Friday, September 28, 2012

The Digital Workplace concretized

If have previously discussed how do define the Digital Workplace. To be clear, it isn't about remote working, virtual teams, or mobility. It isn't about intranets, collaboration tools, or social media either. No, the Digital Workplace is about taking a business- and people-centric approach to providing information workers with the right capabilities in the right way so they can get their work done.

Another way to express it is that the Digital Workplace represents a shift from a technology-centric and product-oriented approach to supporting information workers to a people-centric and service-oriented approach. I’ve illustrated this shift in the below diagram, where I've also plotted some basic capabilities outside the circles.

Questions such as "What capabilities do we need to have?", "Which services should we provide to users?" and " How should those be designed?" cannot really be defined until we know the business needs and the needs of people in different situations. The Digital Workplace is – deliberately – a vague and abstract concept; it is impossible to describe exactly what it is because it will be different from one organization to another. Yet, there is definitely a need to concretize what a Digital Workplace might look like and what capabilities it could provide. For this purpose I will describe and discuss a few such capabilities in my next article for CMS Wire early next week (earlier writings can be found here):
  • Task Coordination
  • Finding People
  • Networking 
  • Meetings
  • Communication
  • Sharing  
I will also cross-post it a shorter version of the article here afterwards. Please stay tuned!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Mobility Paradox - Stuck between a rock and a hard place

If you're a knowledge worker like me, the idea of having to go to the office and sit down at a desk to start working is starting to sound ridiculous. Even if an office hours and face time culture prevails in most organizations, the people we work with are increasingly expecting us to do our work when it needs to get done, wherever we are. "I'm out of the office" or "I'm not by my computer right now" are beginning to sound like lame excuses for not working, or as signs that we, to borrow a phrase from John Stepper, keep "working like it's 1995". More often than not it is a sign of failure from Corporate IT and (ultimately) top management to support the workforce to be productive in an increasingly challenging business and work environment.

The challenge, and paradox, that many individuals face is that they haven't been equipped with the right devices and services to work from anywhere. And moving from one situation to another, from one device to another, from one tool or IT systems to another, doesn't work smoothly enough. Often it doesn’t work at all. Some IT systems simply require them to go to the office if they are to get their work done, even for such a tiny task as approving an invoice - that potentially could be done from anywhere.

Of course, it shouldn't have to be this way. It for sure cannot stay this way. Tasks that can be performed just as easily when you are on the go, in any situation, should also be possible to perform on the go, in virtually any situation. The benefits with mobility are obvious; to name a few, it will increase the clock-speed of business, it will simplify collaboration, and it will make you less stressed since you don't have to hurry back to the office a.s.a.p. to get make that invoice approved.

Much more can be said about mobility and how important it is, and how critical it will become in the years ahead, both to the productivity of individuals in the workforce and to the overall operational performance of your organization. But for me it is also important to stress that mobility isn’t a capability; it is a way to provide services that bring certain capabilities to the people who need them, tailored to the situations when they need them. As such it is a key characteristic of the Digital Workplace, creating leverage for whatever capabilities it should provide.

The right approach to mobilizing the workforce must be to first understand what capabilities your organization and different types of individuals need to have, and then look at what services are needed and how those should be designed to bring the right capabilities to the right individuals in the right way. Mobility is, just as social technologies a cloud computing, a key concept and technology to leverage those capabilities.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How I consume and share social and digital media

I am pretty happy with my current setup for how I consume and share social and digital media. Just the other day I had a quick exchange with Samuel Driessen about FriendFeed and FlipBoard on Google+ which made me reflect on my current setup. As a result I create the illustration below (click to enlarge), which I also showed to a couple of colleagues. They seemed to appreciate it, so it seemed logical for me to share it with you as well. I hope it is self-explanatory. If not - drop me a comment.

I rarely consume social media or any digital media when I'm at work. I do some interaction via Twitter and Google+, but reading and viewing I prefer to do when I have some time over and when there are no other things that fight for my attention, such as in the following situations:

  • Early mornings before the kids are awake. 
  • On the train to work or to a client.  
  • When I'm waiting for someone or something, such as boarding at the airport.
  • When I'm taking a break at work.
  • At home late in the evening.

I mainly consume social and digital media from my iPad and iPhone, and FlipBoard is the app that makes it really easy and enjoyable for me. If you haven't experienced FlipBoard yet, I truly recommend you to try it out.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Why do people share?

Last fall, at an Intranet conference in Oslo, Norway, one of the speakers raised a very important question during his session: “Why do people share?”. I have been asking myself the same thing many times and written about it a few times, such as in this blog post from 2010: “Understanding the psychology of sharing – what makes it tick?”. So, I waited eagerly during the presentation to hear what he had to say about it, hoping for some new insights and perhaps an interesting discussion among the audience after the session. But to my big disappointment he never returned to the question to answer it.

Immediately after the presentation I did some more research on this subject and created a draft blog post (this one), but for some reason I forgot to post it on my blog. Better late than never.

Sharing is giving

In "Stop Spreading Viruses & Start Giving Gifts", Ivan Askwith writes that when consumers share something with other consumers, they do it for their own reasons. They might want to help a friend, but when they share they also tell something about themselves and the recipient: “I want you to understand that I found this interesting, and believe you will too.”

If is feasible to assume that the same psychology applies when we share things such as information, ideas and experiences with colleagues at work. The act of sharing something tells our colleagues something about us and that we think and care about what they might be interested in. If what we share is relevant and valuable to them, they will understand that we have really tried to understand what their needs and interests are. Their trust in us grows. They might trust us enough to share something back or help us out in other ways. We build relationships by helping each other. When work is interdependent this is invaluable. A culture of sharing will impact both our performance as individuals and as organizations.

According to Askwith, we have to remember that a gift is a gift. When giving a gift we can’t ask for favors in return.  It will just make us seem selfish and manipulative. We need to share with an honest intention to help, with no strings attached.

Reputation is a key motivator

In the MIT Sloan Management Review article "How Reputation Affects Knowledge Sharing Among Colleagues", Prescott C. Ensign and Louis Hébert shares the findings from their research on how reputation affects knowledge sharing among colleagues:
"Reputation plays a role in interpersonal sharing of individually controlled knowledge in two ways. First, the motivations of two R&D workers may not be compatible even though they both work for the same organization. As a result, how one worker perceives the other may be the deciding factor in a decision to offer information. Reputation also plays a role where rules or systems are unable to spur sharing. Because critical information is often held privately by individuals, workers often can choose to share or withhold such information in their interactions with colleagues without fear of sanction. That leaves reputation as a key motivator in any decision to share or withhold information."
Reputation is basically what people think of you. It is based on a social evaluation according to some criteria, and which criteria are used depend on context or group of people. In some cultures a strong criteria for building reputation can be to willingly and openly share your knowledge and information with anyone who might have a need for it. In other (more competitive) cultures being perceived as a knowledgeable expert can be a more important criteria for building one's reputation, thereby making people more prone to keep information and their knowledge to themselves in order to maintain their status. In organizations where multiple cultures exist, this would likely make sharing across organizational units and locations more complex.

We seek emotional communition

In the New York Times science article "Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It’s Awesome", author John Tuerney describes how researchers at the University of Pennsylvania spent 6 months studying the most e-mailed articles from New York Times. The researches found that people preferred to share long positive articles on intellectually challenging and engaging topics, especially such that inspired awe. Furthermore, surprising and emotional articles were more likely to be shared.

In the interview, the researches refer to classic economical utility theory which suggests that people share things of practical value in hope that the recipients will return the favor, so why share science articles? According to the researchers, showing off doesn’t seem to be the most likely reason; “…in general, people who share this kind of article seem to have loftier motives than trying to impress their friends. They’re seeking emotional communion”.

What we share matters 

Nancy Dixon asks the same question as I do in this blog post: “What causes people to be willing to share their knowledge with others?”. In her blog post “The Incentive Question or Why People Share Knowledge” she refers to a frequently cited study on knowledge sharing conducted by Constant, Kiesler and Sproull.
“One of their findings was that employees differentiated two kinds of knowledge sharing. One type was sharing products, for example, computer programs, or reports they had written. The second type of knowledge was what employees had learned from their own experience, for example, how to get around a certain bottle-neck in the system, or how to deal with a particularly tricky bug in a program. This second type of knowledge they regard as part of their identity – part of who they were as professionals. 
They were willing to share both kinds of knowledge, but the motivation for sharing each differed greatly. The documents and programs they shared because they considered them the property of the company. But the second kind, their experiential knowledge, they shared because they gained some personal benefit from doing so. The personal benefit, however, was not money or the promise of a promotion. According to the study, “Experts will want to contribute to coworkers who need them, who will hear them, who will respect them and who may even thank them.”
Nancy concludes that earning the respect and recognition of our peers is the primary driver for sharing experiential knowledge:
"Recognition means the most to us when it comes from those who really know the subject – who know what they’re talking about...Because our knowledge is so closely tied to our identity, it’s very important to each of us that our peers view us as knowledgeable and skillful."
Nancy ends her blog post with a very question that I also want to leave you with:
"Rather than management asking, How do we incentivise people to share their knowledge? It would be more useful for management to ask, How do we develop relationships across the organization that will set in motion more knowledge sharing?"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interesting research findings about remote work and WFH

Lately I have come across some interesting research about remote working and working from home (WFH). The findings point to that remote work and WFH lead to increased productivity and more engaged employees, especially when employees are given the choice to work from the work environment that suits them best.

First there’s the Stanford study “Does working from home work& Evidence from a Chinese experiment” (PDF) by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts and Zhichun Jenny Ying. Their main finding is that that people who work from home are more productive than those who work from the office:
“Over 10% of US employees now regularly work from home (WFH), but there is widespread skepticism over its impact highlighted by phrases like “shirking from home”. We report the results of a WFH experiment in a 13,000 employee NASDAQ listed Chinese multinational. Call center employees who volunteered to WFH were randomized into home or office working for 9 months. Home-working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9.5% is from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 3.5% from more calls per minute (quieter working environment). Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and their job attribution rate fell by 50%. After the experiment, the firm rolled the program out to all employees, letting them choose home or office working. Interestingly, only half of the volunteer group decided to work from home, with the other half changing their minds in favor of office working. After allowing employees to choose, the performance impact of WFH more than doubled, highlighting the benefits of choice alongside modern practices like home working.”
In The Wall Street Journal, Christopher Shea comments on research presented in a forthcoming Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization article by E. Glenn Dutcher called "The Effects of Telecommuting on Productivity":
“Just how hard do telecommuters work? It depends on the assignment: Employees get more boring work done in the office and more creative work at home.

Researchers assigned two tasks to 125 participants. The first was rote and repetitive; the other involved coming up with as many unusual uses for ordinary objects as possible, a test often used by psychologists to measure creativity. About half the participants did the tasks in a supervised lab, the other half remotely.

On the uncreative tasks, people were 6% to 10% less productive outside the lab. The fall-off was steepest among the least productive third of workers. (People who reported procrastinating on their homework were also, unsurprisingly, poor telecommuters—as were men.) On the creative tasks, by contrast, people were 11% to 20% more productive outside the lab.

Employers like Google, which tries to achieve an informal work environment, recognize that a lack of structure often abets creativity.”
In the Harward Business Review blog post called “Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged”, Scott Edinger writes:
"Who is more engaged and more committed to their work and rates their leaders the highest?

A. People who work in the office
B. People who work remotely

If you picked A, you might be as surprised as the investment firm I worked with recently, which found in reviewing results of a 360-degree feedback process that the answer was, in fact, B.

The team members who were not in the same location with their leaders were more engaged and committed — and rated the same leader higher — than team members sitting right nearby. While the differences were not enormous (a couple of tenths of a point in both categories), they were enough to provoke some interesting speculations as to why this might be happening."
Scott then presents three main reasons why he believes this is so:
  • Proximity breeds complacency
  • Absence makes people try harder to connect
  • Leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time their teams spend together.

Ryan Faas comments on Scott Edinger’s findings in his CiteWorld article “Understanding why remote workers are more engaged can help your entire staff”. He makes two important points:
  • all of the practices that make remote workers more engaged can be incorporated for in-office staff as well
  • technology and remote working options can help engage all employees, but it requires effort and initiative to make such plans a success
Scott also provides some concrete suggestions on how to improve practices:
  • Use multiple communication options. Skype might be absurd for people in the same office, but instant messages and social media (particularly social networks that are internal to the company) are excellent options.
  • Schedule check-in meetings. If it's common to schedule a weekly check-in call with a remote worker, why not extend that same courtesy to employees onsite?
  • Keep meetings distraction-free. Keeping meetings, official staff meetings or impromptu discussions, focused and on track makes the meetings more appealing and keeps them only as long as they need to be.
  • Plan multiple forms of interactions. Instead of the stuffy conference room, schedule a meeting over lunch at a local restaurant or even outdoors in a nearby park. Set aside a volunteer day working in a soup kitchen, build homes for Habitat for Humanity, or participating in a walkathon. Just as people learn differently, they also engage with each other differently.
  • Encourage working remotely. If it's feasible, encourage staff to work remotely on a regular basis. Working from home every day might not be an option, but one week each month or one day each week is probably doable in most workplaces with today's technologies.
  • Embrace coworking. Consider a corporate membership with a coworking space - particularly one that offers access to other spaces in different cities as part of its membership features. That works for allowing in-office workers to work remotely as well as for employees in other cities to still have an office space beyond their home or coffee shop.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What's your mobility strategy?

As consumers we have gotten used to being able to perform tasks and have access to information and resources on the go. It has changed our behaviors as consumers, such as how we look for and use information and the way we carry out our tasks. We also bring these new behaviors to work, along with our devices and services. A project manager might begin to write a status report using Evernote on her tablet at home, then leave for work and continue working on the status report using the Evernote app on her smartphone while on the subway, and when arriving at the office she finalizes the status report using the Evernote desktop app or Chrome app from her their laptop.

The business benefits of mobility
Mobility increases the flexibility for employees to decide when and where to perform a task. It is a mistake to see the employees’ demand on increased mobility as a convenience factor when they only see it as ways to work smarter and get their work done faster and better. More and more people discover the benefits of seamless working from any device. There are no reasons why we shouldn’t expect that our employers make it possible to work in the same way using equivalent services and devices provided by our employers. The payback time for most knowledge workers is probably just a few days.

Mobilizing business processes and tasks is a natural step in improving efficiency and productivity, cutting costs and increasing organizational agility and responsiveness. The reasoning is simple - if a task can be performed anywhere at any time instead of requiring the user to sit in front of a laptop at a desk, the user can perform the task whenever it needs to be done. From a business perspective, the mobilization of processes and tasks can reduce human latency and increase the pace of business processes. It can also reduce or eliminate waste such unnecessary traveling as well as improve effectiveness by enabling rapid sharing of information to support decision-making processes where decisions have to be made fast. The greatest potential is on the value-creation side enabling new and better ways to create value together, rather than reducing costs.

Are we talking strategy or tactics?
If you ask people what the difference between strategy and tactics is, you typically get as many different answers as the number of people you ask. I personally prefer Peter F Drucker’s simple definition "strategy is doing the right things, tactics is doing things right." A strategy is a strategy if it answers what you need to do and why to achieve a certain business objective. Tactics are the detailed maneuvers you need to do to realize the strategy. Strategies must come first, then the tactics.

When it comes to how mobile devices can be used to improve business performance, I really see that as tactics. What an organization should have is a mobility strategy. Developing such a strategy should be about making informed decisions about what to mobilize and why in order to achieve business objectives.

If mobilizing work such as a process or task is considered to be a means to achieve business objectives, and the benefits can be clearly motivated, you have answered both the what and why. For example, mobility can be a means to increase the efficiency in the production of a product or delivery of a service. The strategy should cover all the important aspects related to what processes and tasks to mobilize in order to achieve certain business objectives.

The tactics would be how to mobilize processes, systems and information, how to design services, how to manage devices, how to introduce changes in the organization, how to train and educate people to use them in secure and efficient ways, and so forth. If you do that after you have a mobility strategy in place, chances are you won’t fall into the technology-centric thinking trap.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rewind - The Content Economy

New to this blog? Or haven't followed it over the years? Here are a few posts from the archives that might be worth reading.

To start with, here are some of the most viewed posts so far:
Then, here are some older and less viewed posts that I believe deserve to be read:
Enjoy! ;-)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Today is my first day as an Avega Group employee

Today is my first day as an Avega Group employee. To those who are interested, I will briefly introduce you to Avega Group and explain why I decided to make this career move.

What is Avega Group? 
Just as it says on the corporate website (Swedish website), Avega Group is "a consultancy company with specialized subsidiaries within IT and business development." Nothing very surprising about that. The mission is "to match our customers needs with our employees expertise and focus, creating mutual success". I love that 'employees' are mentioned in the mission statement. How often do you see that? It tells you a lot about the company, it's not just one of the regular buzzwords you put in a mission statement. If it's there, you've put it there for a reason.

What will I do there? 
I will work as Digital Strategist and Business Analyst within my fields of expertise; Enterprise Collaboration, ECM and strategy, design and implementation of digital services. Besides doing assignments for customers, I will develop Avega Group's Enterprise Collaboration offering. Our ambition is to recruit and build a team of the best consultants within in this field in the Öresund region.

Why Avega Group?
It's pretty simple; I'm joining Avega Group for much the same reason why so many organizations have chosen to become customers to Avega Group.
  • The employees are passionate, experienced and skilled specialists within different fields 
  • There are many interesting touch points between what I do in the field of Enterprise Collaboration and what my colleagues do who are experts on Agile and Lean, Strategic Analysis, Change Management, Strategic Architecture, Requirements Management, Web Development, Portal Platforms, ITSM, and much more). 
  • Avega Group has a strong (although not very visible) brand and a very good reputation among customers for being professional, skilled and independent.  
  • Continuous, structured and employee-driven knowledge sharing is in the DNA of the company, ensuring that we share our knowledge both internally with other colleagues and externally with customers and other stakeholders. 
  • Being vendor-independent means that Avega Group employees are credible and trustworthy as a strategic and tactical advisors, standing behind our customers. 
Why this career direction? 
A year ago, me and a colleague Henrik Gustafsson from Acando joined Tieto, but it wasn't (and didn't turn out) as we had expected. But that is another story that I won't share here...anyway, these are the main reasons why I've chosen this career direction:

1. I'm a consultant
I love being a consultant. I love getting to do challenging and important assignments for various organizations in various industries. It allows me to gain valuable insights, and to transfer those from one organization to the other. I believe I have found an excellent environment for being and growing as a consultant (and person).

2. I'm a doer and thinker in one person 
Some people see me as a thinker. Some people see me as a doer. Those who really know me, however, those who have worked with me, know that I am both a thinker and a doer, and that being able to do both things is a necessity for me. The main source of inspiration for my blogging and speaking is the work I do "in the trenches". This work provides me with insights about real problems, challenges and opportunities in daily operations that I can help finding solutions to. To me, there is nothing more gratifying than being involved in defining, designing and implementing elegant digital services that make a real difference to both people and organizations – especially those which are the results of mine (and other people’s) thinking.

3. I want to help organizations improve knowledge work – in person
It is my firm conviction that the new frontier of productivity improvement lies in improving knowledge work in general and collaboration in particular. Since knowledge work is becoming increasingly interdependent and the environment is becoming more and more dynamic, collaboration is a key capability for organizations today and will be so even more in the future. My professional passion is to help organizations empower their people to develop and adopt better practices and improve at collaborating with each other with the help from elegantly design digital services.

4. I value my independence - and so do my customers 
There are reasons why I never review or write products on my blog (I get tons of emails (!) from software vendors asking me to review or write about their products): I value my independence, never being accused of running somebody else's errands or following hidden agenda. I believe organizations that hire me value my independence as well. They can trust that I am not there to convince them to buy a certain product or solutions. I am there to help them get things done, with making smart use of modern information technology as a key ingredients. What decision-maker doesn't want to have an experienced and knowledgeable person at her side that she can trust will always provide honest advice and guidance?