Canary Wharf Level 39 — London, United Kingdom
A man taking a picture of a city.

What “apps” can help us work smarter?

Research Project Name

Exploration of Digital Collaboration

What We Did

We explored new digital workflows in real-life project situations with the goal of increasing productivity and improving communication. To do this, we reviewed and tested a variety of productivity applications for smartphones and tablets. We studied the way we work, receive messages, delegate tasks, and execute projects. And we packaged the most successful apps and hardware for distribution within Gensler, paired with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) strategies—as described in his book of the same name—for processing e-mail and for better team communications.

We refer to our approach as “digital collaboration”—the use of digital devices and mobile technology to share knowledge, manage information, and contribute user-generated content to communities or teams of people. Dramatically different from traditional collaboration, it encourages a continued connection to a broader network of participants at all times. Digital collaboration includes the use of digital shared notebooks and coauthoring to capture and exchange information; the creation of digital maps and illustrations to visually express data for better understanding or remembrance; and the sharing of information via web-based links that allow it to be retrieved from any device. The result is greater worker mobility and flexibility, enabling a potential increase in productivity along with the keener awareness of projects that comes from more proactive sharing.

The Context

Most professionals already employ some level of digital and collaborative work strategies in their daily routines, from flags and categories in Outlook to screen- and document-sharing technologies. We believe there are significantly more opportunities. Mobile devices and the information-sharing and social applications they enable are constantly creating new opportunities to be more productive and informed when used effectively.

We see the potential benefits of better technology adoption as reduced stress, increased productivity, and ultimately greater preparation and success. These tools also allow professionals to find new sources of inspiration, tap into fresh and unexpected resources, and expand their networks. Those who participate in this context can make better decisions based on information provided by massive communities who share the same experiences.

The Results

As the first stage of our project, we introduced new tools and processes into ongoing work to document preliminary case studies. All case studies indicated an improved ability to accomplish work by eliminating administrative tasks. A 2011 study by the Aberdeen Group reinforces our findings. Based on IT activity data and performance criteria, it classified 573 companies into best-in-class, average, and laggards as related to technology adoption. Best-in-class companies had more access to information, greater satisfaction, and were able to complete 50% more tasks than the laggards.

For one team, adopting a shared to-do list slightly reduced correspondence via e-mail and improved collective understanding of current tasks without adding meetings or additional team correspondence. In another case, we saw a gain in field work efficiency and a reduction in paper consumption, pointing to immediate business value. An inbox management approach based on GTD strategies was also promising: If a task takes less than two minutes, it should be done immediately. If not, a “project” is created to manage the task going forward. The success of pilot projects also increased participants’ willingness to adopt new communication and documentation methods.

To further vet and share our findings, we created an internal social media community group and an intranet resource to provide packages of apps relevant to a variety of employee roles. We also created a Wikipedia page defining digital collaboration, a Twitter account to share information, and a brand that identifies our group and work. And we did it all using apps and mobile devices from day one.

What This Means

Seek out new ways of working and sharing. New tools trigger reimagining daily work processes with a goal to integrate digital workflows that improve productivity and communication.

Improve transparency and access. Application- and cloud-based team communication allows inter-team communication to be more easily stored and accessed, keeping everyone on the same page.

Employ collaborative decision-making. Decisions can be less reliant on the knowledge of a singular specialist, sourced instead from a trusted community or group with similar experience.

Explore opportunities for inspiration. Integration into larger and more diverse communities of knowledge and experience creates exposure to new ideas and methods.

What’s Next?

In the ever-changing mobile environment of new devices, new apps, and new technologies, what's next is always in front of us. It is not our intent to develop the one perfect tool, but to uncover the best of what works and tailor these tools to suit our work process needs. We continue to focus on changing the rules of communication from a "send-and-receive" mentality to an "access-centric" one. We hope to introduce Gensler to new approaches to the way we use available tools and prepare for mainstream adoption of new technology.

Learn More


Chris Musich, Nick Acevedo, David Loyola, Eric McKinney

Year Completed