Technology and Organizations
Where will people do their most effective work? I’m in the middle of selling my old house and just bought a new one, so the common real estate refrain, “location, location, location” has been going through my head a lot. Do people need to work at an organizational site to be engaged? Can they work effectively away from a formal office?
In my prior post, I said,
If more work is being done with fewer jobs ... the remaining jobs, and work in general, must be being done differently. What are the levers we can pull as we do this redesign? Who should be doing this redesign? These are the questions that everyone, from CEO to the newest freelancer, are -- or need to be -- grappling with.
I’ll be working on answers all summer, but today I’m taking on location with the first set of results from research I’m doing with Emma Nordbäck, John Sawyer, and Ron Rice.
We asked this question in the context of a northern European telecom company. Eight hundred thirty employees responded to our survey. Ninety-nine percent worked full-time for the company and ninety-seven percent had a standard employment contract. They’d been with the company an average of 17 years and largest age group of respondents was 41-50 years old. Perhaps not your standard picture of telecommuting superheros.
Does working away from the traditional office reduce engagement?
Not for this group. Neither was there a significant impact on how often they communicated with their supervisor, though even I expected that the people working away from the office would communicate less. I should have thought about who these people are. They work for a telecommunications company -- they are good with the tools and have been doing this a while.
Carlson and Zmud (1999) looked at how people deal with shifts from communicating face-to-face to using email, and we’ve expanding that thinking to include texting, mobile phones, and conference calls. They found that how well you communicate can depend on your experience with your co-workers, your tools, the organization, and your work. Given our telecom employees’ experience, they have the foundations for working effectively from afar, at least to the extent that it might otherwise affect their engagement with the work.
We have a new set of data just in from both this same company and a northern European travel provider. We expect that the telecom employees have more experience with the telecommunications tools that make up modern work communication, so we do expect to see location playing a role when we compare that company to the travel company. If it turns out that the travel company employees are more engaged when they are co-located with their colleagues, and if the telecom employees again don’t show a difference… then we’ll be able to make stronger suggestions about how best to design work given your particular base of workers’ experiences.
Even before those results come in, I do believe there is value in creating signals around coordination, knowing when someone needs help, or is best able to provide help. Different tools and practices may substitute for things we might miss if we are working from home, a coworking space, a plane, or a client’s office. It may also be that similar tools and practices can make us better connected even when we are co-located with our colleagues.
What tools and practices have you seen provide coordination and signalling value? Does “working out loud” (see this background from John Stepper, and this earlier one from Bryce Williams) fit in this category?
Thank you to Tekes and our universities for funding and other support.
If more work is being done with fewer jobs (I’ll review one source for this claim, The Second Machine Age, soon), the remaining jobs, and work in general, must be being done differently. What are the levers we can pull as we do this redesign? Who should be doing this redesign? These are the questions that everyone, from CEO to the newest freelancer, are -- or need to be -- grappling with.
It is true that many specific, well-defined jobs continue to exist in contemporary organizations. But we presently are in the midst of what we believe are fundamental changes in the relationships among people, the work they do, and the organizations for which they do it (p. 466).
Work Design for All of Us
Oldham and Hackman describe telecommuting, fluid job responsibilities, and independent contractors with simultaneous jobs of varying duration. But, as they note, while the phenomenon of work has changed, the human issues have not. Alienation, coordination, motivation, and performance are still critical themes to be addressed through the design of work. These themes grow in importance as responsibility for engagement, motivation, and direction shifts to include all workers (especially as freelancing grows), not just professional managers. As work becomes more virtual, distributed, and flexible, we have an opportunity to rethink work design as something carried out every day by everyone.
Emma Nordbäck, John Sawyer, Ron Rice, and I seek a simple model of work design and leadership that can be applied by the people doing the work rather than just management and human resource leads. In our recent presentations, we assess some of the basics of work design and leadership for employees as part of a larger study on flexible work and work-life balance in metropolitan areas. Traditional work at the office, working from home, and a variety of hybrid approaches, including working at other organizations or public sites, are part of these employees’ experience.
Developing a Work Design Tool Kit
Emma, John, Ron, and I are starting with the knowledge used to do work. Knowledge is foundational to the quality and quantity of the work we do. We all bring education and skills to the task, but additional knowledge comes from how the work is designed. Work design can bring to bear knowledge from:
- The feedback you get from the work itself: You gain both motivation and direction from well designed work. The ability to complete a piece of work and see its result is both rewarding and helpful as you think about how to improve. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, had people keep diaries and evaluate their work. What was true for the last 60 years remains the case, feedback as you do your work is a good thing. Feedback that is a direct response of the work is great: A chef can taste the flavor of the dish, a cabinet maker can feel the smoothness of the join, an app developer can see the the code run, and a salesperson can shake on a deal.
- Technology support related to the work: When Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee talk about technology augmenting work, much of what they are describing is technology giving us access to knowledge we can use to do our work better. Hybrid chess teams made up of relative amateurs using a variety of computer programs can beat the best computer or human grand master, when they know to augment their skills with those of the computer. Truck drivers and airline pilots can be more efficient if they have access to electronic energy tracking systems. Lobster fisherman can track past catches to make predictions about the future. Technology can support our work by enhancing the direction, method, and motivation of our work.
- Where you work: Location can provide signals about our work. If you are working next to a team member, you may be better able to know when they are going to need the report you are working on. You may have overheard them talking with others, you may have heard them cursing under their breath, or you may see that they are about to pack up and head out to that important presentation. You may also be able to see how the team member is working and learn from his or her example. (While I've focused on physical location, with some thoughtful design, virtual work can be designed to provide the same benefits.)
These are our first three levers: Feedback from the work itself, technology support, and location. More will follow, as will the craft of how to work with these levers. Are these issues you are already managing as you build you own work? If not, use one of these levers to push a change in your work -- and let us know what happens.
Much to Our Surprise
In my next post I’ll share our surprising results from the first of the organizations involved in this research. The teaser question: Who communicates more with their supervisor, people who work in the office with them, or people who away from the office? Big implications for the location lever.
Thank you to Tekes and our universities for funding this research.
Thank You ESADE 2014!
What Does It Look Like?
Some of Our Guest Speakers
- Jordi Argente, Spain California Chamber of Commerce
- Dr. Kate Berzukova, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Santa Clara University
- Dave Blakely, Senior Director, IDEO
- Gabriel Broner, Vice President, Software Development and Product Innovation at SGI
- Dr. Kumar Sarangee, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Santa Clara University
- Tad Milbourn, CEO and Co-Founder, TiempoApp
- Dr. George Mohler, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Santa Clara University and Chief Scientist, PredPol
- Dr. James Spohrer, IBM, Director IBM Global University Programs and leads IBM’s Cognitive Systems Institute
How Can You Be Involved?
Last week I had the honor of opening Women of the Channel West. This conference focuses on women in the information technology channel community -- some of our top technology sales strategy leaders. The San Francisco event was the first time this conference had come to the west coast and I think we did a great job hosting. Here is a gracious summary of my keynote by Kari Hamanaka, including quotes from the audience. It thrills me that they found the ideas actionable and that they plan to put them into use.
My slides are here and I’m happy to talk with anyone about the meat behind the images. I had the chance to push the limits of how we might "lead by letting go" across work, leadership, education, and mentoring.
The full speaker list is here (click for abstracts), including the amazing closing keynote by Holly Green on being “elite.” The workshops were also standouts and I especially enjoyed connecting with Luanne Tierney as she is part of the growing Santa Clara University women in business network. Her 12 strategies for for success in the future world of work are dead on.
The Big Picture
Kari Hamanaka also did a great job summarizing the sessions by Riverbed’s Michele Hayes and Avnet’s Therese Bassett. Keys: Be willing to be afraid, promote your wins, and understand your employees’ needs and goals. Some of my favorite moments:
- Hayes’ story of her escape from Alcatraz swim and the perspective that puts on work.
- Bassett speaking the truth of, "There is no greater buzzkill than to say we want you to be engaged so that you can pound out more work.”
Constellation SuperNova Award Applications Are Open!
Applications are taken here and I can guarantee great feedback and an excellent network.
The winners will be celebrated at the 2014 Connected Enterprise Gala in Half Moon Bay. I’m honored to be a judge for the Future of Work category. We’ll look at the “confluence of technological, demographical and cultural trends challenging the traditional paradigm of work,” and I expect much more as the SuperNova awards are about disruption, not incremental change.
Alan Lepofsky is one of the Constellation guru’s covering the future of work. Here is a link to his work if you’d like to get the flavor of the topic: largely the where, when, why, and how we do our work.
Snippet from the SuperNova press release
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, May 27, 2014—Constellation Research, Inc. (@ConstellationRG), the research and advisory firm helping clients dominate digital disruption through business models and disruptive technologies announced today the call for applications for the 2014 SuperNova Awards, the first awards recognizing early adopters of technology that have overcome adversity to successfully implement disruptive technologies in their organizations. The 2014 SuperNova Awards will recognize seven technology leaders in the following categories:
- Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite
- Data to Decisions
- Digital Marketing Transformation
- Future of Work
- Matrix Commerce
- Next Generation Customer Experience
- Technology Optimization & Innovation