A tweet on Tuesday led me to an interesting NoJitter article: The Death of Presence – NoJitter
It’s a thought-provoking read. The author asks a potent question – “How valuable is Presence, really?”
The article talks about a new technology from Cisco, called Spark. Cisco has decided not to include Presence in Spark. Deeming it “irrelevant”.
Well, what is Spark then?
According to CiscoSpark.com, it’s a messaging platform with “everything you need to work together everywhere.” File sharing, phone calls, IM, video meetings…hmm, sounds a bit like Skype for Business! (And Slack, and Google Hangouts…)
Except without Presence. Now, my immediate thought was, “Cisco will use this to differentiate themselves. That’s why they did it.”
But I gave it some more thought. I can see the case made against Presence here.
Despite its omnipresence throughout the Microsoft software ecosystem, Presence is often ignored when trying to communicate with someone. The notion of, “I need this information from Steve, right now!” outweighs “Is Steve available? Need to ask him a question.” At least in many people’s minds.
There are situations where Presence does not add to communications either. A single office environment, for instance. Everyone’s right there. A quick email, call or visit solves the problem.
However, I think Presence’s problem is one of familiarity, not laziness. I’ll explain with a story.
The Secret to Loving Presence: Relating It to Workday Stresses
Late last year, I tried a change in my Skype for Business training sessions. Before that, I would explain each Presence status type, and then relate it to the contacts in the contacts list. It worked, but people were more interested in the Call Options discussed afterward.
Instead, I tried jumping from explaining “Available” to explaining the difference between Busy and Do Not Disturb.
(Reminder: people can still contact you when you’re set to Busy. They cannot contact you when set to Do Not Disturb.)
The first time I mentioned this, I noticed an employee’s reaction. We’ll call him Bob. Bob sat in the training with his phone in hand, thumbing through something on it. Emails, texts, I didn’t know. I did know he looked bored sitting there.
But when I mentioned people not contacting you when set to Do Not Disturb, he lifted his head. “What?” he said, interrupting me. I repeated myself, talking directly to him for a moment.
This got his interest. He listened intently for the rest of the training. Why? Because he realized the power Presence has.
Those messages probably distracted him all day, every day – a constant stream of “I need X! I need Y!” If he could shut those off, even for a little while? It would mean quiet. Wonderful quiet time. Time to accomplish things. Time he could control.
So, I made a point to include this Busy/Do Not Disturb difference in all my future trainings. And sure enough, people kept responding to it.
They liked how Presence related to their workday stresses. Helped them mitigate some. How using it really did help them to get stuff done.
Presence Also Helps When Co-Workers Aren’t In the Next Cubicle
Other situations make Presence valuable too. Specifically, when your co-worker isn’t right next to you, or you can’t look at them. Branch offices, remote workers, international teams, call centers, etc.
When people are spread out, they can still communicate (thanks to technologies like Spark and Skype4B). But the real-time nonverbal interaction – eye movement, body language – is not there. Same if we can’t look around, like people in a call center. (I have friends in a couple. They tell me things…)
So we must rely on other cues to navigate the workday.
Presence makes for an excellent cue. It’s visual, it’s immediately recognizable, and with the “What’s happening today?” line filled out, it’s actionable at a glance.
Good Thing to Consider, But Presence Isn’t Done Yet
I’m glad for this NoJitter article. And for Cisco’s move, even though I find it a little premature. It pays to reconsider the tools we use, to see if we can get more value out of them. If we can’t, or we don’t see any need, then maybe it’s time to move on.
But I think Presence has plenty of life left in it.