In the WE-Conomy, it is more important than ever to harness the power of the “collective we over the singular me” to drive competitive advantage. Following is a Q+A with Dave Rathmann CEO of Umuse discussing the future of workplace communication and the growing need for collaborative technology.
Billee: Tell me a little bit about Umuse and the problem that you’re solving.
Dave: The road to Umuse stemmed from a personal problem. At our last company, my co-founders and I were receiving hundreds of messages a day across multiple apps. We tried everything to make it work. We downloaded the latest tools. We tried all the email and chat management tips and tricks, but it still felt like we were spinning our wheels. Looking around, it wasn’t hard to see why. Now, the average business workers receives over 125 emails a day and it’s growing. They’ve likely also started to adopt chat which means more messages and notifications. We wanted to fix this and our approach was to build Umuse.
Umuse is a universal inbox for the enterprise. Working with existing services like Gmail and Slack, Umuse is designed to combine the power and flexibility of email, with the speed and intimacy of chat, together in one Facebook-like feed. The goal is to give you one view into your digital conversations at work so you can efficiently manage the message volume and take back control of your work day.
Billee: How would you categorize the state of workplace communication today and its effect on the employee experience?
Dave: I think workplace communication is in a state of flux. We’re spending large amounts of time managing communication and not enough time actually communicating. One of the biggest things we’ve seen in the past 4-5 years in this space is the proliferation of tools and channels. In some ways, these new tools and technologies have made things worse as much as they’ve made things better. I’m constantly juggling between email, chat, and text and I don’t have a single place to look for those important messages. The question we have to ask ourselves is what affect this context shifting is having on the employee. With email alone taking up about 23 percent of the average business worker’s day, employees are distracted, overwhelmed and it’s not just the employee’s work product that’s taking a hit – it’s their well-being.
Billee: What will it take to reduce communication distraction?
Dave: Right now, we’re battling too many messages with too many notifications across too many tools. I think it starts by putting everything in one place. You’re a lot better off when you have one place to read, search, and save all of your messages. Not only is there a lot less context switching, but also a huge opportunity to apply a deeper level of intelligence to your workplace communication. This universal place for all of your messages also allows for the creation of a personal social graph that learns over time so you can prioritize those important conversations and respond to them quickly. You can also leverage things like contextual search so you can find exactly what you’re looking for and other topics that may be of interest based on your behavior. The last 10 years were all about being able to communicate quickly. I think the next 10 years will be all about being able to communicate intelligently.
Billee: Bringing all of your communications (email, chat, text) together in one place seems interesting, but will that just contribute to the noise? How will users be able to sift through everything?
Dave: With Umuse, you’re not getting any more messages than you were previously. Instead, you now have a single pane of glass to manage everything and one place to manage the disruptions. Over the years, with all of these tools spread out across our phones and desktops, we’ve gained accessibility, but lost context. You have to remember where you had these conversations, where those files were sent, where those conversations took place – just to get to the results you want. The ability to leverage these tools the way they were intended has diminished. We give you that back.
Billee: How will Umuse help the marketer?
Dave: The marketing role has changed significantly over the past decade. As we’ve added more channels it’s become even more challenging for the marketer to go where their customers are. There’s more complexity, things move faster, and attention spans are limited. We think that marketers have squarely felt the Umuse problem – too many channels, too many messages, and not enough time to process it all. Umuse was designed with the overall marketing experience in mind so we can help ease their burden so they have more time to focus on their actual day-to-day responsibilities. Our Inner Circle technology for example, will help them pinpoint what’s important quickly and which stakeholders and customers to respond to first. The experience is all about embracing volume with a hyper focus on scanning, zooming, responding, and searching to help them find what they need when they need it and get results faster.
Billee: What are some of the more perplexing trends in the employee collaboration space today that you’re hoping to change?
Dave: We’re in the midst of this convergence of a new generation coming into the workplace, Millennials for example, with a new set of expectations about how to work. Whether we’ve realized it or not, employees have always been a customer that we need to reach, understand, and listen to. And now, they’re much more vocal about how they want to communicate and collaborate. I think that’s a disruptive force in itself but there’s also this battle with existing business infrastructure. How do we balance that? With Umuse, we know we’re doing something a little crazy by blending the old way with the new way. Our solution is not to kill email – we’re embracing it. Our solution is not to move strictly to chat – we’re adding some structure to it. Ultimately we want to create one cohesive experience for all types of employees.
Billee: Look out 10 years from now. Umuse is a huge success. What do you think is different about the way employees communicate at work?
Dave: Ultimately, I think we’ll see that the tools we use each day in the workplace have become much more intelligent, helping employees everywhere communicate more efficiently. Our tools will not only help us understand who is important to us, but why they’re important to us and the contextual relevance of the conversations that we’re having with our coworkers. Filing, for example, will become a thing of the past and your conversations will automatically be categorized by topic for you. Our tools will also have a greater understanding of our communication as it relates to specific projects. We may get notified if we haven’t responded to a question in a timely way but even further, our tools will help us understand the significance of that question, and how it impacts a broader project or task that you’re working on. This level of intelligence will reduce the communication friction we feel with today’s tools. Channels will matter less. Actually communicating will matter more. To the degree that we can accomplish that and reduce the headache, distraction, and the noise – we’re ensuring employees everywhere are much more productive and happier with their jobs overall.