Digital tools for digital people

Forget how people do things while they’re at work, constrained by corporate policies and culture. If you want to see someone’s true working style, you need to see how they work on their own terms. Like when they organise their own holiday.

That was a nugget taught to me on a leadership course I went to at work, and one I’ve subsequently seen to be absolutely spot-on.

You can tell a lot about a digital professional from how they digitise themselves.

After discussing this on Twitter with Luis Suarez (famously The Man Who Stopped Doing Email) and digital fluency coach Jamie Good, we got together on Blab to discuss our own personal digital workplaces. You can watch a replay here.

I kicked off things by talking about Trello. For the uninitiated, Trello is a project management tool, but it’s so feature-rich and customisable that it’s scrum board on steroids. Here’s a post on all the myriad ways you can use Trello from Lifehacker.

I love Trello. I’m inherently a very disorganised person, but over the years I’ve developed the self-awareness to know this and developed a system to organise myself.

That means I have scrum boards for all the various parts of my life. I even had one to plan my wedding.

Here’s a screenshot of my personal tasks board; this is how I manage my projects outside of my day job. My to-do list starts on the left, moving over to ‘doing’ as I start to work through jobs. I add detail, links or updates on each card, then move to done once tasks are completed.


I work in weekly personal sprints, reviewing the board every week or so and archiving tasks that are done or dead to keep it all manageable.

I also use Trello to work with distributed teams I’m a member of, in particular my intranet blog, Intranetizen, where we use Trello to manage the content pipeline. We can assign tasks to people, add due dates, attach documents and discuss what we’re doing. Posts move from left to right as they evolve from idea to fully-formed text.


Luis commented that this is similar to how many people use Evernote. But I much prefer Trello as it’s highly visual, has brilliant UX and integrates so well with everything else I use to work in teams.

What’s interesting, Luis noted, is the extent to which our personal productivity becomes hampered when we get to work and don’t have the choice of tools that we’d like.

Back in the 90s the computing you had at work was streets ahead of anything you might be able to buy yourself. But the consumerisation of technology over the past 15 years has shifted the balance a long way in the other direction, and now surveys regularly show people are largely dissatisfied with the tools they’re given in the workplace.

This leads to a boom in guerilla or shadow IT within organisations, as people who can’t access the tools they need to feel productive via their work desktop simply switch to using personal phones and tools like WhatsApp – beyond both the control and visibility of corporate IT or compliance.

Corporates are still struggling with BYOD, but until that is cracked the gulf between employee expectation and reality will continue to grow. That has impacts on retention as employees who can’t be as productive as they’d like leave to work in firms where they have more agency over their preferred toolset.

The onboarding process and timeline in enterprise IT doesn’t keep up with the rate at which people want to evolve their ways of working. Unless enterprise IT offers a tool that offers the same functionality and usability as WhatsApp, people will vote with their feet – or their phone – and use non-approved alternatives from the consumer space, with all the risk attached to that.

Pioneers within organisations can identify tools that can help to build productivity – they quickly become evangelists for its use amongst their friends and colleagues. Enterprise IT needs to make friends with these influencers and pioneers and figure out how to square that circle – or risk becoming irrelevant. This group can identify use cases and help work through issues with emergent tools.

The big enterprise social platforms have been improving their offering in recent years, in part in response to smaller and newer players like Slack, which all three of us are big fans of.

For example, I use Slack to work with the Parliament User Group. We have a public channel as well as a closed one for us organisers. We share notes and links through this all the time, then every couple of weeks some of us will get together on a Google Hangout to discuss plans and updates, and often from there we’ll switch straight to collaboratively editing a Google Doc. In this way we can collectively draft and agree a post in half an hour, rather than days or weeks of back-and-forth emailing, then finally share this doc with the Slack for everyone to give the OK for publication.

What sets Slack apart is the degree to which it’s integrated with others tools, bringing multiple tools together into a unified experience.

I asked Luis if, having long kissed goodbye to email, he still used documents. The answer, unsurprisingly, is no, not if he can help it. He uses IBM Connections Docs and generally uses wikis rather than documents, commenting that “the moment you put a piece of knowledge in a document, that’s the moment that you lock it in”.

Documents exist to replicate an age where information was paper-based and linear – a means of creating things that were designed to be printed in order to be shared. Documents introduce a lot of friction to the process of collaboration, requiring 3rd party apps to open and email to share.

I also prefer hypertextuality and non-linearity to capture information, as this enables it to change over time in a way that reduces friction but where previous iterations can still be referenced. For personal projects I use Google Docs, while at work I use Documents within Jive, which are actually more like wikis but with a more user friendly interface.

This kind of approach privileges people over documents, focusing on the interaction and information rather than the tool. Manny Wilson produced this powerful graphic which illustrates how using wikis (or similar) to share information rather than documents reduces complexity and friction.


We wrapped up with Luis making a call to arms for more of us to be brave and call out practices that simply aren’t productive – and have the courage to find and use alternatives that can make work better.

Digital professionals are at the forefront of that change; it’s down to us to keep challenging our colleagues, and our IT departments, to deliver a better and more productive digital workplace.

What tools do you swear by to manage your work? Join the conversation in the comments below. We’ll arrange a follow-up Blab session if there’s enough interest.

One thought on “Digital tools for digital people

  1. Pingback: Digital tools for digital people – Sharon O’Dea | Public Sector Blogs

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