Mobility

How smartphone home screens can streamline team building and project management

Home screen snapshots show what apps people value and use. Here's how these home screen images can be used to kick off a group project and determine what tools the team should use.

Google Slides (vertical HTML view) showing screenshots of smartphone homescreens for three different people on three different slides
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Project kickoff meetings can be a challenge, especially when a group of people have never worked together before. An adept project leader needs to manage all the details, while at the same time working to build personal trust among group members. Things get more complicated when group members are from different organizations.

As an IT person, you're well-positioned to set the group up for success by asking people to share a screenshot of their smartphone home screen. I have done this by creating a presentation, with one slide for each person on the project. I put each person's name on a Google Slide, then share the slides with the group and give every project member editing privileges. Then, I ask people to add a screenshot of their phone home screen.

Home screen screenshots provide a glimpse of the apps that people value and use. Additionally, discussion of the apps works well as a group icebreaker, and also opens up the chance for a serious discussion about group collaboration and communication. (Unless, of course, people in the group have locked down phones with pre-installed apps. In which case, this exercise only reveals IT's absolute control.) Here's what to look for, and how to get the conversation going.

Discover priorities and preferences

First, look low. If the apps on the bottom row of the screen are not the default set of apps, then the apps likely reflect the person's preferences or priorities, since you can access these apps from any screen. For example, on an iPhone, my default four apps are Tweetbot, Google Docs, Safari, and Hangouts.

Sometimes an app that isn't present on the home screen also conveys information. For example, there's no Phone app on my home screen. Instead, I make most of my voice calls with two other home screen apps: Hangouts (with Google Voice) and Signal.

Next, ask people to talk about their most valued apps: What are the apps they view as "core" or "essential"? Most people are happy to talk about apps they find useful.

Discuss collaboration tools: One task, one tool

Look for communication and group collaboration tools. For example: What tools do team members prefer for communication? SMS? Video? Chat in Slack? Facebook Messenger? Twitter DMs? Skype? Hangouts? A traditional voice-only call?

When people need to work together, a "one task, one tool" approach minimizes confusion. It helps if everyone agrees on which tool to use for a task:

  • Post project updates to... whatever tool makes the most sense to the group
  • Create new documents with... whatever tool makes the most sense for the group
  • Track tasks with... whatever tool makes the most sense for the group, and so on

Getting to the clarity of "one task, one tool" can be deceptively difficult. Take checklists, for example. If your organization uses G Suite, you could track tasks in at least four different apps: Tasks (in Gmail), Google Docs, Google Keep, or Google Sheets. The home screen snapshots can help you choose an app that people already use.

And, don't worry about app differences for apps that aren't aimed at collaboration or communication. If you use the Gmail app, and I use the Inbox by Gmail app, it doesn't matter. We can each still send and receive email.

Start a security conversation

A look at home screen apps can also prompt a security conversation. Look for password management and two-factor authentication code generator apps. Recognize people who clearly take steps to protect data. Better yet, make sure those are part of your organization's standard mobile device setup and deployment procedures. Or, use the opportunity to mention mobile management approaches, such as the Google Device Policy app to keep work and personal data secure and separate on devices.

Finally, if you notice an app that clearly can cause a problem—such as an insecure or known malware app—don't call out the offending person in front of the group. Instead, approach the person after the meeting to address the issue. Fix the security problem individually to help establish understanding and build trust.

What do you think?

Have you used home screen snapshots to help introduce team members to one another? What do the apps on your home screen suggest about your preferences and priorities? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments!


Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

Editor's Picks