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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Shifting Workplace Experience

Compared with offices of the past, the modern workplace is paradoxically both more informal and more relentless. Doors have been replaced by cubicles, formal desks with tables, and long-planned meetings with ad hoc collaboration. Work and home have blended, to the general benefit of work: more and more of us are available at all times, on smartphones and tablets, for e-mail and instant messaging.

The look and function of office productivity software, including icons like scissors and clipboards, have been slower to change. As mobility and collaboration become standards of work, however, the design and function of things like document creation and sharing are changing too.

For decades, adjusting fonts and type sizes was used persuade clients and co-workers in office documents. And people e-mailed one another attachments of work they had created alone. But now, an emphasis is placed on fast turnaround, effective presentation on small screens, and the use of pictures and graphics as much as words.

A big part of mobility is cloud computing, which allows all kinds of documents to be stored in remote data centers and used anywhere. Google recently made Google Docs, its word processing software, part of Drive, its online storage service. Microsoft’s storage service, called Skydrive, is still separate from its mobile version of Word, but it is possible to use the service on most new smartphones.

But several start-ups have also emerged, trying to radically rethink the way we work, in some cases from a mobile-first point of view.


Box, a newer online storage service, recently bought a company called Crocdoc, which uses an advanced Web programming language to make all sorts of documents and photo displays look good no matter the device.

Crocdoc can also be used as a collaboration and editing tool. In this image, several users are editing a document in the social media service Yammer, which is owned by Microsoft. Crocdoc allows the users to see Microsoft Office documents, and once opened, users can make edits, as well as add comments and highlights.


Evernote, another online storage company, allows users to write, edit and share notes together, instead of e-mailing multiple versions of a Word document to one another.

Some of Evernote’s features still borrow from images of old-fashioned work in their design, like making text bold or italic in a document. But it also offers more modern features, like letting users strike-through text, add images or audio and even search through a document’s metadata to find its version history.


In Quip, a new word-processing start-up, pictures and tables are referenced by touching the “@” key on a pop-up screen keyboard, a nod to Twitter’s way of linking people together.

Quip also gives a lot of screen real estate to the person who owns the device and other people. Instant messaging, photos of other people where they edited, and annotations can occupy a big chunk of the screen, or be removed to just work on a document. It is a more collaborative world, and the look is meant to encourage others to jump in when they see someone else is online.

Not everything changes, however. You may be looking at a mobile phone in a coffee shop, or looking at a tablet in a conference room, but for some reason Quip still calls the main screen “Desktop.” One thing about the future: It’s still full of the past.