I received a call the other day to talk with an organization about the “art of the possible” in the workplace. One of the areas they wanted to discuss was collaboration, particularly collaboration in an open work environment. The social aspects of the business of the future are just starting to be understood by most business..., so as they make this kind of change it is a good time to sit back and think about the implications. At least from my perspective this “Open Work Environment” may be a bit more open than what they were thinking.
Today we live in a world of coopitition. It is not a case of “You” against the world the way it used to be. A partner today may be a competitor tomorrow. Employees work from more locations using a wider range of devices as well. A plane is just as valid a work location as a desk or even a fork lift (or in my case my home). With today’s modern smartphones, wherever I am at the time is my workplace. Fortunately, those focused on mobility are very aware of the enterprise needs and how to support them – at least the folks from Palm are anyway.
This kind of diverse set of requirements is changing how people think of work and how work needs to think of people. In the case of this organization they were moving to having no offices so figuring out how to find someone who may be on the 1st floor today and the 4th floor tomorrow is a mandatory productivity improvement. The fact that the function may be external today and internal tomorrow is just an added level of complexity. Some companies have the added complication that it may be in one country today and another tomorrow. So just contacting the right person is an issue in the business of today. Video conferencing tools are a great place to start, and there capabilities will be expanding as well eventually incorporating 3D and other techniques to become even more realistic.
I mentioned before the automation of normal and attention engineering – focusing on the context of the information rather than the data itself. Looking at systems from an attention engineering perspective was another area we discussed -- Getting the users attention as needed but only when needed. This approach is one way that frees people to collaborate with each other. I was talking with one of the HP labs teams last week about how to find the best available subject matter expert is a global organization like HP as quickly as possible. Much of the focus has been recognizing the context of what is going on between people via email, collaboration tools like SharePoint… and use that in conjunction with HR system records and even location information to find the best available people to help out.
Each year HP has an internal, global technical conference and I am one of the co-chairs for that. This year we’ve pulled together a tool that will look at the work products they’ve created and perform “electronic dating” and give them a list of people they should try and track down at the conference, since there should be things they’d have to talk about. This kind of computer-aided collaboration is going to become more common since our workforce is diversifying and these connections may not happen any other way. This may be even more important in an open work environment, since the nomadic nature of the people who work there adds another level of collaborative complexity.
One other aspect that is enabling new levels of collaboration is the abundance I mentioned before in the computing, networking space. The financial structures are being formed that allow for groups to variablize everything. Whether it is computers, employees or even whole business functions with BPO, this kind of variablization is becoming an imperative for business agility. Of course we still need to collaborate securely.
The HP Enterprise Business team has an approach called the Instant-On enterprise that is targeted at enabling exactly that – because people and companies no longer want to choose between things but would rather choose among things and do what they need to get done in a standard yet flexible way. These kinds of conflicts standard yet customized, low cost yet high quality, collaborative and secure, mobile and high performance are why right now there is so much opportunity for innovation.