my work number from one device is another common ask. In addition to being convenient, businesses can utilize employee's personal cell phones maximizing an employees productivity and minimizing the financial burden of purchasing a mobile device on top of a phone system. Last week I was working from home while still trying to gauge if that pooch was a chewer, biter, cat chaser, or secret pooper. I missed a call from one of my best clients. I was able to return his call from my office extension, but really from my cell phone using my Mobility App, after reading his voicemail via email (my all time favorite UC feature).
IT Guy... Now it's Your Turn
You in IT need to look at all of your users. Do all your phone users need to have video conferencing? To some businesses this IS a high priority. To others it isn't. Do all of your users need an actual desk phone or is softphone sufficient? I personally would not like using a headset for all calls because I think the headset makes me look stupid. That being said, I do like being able to get up and get a fresh cup of coffee while on conference calls or webinars. I also prefer the feel of my actual phone and do my best work when I have hard copies and can make notes with a real pen like a real Gen X'er. Brian the Dog is pretty high maintenance requiring too many trips to the vet. Just the other day I was having trouble accessing a conference call from my Mobility app. Our tech support team was able to text my personal number on my mobile device to troubleshoot the issue with my mobility app ever needing to talk directly. The Millennial in me loved that.
If you think that being able to meet all of these needs from one product is in your future, you are wrong. You will need to cleverly package multiple products to develop the best solution for your users. This will differ from business to business and maybe even department to department. Most vendors will allow you to mix and match feature sets, some won't.
Weeding out the Fad from the Fabulous
When it comes to Unified Communications, I absolutely value the flexibility and the multiple modes of communication. When choosing a platform, there is no good, better, or best value because the way in which you want to leverage communication is going to point you in the direction you need to go. It may be that you need two or three products combined to create the perfect combination of UC bliss. It could be that you are looking for too much complexity and what your users actually want is simplicity.
It is my goal, always, to try, test, and evaluate the current market offerings and weed out the fad from the fabulous. Take a look at these documents that can assist you in evaluating your current telephony environment and in developing a wish list of features that can be evaluated when upgrading to a Unified Communications system – one that meets the needs of both the Gen X, Millennials, Boomers and the Z's that are beginning to hit the work force. The key is to allow for flexibility in feature sets, invest in training so all users are ready to take advantage of the features, and have a clear plan for staff as to how you want them to communicate using the tools you are investing in.
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Author: Jill Farrell