Sunday, 1 September 2013

Stowe Boyd on "The future of work: maximizing your distributed workforce"

A few days ago I watched a webinar by GigaOM research on “The future of work: maximizing your distributed workforce”.

The video examined a variety of topics including the distributed enterprise, harnessing creative collaboration, enterprise adoption, culture and compliance.

Stowe Boyd – Analyst at GigaOM Research whose work and study I follow with interest - was one of the panelists.

Within these marginalia, I would like to recall some of the thoughts that Stowe Boyd shared during the webinar.

The distributed enterprise

There is an interesting paradox for which we are increasingly more connected in work today, but at the same time distributed, decentralised and performing in a 'discontinuous way'. That means that we are constantly shifting from work and personal, there are projects that we do with different groups of people, and increasingly decentralised organisations are becoming more and more agile and innovative, putting power at the hands of front-line workforce.
All these things are currently running together, calling for a very different 'workspace': a combination of the tools, the physical environment and the other affordances that we use to get work done. That includes social technologies and social architectures to make work as fluid and frictionless as possible. These tools are easier and simpler to use, and the energy involved with their adoption is becoming increasingly important.
These workspaces have a great impact on productivity, group identity, and on satisfaction in the workplace.”

The BYOD model has been having a big impact. The wise organisations are taking advantage of this, leveraging the energy of the model. People are given the autonomy of choosing their tools (people are smart and will choose tools that let them make progress).”

Harnessing creative collaboration

There is fascinating research that comes from sociology that suggests that the best way to create context in which change can happen, is through connections. If people have the chance to increase the connections they have at work, then ideas would spread more quickly.”

In some specific cases there is a phenomenon called 'complex contagion': if people feel that is risky to undertake new behaviours, they will not undertake those changes until they other people around them are undertaking those behavioural changes. Therefore, in some companies where people feel that is risky to use social tools, changes can be very difficult to make and can take considerable amount of time.”

A measure [of the benefits from using internal social collaboration tools] can be innovation (e.g. companies can track the proportion of the sales). There are also other direct things inside organisations, which are linked to productivity. There is a lot of psychological and management research that shows that just allowing people to share the progress that they make on a regular basis, sharing that they have achieved and accomplished some tasks that in turn will allow other people to take the next steps, makes other people feel better about work, and more productive themselves.

Enterprise Adoption

One of the aspects of 'discontinuous work' is that people have to shift tools set during the course of the day because of whom they are working with.”

It is seems clear from all the indicators that the issues around collaborative, digital, social, etc. have now been accepted within the business context. Companies are expecting to get productivity increases from these next generation of technologies. They cannot go back and get productivity out of the techniques used in the past.”

The best hope around adoption is getting people being more efficient, more productive, more cooperative. This is achievable through operating faster and looser ways of work: more distribution, more decentralisation, less of the ways of working of the past as people have to make progress quickly.”

Culture and compliance

There is a widespread awareness that companies want to be more agile, resilient, able to make changes more quickly, keep their options open. Once again, all of this is built into the concept that I call “fast and loose business”, that suggests some principles on what the notion of culture has to be. Culture has to give a higher value on behaviours and activities that help the company achieve those characteristics.

That suggests at a very fundamental level of loosening some of the bonds that we have accepted as a sort of given in business in the past – in particular the strong control of management. Some companies have started to intentionally minimise management relationships so that so people can have maximum autonomy to get things done.

Those kind of issues have to be thought about and incorporated exclusively in a culture saying:

'what we value is to move quickly, be agile, respond in a short period of time to challenges and opportunities, and in order to do that we have to change our personal behaviour and mindset about how work has to be done'.

Next steps

I think we are moving away from the traditional notion of collaboration.
In fact, I have been making a differentiation. The most generic term for me is 'co-working'. I believe collaboration is a style of people working that is little tired now. I believe the big shift is going to be towards tools that are more cooperative, that allow people to get work done together, to share information together, but are not based on the same principles of collaborative tools.

For anyone interested in social business and the future of work, Stowe Boyd is not to be missed. I find particularly fascinating the sociological, anthropological and communicative approach he takes when analysing the business context of enterprise collaboration.

Thank you Stowe – I will continue to follow your studies.