The nature of my work means I need to be very nimble with the technologies I use to communicate with different groups of people.
In addition to the internal tools we use at BCcampus (a mixture of RocketChat, Skype, Bluejeans, Basecamp, Confluence and Zimbra), I am also involved with numerous communities, collaboratives, working groups and other assorted groups of people and projects each with their own preference for communication and working. I stay connected to ETUG using Slack, PBworks, Collaborate and via a good ol’ fashioned email distribution list. The OpenETC prefers to use Mattermost. Another Slack group for Creative Commons. My own personal communication tools include 3 different Twitter accounts, a Mastodon account, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger.
Now, pretty well all of these are web based tools accessible via the browser, which I used to manage using a Firefox built-in feature called Tab Groups. Tab Groups gave me the ability to group different tabs together by whatever criteria I wanted, creating different “desktops” within Firefox. But about a year ago, Firefox dumped that feature, forcing me to rethink how I managed my entire workflow.
Basically, what I want to do is separate primarily communication tools (email, Slack, RocketChat, Skype, Mattermost) from both productivity type applications (Sandstorm, wikis, GDocs, WordPress) & info consumption (Feedly, general browsing kind of stuff).
I tried a number of different ways. I experimented with different tab group extensions, tried downloading standalone apps for many of the tools I used, but nothing really worked well for me. Until I came across Rambox. Rambox is an open source app that works like a specialized web browser that allows you to groups different web applications into one app.
Rambox has been especially useful in grouping together the various IM-type applications that I use everyday: RocketChat for our internal BCcampus communications, 2 Slack channels (ETUG and Creative Commons), Mattermost (the OpenETC), Zimbra (BCcampus email), Basecamp (our PM software), and helping me keep my browser set aside for reading/writing and other productivity tasks.
Interesting thing that I’ve discovered is that it has helped me in 2 ways, which, at first, seem incompatible. First, it has made me more responsive in those various communication channels. It is much easier to see at a glance where conversations are occurring, and to quickly pop in, catch up and stay connected to convos in various communities.
The second, opposite side of the equation, is that it has made me more focused when I am doing more productive type tasks in my browser. When I want to write, I can minimize Rambox and ignore everything to focus on the task at hand. Then, when I am ready to check in with my communication channels, I can maximize Rambox and quickly see where I need to go to catch up on communications.
It hasn’t been technically perfect. Skype is a bit of a pain in Rambox as it doesn’t fully support Skype (no video). And it seems like Skype is updated almost on a daily basis and everytime it is I need to uninstall and reinstall it in Rambox. Not a huge deal, but still a bit of a pain.
Also, if I get an attachment in Zimbra (our email system at BCcampus), I need to download and save it locally first. If I click on an attachment in Zimbra within Rambox, I get an error message. So, that adds a bit within my workflow.
But those are minor compared to the reduction in cognitive load I feel using the app. It has helped me to compartmentalize my work and has helped me manage my workload immensely. For that, I am a big fan of Rambox, and just made a small donation to say thanks.