Backwards looks like the right way round

Backwards looks like the right way round

A director emails two managers about building something new to solve an existing problem.

The first manager says:

  • Let’s have a meeting.
  • We’ll have to get more resource.
  • We’ll need to understand the requirements.
  • I’ll write a Proof of Concept Document.

The second manager says:

  • Let’s build it.
  • We’ll get customers using it.
  • We’ll learn loads about what customers actually want.

The first manager is solving organisational problems. The second manager is solving customer problems.

In a large, traditional organisation, the first manager looks like the one who’s doing it the right way. The second manager is a heretic who isn’t ‘thinking strategically’ and is considered to be doing it the wrong way. But it’s backwards. Delivering value to the customers and starting to learn about their problems as soon as possible should be what’s important. That’s the right way round.

How should digital workers work in a digital age?

How should digital workers work in a digital age? How can digital work be made more ‘digital’? How can individuals and organisations develop a digital mindset

Most organisations aren’t very digital in their approach to work. They still apply an industrial way of working to digital work. And because this mindset is so pervasive it’s hard to imagine that there is any other way of working, but the industrialised approach of mass-production isn’t the only way, it’s simply a way that has existed for a few hundred years. Before that there was a different way of approaching work that existed since the agricultural revolution, and before that there was the hunter/gatherer approach to how a person spends their time adding value to something bigger than themselves.

Digital workers are still expected to turn up on time (at a time that works best for the organisation), sit down and get on with their work, not think or talk about things that aren’t part of their job description. This is an industrial approach and it doesn’t really fit digital work. So, trying to force an old approach onto a new world of work is clearly not going to be successful in the long run. As the digital age is only a few decades old we haven’t yet figured out what this new mindset looks like and it’ll probably take a few more decades until we reach any kind of collective agreement on what a digital approach to work would include and involve, but it’s definitely coming and organisations that figure it out are going to have a competitive advantage of those that don’t.

Working from home

Working from home is one of those interesting organisational challenges. On one hand, in an organisation that is short on space we are encouraged to consider alternative ways of working, but on the other hand, emails are circulated saying that working from home is a privilege that requires approval which will only be granted in specific circumstances.

In one conversation about working from home the point was made that years ago we were told we’d have paperless offices and yet we still print hundreds of sheets of paper a week. If that idea didn’t work then there is no way working from home could work. I can see the parallels. Both shifts require changes in organisational culture and expectations, changes in working practices, and most fundamentally changes in thinking.

I think thinking about it as ‘working in the office’ versus ‘working from home’ is a limiting and unhelpful approach. This kind of switch just swaps one set of issues for another and doesn’t really deal with any of the problems of working at either location. So, really it needs to be thought of as ‘working from anywhere’, be it on the train, in a coffee shop, in an office (not necessarily an office owned by your organisation), or at home. Since ‘working’ is about what the individual achieves for the organisation, ‘working from anywhere’ should be about where that individual achieves for the organisation, but also how.

It is the how that is the big mind shift. The older/existing dominant approach is to ‘move the workers to where the work is’. This is fine in an industrial age where the work is centred around a specific location with specialised equipment, but in a digital age where all a worker needs is a laptop and an internet connection, is it really the best way? A more modern/digital approach is ‘moving the work to where the worker is’.

Moving the work to where the worker is opens options. Of course the worker needs to physically be somewhere but not having a ‘move the workers to the work’ approach means that the worker could choose to work somewhere where they can achieve extra benefits for the organisation. Want to work more collaboratively with other organisations in your sector? Rather than monthly meetings at the office, just all work in the same shares space. Want to focus on a piece of work and not have any distractions? Rather than being at your desk where people can interrupt you, just work in a library.

It should be for the individual to decide how best to achieve for the organisation, including where to be, and the organisation should empower that rather than preventing it.