Work Modalities

image of author Paul MurphyPaul Murphy

2021.04.12

6 min read

Last week I promised to talk about modalities, and I’m holding myself to it. It might sound less interesting than princes and drag queens, but stick with me. It’s not something anyone’s talking about, and it is interesting!

Let’s start with what “it” is. I know “work modalities” sounds like the topic of some dreadful MBA lecture, but I don’t know what else to call them. (If after reading this post you think of a better term, please let me know 🙏🏻.)

Think back to two years ago when things were normal and most of us worked in offices…
You check your schedule and you notice you have a budget meeting in the Star Trek conference room in 10 minutes. You get up, go to the kitchen, make yourself another cup of coffee, and make your way over to Star Trek.

You walk in and your colleague Joe is already sitting down at the conference table.

You
Hey Joe! How’s it going?
Joe
I’m dreading this meeting. Our PR firm wants us to double our spend and Carl is going to be pissed.
You
You’re fine. I have to tell him we need to spin up a hot backup data center to pass our continuity audit. When he hears those numbers he’s not going to give you a second thought.
Mary walks in
You
Oh, hey Mary! How’s the new pup?
Mary
Oh my God. A complete nightmare. Last night she chewed up my favorite pair of running shoes. Almost ended up with a dead dog.
Joe
They get over it. Has she at least stopped peeing all over the house?
Carl walks in.
Carl
Good morning everyone!
You, Mary, and Joe (more or less mumbling)
Morning Carl…
Carl walks to the head of the conference table, plugs his laptop into the projector, and pulls up the budget spreadsheet.
The meeting starts.

🕰

Carl
So we’re all agreed? Get me your revisions by end of day and we’ll go through this again tomorrow.
The meeting ends. Carl walks out.
You
What a d*ck!
Mary
First class!
Joe looks at his watch.
Joe
Damn, I’m late for my one-on-one with Sally. Gotta run. Hey Mary, we still have lunch at Papa Leon’s?
Mary
Yup. See you there at 12:30!

What did we just witness? A completely normal meeting, broken up into three parts. Before Carl walked in, you, Joe, and Mary were networking. After the meeting started, the four of you were collaborating. And finally, you went back to networking before leaving.

Networking and Collaborating are two meeting modalities.

Now, I want you to fast-forward to six months ago: everyone working-from-home.

You check your schedule and you notice you have a budget meeting in Carl’s personal Zoom room in 10 minutes. You get up, go to the kitchen, make yourself another cup of coffee, and make your way back to your home office.

You log into the meeting room and see a message telling you that the host will let you in momentarily. You turn off your camera. Mute. And check Twitter. Suddenly your reading is interrupted.

Carl
Good morning! Everyone here? Can you hear me?
You, Mary, and Joe (not quite in unison)
Hi Carl. I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Carl
All good.
Carl shares his screen. No one turns their camera on.
The meeting starts.

🕰

Carl
So we’re all agreed? Get me your revisions by end of day and we’ll go through this again tomorrow.
The meeting ends. Carl closes the Zoom room. You Slack Mary: “What a d*ck!”. Mary Slacks back: “First class. I have to go. The dog just pissed under my desk.”

Pretty different experiences, right?

One modality: Collaborating. No networking.

When you have one meeting like that after another, without the social breaks, it’s exhausting.

We need to network.

Traditional video conferencing platforms don’t allow that to happen. They’re optimized for work, even though net is an integral part of work. As we often say, Zoom is tiring because it lacks humanity.

If you’ve used Toucan you know it’s a completely different experience because we’ve designed Toucan to allow seamless transitions between all three modalities: networking, collaborating, and presenting. A typical meeting – like the one I described above – is what we call a modal sandwich: [networking][collaborating][networking].

Now, let’s consider a bigger event, like a company all-hands.

Two years ago.

You check your schedule and you notice the company all-hands is scheduled in 20 minutes. You’re a bit surprised that this one is due to last three hours and wonder what’s up. The all-hands is in the auditorium, which is at the other end of the building, so you’d better get going. You stop by the kitchen to grab another coffee and run into Mary who’s also getting a fresh cup.
Mary
Hey! Long time no see!
You know where the lids are?
You
They’re in the second drawer.
Good to see you too! Have you seen Joe recently?
Mary stiffens up and puts her cup down.
Mary
You didn’t hear? We broke up. His wife found out about us. He told me it was over, that he was leaving her, but as soon as she started giving him hell for cheating on her he asked for forgiveness and went running back. I was so pissed off. I told him never to call me again. I hope I don’t run into him at the all-hands. It’s so awkward.
You
Oh Mary. I’m so sorry. I had no idea...
Mary
Don’t worry, I’m almost over it. Just not sure I’ll ever trust another guy again.
Hey, we’d better get going.
You and Mary walk to the auditorium in silence. As you pass other colleagues you greet each other. You walk in, and Mary grabs your arm.
Mary
Oh no, there’s Joe. I don’t want to talk to him. Come sit with me.
You walk to the other side of the auditorium, sit down, and start talking about your dogs.
In the meantime, Joe runs into Carl.
Carl
Hey Joe! How’s it going? You heard the rumor? I hear we’re being acquired. That’s why this all-hands is going to be so long.
Joe
No way! By who?
Carl
That’s the big secret. No one I’ve talked to has any idea!
Hey, did you see Mary walking in? Why didn’t she come say hi?
Joe
Long story.
The lights start to dim. The CEO’s Chief of Staff walks up to the podium.
Chief of Staff
Good morning everyone. We’re going to get started in 5 minutes. Please take a seat.
Five minutes later the CEO walks in and heads right to the podium without greeting anyone.
CEO
Good morning everyone. I have a lot to tell you, so I’m going to jump right in.
Joe’s wife discreetly walks in through the door closest to the stage.
Mary turns to you.
Carl turns to Joe.
Mary
Oh my God, that’s Joe’s wife! What’s she doing here?
Carl
Isn’t that your wife? She works for IBM doesn’t she? Wait, we’re being bought by IBM? Hey Joe, you knew didn’t you?
Joe pretends not to hear.

I’m not going to bother re-playing this whole scene as a Zoom presentation. You can easily imagine what it would be like. You, Mary, Joe and Carl all sitting in your respective home offices watching the announcement. No networking. No personal drama.

From the perspective of modalities, this scene is a bit like the meeting room scene, but more complex.

We start with Networking, and then move into Presenting. If I’d played it to the end, we would have of course ended with more Networking. Inevitable.

But something else interesting is going on. Two groups of people – You/Mary and Joe/Carl – are networking simultaneously. And you’re speaking with each other during the CEO’s presentation.

This is, of course, unimaginable on Zoom. But with Toucan it’s not only possible, it’s the norm. On Toucan you can network with a group of people before a presentation and then watch that presentation together. And you can still speak to each other, while listening to the presenter.

By re-thinking how video conferences should work, by allowing parallel Networking, and by allowing seamless transitions between three different modalities, Toucan is re-injecting a critical human element into virtual work events.

We’re all looking forward to going back to our offices, but it’s very clear that most of us aren’t going back to our offices full time. Some of us aren’t going back at all, and some of us are only going back part time. Virtual work is here to stay. We’re doing everything we can to make sure Toucan supports that work while respecting the humanity of everyone involved.



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About author

image of author Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy

Toucan co-founder. Lover of startups and travel.

Current status: One out of two ain't bad.

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