Hat are these “new ways of working”, and what behavioural changes do we see? We’ll explore four of these: the self-help culture, collaboration, “always on”, and how meetings are changing.
In the world of “apps”, and with the emphasis on a good user experience in the development of applications, it becomes easier and more intuitive to use and navigate the software solutions. When a new solution is rolled out, the training of users is easier and more pleasant, in some cases almost playful.
The nature of modern solutions is also that the “normal” user has a lot of functionality at their disposal and it’s easy to become an expert.
What happens then, or should happen, is that back office and support staff doing admin work are reduced, and staff at higher levels in the organisation do more for themselves and delegate less.
This type of behavioural change seems to be quite difficult for the older generation, whether it is because of status, or whether it is just not easy for them to learn new tricks. Either way, the result is that the adoption for the more senior staff is in general slower and more difficult.
The modern productivity platforms, such as Google’s G Suite in particular, but also Microsoft’s platform and several other products and apps, are essentially collaboration tools – they enable people to work together better and in real-time.
The origins of these products and platforms are mainly email and calendar functionality, and the ability to create digital documents and send these around as attachments to emails.
This original functionality basically mimicked the paper-based process, which has developed over centuries.
Adoption of email, and writing a digital document meant learning how to use a computer to do things that we were already doing on paper and in mailing systems.
We were, however, almost always working alone when writing, or at least aspired to the one-man office, or a private study
Enter the shared-folder apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Sharepoint, and the ability to simultaneously work on the same document with other users such as in Google’s Docs, Sheets and Slides apps. Always knowing where things are and working together in real time on documents, presentations and budgets create a whole new paradigm. Our colleagues see and know what we’re doing and thinking in real time, and everyone’s much more productive together, but suddenly the pace is almost too fast.
We’ve grown used to the waiting time between sending and receiving a document from a co-worker, so we can do other stuff. Now we have to plan our days in a whole different way.
The “always on” world created by digital is entirely at odds with the nine-to-five workplace culture that many of us grew up in. At first, we embraced it, and worked harder and longer hours, because we could extend our workplace to our homes, but then we became overworked.
Enter the concepts of “work-life balance” and “flexible working” in terms of hours and location. These are attempts to get our boundaries back that we have lost because of the always on, always available, always able to work that digital has enabled.
Discipline now doesn’t mean getting to work on time every morning – it means making sure that you take regular breaks, be “device-free” in some circumstances and to contain your social media time.
Besides writing and thinking, the other core daily activity of the knowledge economy is conducting meetings. Our physical workspaces and even some of the most important roles in the organisation have been designed to facilitate and conduct meetings.
Our status is built around meetings – where you meet, who you meet with, what you eat and drink during your meetings, and the job grade level of the minute-taker. All of this is changing with Skype, Google’s Meet and the collaborative productivity tools.
We can instantaneously have a meeting, anywhere, and share notes that become the agreed minutes without cumbersome iterations, or even the agenda point to agree on the minutes of the previous meeting.
People’s roles are affected, and our workplaces have to be reconceptualised for these behaviour changes. The concept of a meeting might disappear, or have already disappeared in some cultures, and perhaps we’ll just have conversations and discussions going forward.
On the one hand old habits die hard, and it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, but on the other hand, we love to explore, experiment and play with new toys, and humans are curious and inquisitive creatures.
Some of us will learn and mould these new behaviours to make us more efficient – evolution and survival of the fittest will take care of the rest.