Take a look around your desk. Open up a drawer. Chances are good there is a paperclip (or maybe a hundred paperclips) lying within easy reach. Not only is each and every paperclip a stupidly simple tool that can do some great things, it is also an opportunity for you to exercise empathy, generosity and kindness.
The modern paperclip serves many purposes. It attaches papers together using friction and elasticity. The paperclip busies our hands and fingers when we are on an important call or in a lengthy meeting. It easily bends, twists and turns until it helplessly falls apart in our nervous little hands. The paperclip, when unwound, can serve as a tool, vital in our efforts to eject, pry or otherwise separate two previously connected objects. One little, looped piece of wire. It does so much. There’s so much magic.
In fact, the paperclip does so much and its design is so perfectly complete and ubiquitous that it has become an icon that is easily recognizable when something needs to be attached to something else. We see that curvy, loopy shape, and we immediately know what we need to do.
For instance, take a look at Outlook. Create a new email, and you will see that friendly utility there, ready to help however it can.
Click the paperclip icon, and you will be prompted to do that which a paperclip does so well, attach something to something else. In this case, you can attach a document to your email making it easy to share important information.
In addition to Outlook, Microsoft also makes collaboration platforms. Take a look at Microsoft Teams, and when you are making a post that will be seen by other colleagues, you will again see that friendly, loopy shape, beckoning and encouraging you to share information.
And although Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network platform, seems to have eschewed the paperclip icon for a file tray icon, the accessory extension of our physical desktop where valuable stray utilitarian paperclips can often be found hidden deep in its corners.
Clicking that little icon, be it a paperclip or a file tray, empowers you to bring empathy to your work, and make your colleagues’ day, or more importantly, your bosses day, just a little bit easier.
If we don’t use those familiar icons, we will then need to describe to our colleagues where the file can be found. Our colleague will need to search through a file library or directory with the hopes they have located the precise file you are trying to share with them. Time is lost. Frustration is built. We are not doing our best work.
Instead, exercise your empathy. Understand that your colleague most likely does not have the time (or maybe even the interest) to go searching for the file that could have easily been attached to your email or post in the first place.
Understand that your work is important, and that is in your own best interest to make files as easy to use and find as possible. Rather than writing “I have uploaded the file here. You can find it in the file library. It is called thisfileisforyouv1.3.docx.”
Save yourself the time of having to describe the name and content of the file you want your colleague to find. Save your colleague the time of having to find the file you are sharing with them. Use the paperclip, and attach the document.
You may think it is easier to just explain the file is available rather than working to learn the way to attach the file so it is easily found by your colleague. You are wrong. You may think you can get just as much work done through inadvertent obfuscation and chicanery. You are wrong. You may think that if your colleague really needs the information they will find it on their own.
What is easy is to imagine you need to connect with the information you are working to share. What would make it easy to find what you are trying to find? What would make you breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the file is within easy reach?
Find it. Find the empathy. Find the paperclip. Help your colleagues connect to what they need, and make it easy for them to do what they need to do. Use the paperclip. It’s right there.