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As Peter Diamandis has famously pointed out, a Maasai Warrior with a mobile phone out on the Serengeti today has access to better communication technology than President Reagan did in the White House just 25 years ago. But the diversity of communication channels available to today’s office workers often ends up making staying connected more complicated than convenient. A coworker can ask you if you got her message and you’d have no idea whether she was talking about an instant message, a text, an email, something on social media, or a voicemail. By the time you’ve searched through them all, you’ve already unwittingly sent a message of your own about how much you value the connection.

Microsoft designed Lync to make keeping track of all our connections simple again. Lync is an integrated communications platform that brings audio and video conferencing, email, instant messaging, and availability indicators all together in a single interface. It allows you to access all these channels through a window small enough to keep open on your screen while you’re working. With Lync, you can make phone calls through your desktop, and many businesses can save money by doing away with old-fashioned phones altogether. And Lync integrates with other applications, like Exchange, SharePoint, and Office 365, so you’re only ever a click or two away, not just from your contacts, but from messaging and conversation histories, or even the documents you’re collaborating on. That means missed messages of any sort all end up in just one location.

An example scenario

Let’s say I’m working on a Statement of Work document in SharePoint and I see a line of text I don’t understand. SharePoint highlights the line, and when I hover the cursor over it, a small Lync window appears telling me who wrote it. In this case, the author was Scott, one of our Business Development Managers. The Lync window has icons I can click on to call, instant message, video conference, or email Scott. Since the availability indicator beside his picture happens to be red at the moment, I know Scott is busy, so I probably shouldn’t try to call or instant message him with my question. Instead, I opt for an email he can respond to at his convenience. If the availability indicator had been yellow, that would mean he was simply inactive or away from his desk, in which case I may have tried an instant message. If it had been green, that would’ve meant he was available, so I would have called or instant messaged him. And we can collaborate like this whether we’re in the office or on mobile devices.

What’s it like being on Lync all day?

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The Lync window takes up about a fifth of the surface space of your monitor. (I’m actually typing this on a second monitor, so I can glance over at the first to see what everyone’s up to.) But you can obviously drop it off the screen to the tool bar, too. There’s a different sound to indicate incoming calls, emails, or instant messages, all of which you simply click on the flashing icon to respond to. You can also click on the drop down box under your name to change your own availability, from available (green) to away (yellow) to busy or do not disturb (red). Your status will automatically change to yellow if you don’t touch your keyboard or mouse for a while, or red if you’re on a call or in a meeting. Your most frequent contacts always appear, but you can look up any of your coworkers by typing in the first letter or two of their names.

One of the coolest features of the latest version of Lync is the video conferencing which arranges all the participants in a kind of Brady Bunch-style display. But in general Lync makes staying connected so easy people in our office at Aptera are actually starting to force themselves to take walks to avoid the temptation of never moving.

If you have any questions about Lync’s newest features, or about how it would work in a specific business scenario, feel free to write them in the comments section below. And check out this post on how Lync stacks up against some of its competition.

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