I’ve spent the last two months traveling around the U.S. and Europe visiting Fortune 500 executives and Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs) and the journey has left me feeling both energized and alarmed. Energized because I am seeing a dramatic rise in the attention given to social business and the foundation for it is being laid by social CIOs. These CIOs and their executive counterparts understand how the social and mobile transformations are changing the game. Never has business been handed so much opportunity and so much risk.
The blueprint for this opportunity has been drawn by several social business thought leaders. But rarely has it been represented in physical form.
To see that, the opportunity is best demonstrated at one of Microsoft’s MTC around the world. If you haven’t seen a demonstration there, it can best be described as the Enterprise equivalent of a Microsoft or Apple Store. As Microsoft MTC Director Adam Hecktman put it to me, “We’re here to help envision, architect and demonstrate the needs of our customers.” Thanks to the fully equipped MTCs, anyone can see a live simulation of their current and future technologies under several different circumstances.
The MTC demonstrations are leading to a rush of new technology implementations. “Every square foot is built around some element of the customer’s decision making process,” Hecktman explains, “we’re reducing the risk for businesses to quickly prepare and implement Microsoft technologies.”
It struck me while visiting with the Fortune 500 intertwined with my stopovers at the MTCs that the future workplace will need to evolve. Seeing the juxtaposition of the digitally enabled MTCs next to the analog (think 1960s Mad Men era) workplaces of today, I was alarmed by the amount work that needs to be done to accommodate a more social and mobile workforce.
In this new workplace model, born of the social and mobile age, what are the best ways to meet the workplace challenges of the future? What do we see as the digital office of the future? How do we accommodate the unprecedented numbers of mobile devices entering the workforce?
Digital Workplaces: Combining the Humanities with the Sciences
I often hear the office of today appears and functions much like it did fifty years ago. Conference rooms with tables, chairs and perhaps a whiteboard – office spaces or desks neatly lined up in long rows across an ever expansive landscape – basically a sea of inhumanity.
And that space doesn’t align with the social business transformation taking place around the world. The workplace of tomorrow will need to adapt to the new more social and mobile environment, while remaining flexible to accommodate different situations. You can see an example of this at Microsoft’s Envisioning Center in Seattle and in some cases Pixar’s offices outside of Oakland.
Quite simply, our workspaces will have to change to digital workspaces. And only a few companies like Microsoft and IBM are talking about this. What I’ve seen in my research with executives and MTC Directors is that the world is moving faster, product cycles are shorter, and yet the workplace is still built for slower moving organizations. I can say with confidence that the workplace has to change dramatically in order to remain effective.
Here are 10 reasons why:
1. We’re going to be measuring emotional IQ in the workplace:
Happiness and sentiment for the enterprise? Sounds sappy right? But it’s going to happen. There are companies working on this now -because you get what you measure. And if you measure employee happiness to changes in their work and physical environments, management can make the necessary changes to increase productivity. Using the data, ethical leaders will rebalance the work environment to support greater collaboration, serendipitous encounters, informal knowledge flows and more profit.
Environmental Changes Needed- Sensors in the workplace that measure how people are using spaces and infrequently query employees on sentiment for a given topic.
2. The right information will find us:
The user interface of the workplace is a major inhibitor to growth. Because people are not working on the most important things at the optimal time with the optimal people that can solve the problem. Why? Because we don’t know – what we need to know – unless we know to search for it. But information in the future will find us by checking our calendar for meetings and people, looking at our activity streams for trends, and studying the rest of the organization for information and people that may be important to our job.
Technological Changes- Big Data will become Smart Data and all of that information being aggregated by social platforms (SharePoint, Connections, Yammer, etc.), email (harmon.ie, Gmail, etc.), sensors in the workplace and mobile devices will soon be used to increase workforce effectiveness.
3. The workplace will reinforce corporate goals and strategy:
Based on a recent study by Chris Zook of Bain, only 40% of the workforce knew about the corporation’s goals, strategies and tactics. Imagine if you had a football team, where only 4 in 10 knew what the game plan was. A physical environment that reinforces strategies and tactics and prioritizes them is paramount.
Environmental Changes- Using Smart Data analytics, digital screens and surfaces in the work environment will automatically display goals and strategies in the context of a meeting. Changes to strategy will automatically be sent to an affected employee’s mobile device in order to reduce inefficiencies.
4. Employees will provide vastly higher levels of real time feedback:
Command and control management models will disappear over time. Employees will gain the ability to provide real time feedback to management through social platforms, mobile devices and automatically through their digital behavior (Smart Data will capture this). These feedback mechanisms will be built right into their work flow processes. Management will use that feedback to become more agile and adaptive to changing market conditions.
Cultural Changes– Management will encourage employees to provide consistent and relevant feedback on projects, customers and the organization’s strategy and tactics.
5. Mobile devices will interact with our physical environments:
Why is it that we still can’t capture and interact with notes produced in our physical environments? Sure we can snap a picture of a whiteboard, but the picture doesn’t understand the contents of the whiteboard. That’s going to change. Harald Becker, who leads business strategy for Microsoft Office Labs showed me how mobile devices are interacting with smart boards and screens placed around a room. The technology enables bi-directional content sharing from screen to mobile devices with the press of a button. This will enable far greater collaboration and information capture for both manager and employee.
Environmental Changes- Digital smart boards and screens will need to be placed around the workplace. Mobile apps will need to be downloaded in order to interact with them.
6. Organizations will become fast learners:
Everyone has heard Hewlett Packard’s Lou Platt famous quip: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive”. Even today, there’s a lot of information created that is stored in digital silos. But with the forthcoming aggregation and analysis solutions hitting the market soon, the ability to turn organizational learnings and continuous improvement into repeatable patterns is right around the corner. Soon, teams will be able to quickly learn and build on the ideation work of others simply by pulling it up on their desktop, mobile device or smart board.
Environmental and Technological Changes- Digital smart boards and screens will need to be placed around the workplace. Social platforms will be querying and aggregating social information from ERP systems, CRM solutions, enterprise apps, and mobile devices to provide employees with relevant information.
7. Gamification in the workplace will go mainstream:
Imagine if leader boards were placed around the company ranking teams’ net promoter score with employees, customers, partners or suppliers. If you’re in the bottom half, you can easily pull up and review the game plan from the high performing teams.It’s already happening. Companies are beginning to understand the power to solve a variety of business problems by encouraging the right user behavior through the use of gamification principles.
Technological Changes– Companies like Bunchball provide plug and play gamification for a variety of social platforms.
8. The workplace will help you build relationships:
The new role of management is to facilitate the finding of solutions; not to dictate them. The new role of management is to facilitate “connections”, to match people with the right skills and abilities to projects where those skills are most needed. The new role of management is to remove hurdles to engagement by building approvals mechanisms into workflows. Management won’t do this alone. They will leverage new technologies that automatically introduce employees to employees, partners and suppliers in order to build relationships that help you and the organization become more effective.
Technological Changes- Smart Data and social aggregation solutions will suggest people and partners to follow, connect with and engage – in situations enterprise wide.
9. Work spaces that support the visualization of ideas.
It’s aggravating to be in a brainstorming situation with your colleagues when inspiration strikes and there are no way to capture the ideas visually. The future workplace will support spaces that materialize a team’s ideas while remaining fluid so that teams can move in and out of concepts. These spaces will allow virtual notes and ‘content as objects’ to be shared on screens and smart boards – giving the team the ability to animate the ‘objects’ to test and improve on concepts. The best ideas and content will be moved into digital collaborative environments for further study, improvements and perhaps new products or micro-improvements to processes.
Technological Changes- Motion sensing technologies like Kinect combined with smart boards and mobile devices.
10. Adaptive work spaces will adjust to its intended purpose:
Becker showed me a ceiling grid system that at the press of a button, moved curtain walls, increased wifi bandwidth, changed the lighting and set up a smart board with the previous day’s work. There will be more systems like this developed to accommodate a more fluid workplace. Flexible work spaces that change according to need. Think of these flexible work spaces as providing the right infrastructure, physical environment, tools and content to complete a meeting objective.
Environmental Changes- There are companies that are starting to provide adaptive workplaces. Social business platforms and mobile solutions will soon interact with these spaces as well.
A More Effective Workplace
The best workplaces find a way to integrate their organization’s culture and mission. In the future, these workspaces will also help your workforce to become more effective. An adaptive workplace – where physical objectives and software adapt to the working style of the organization and not the other way around. Work in the workplace will become more human and more results oriented.
In the end, the future workplace will be more of a digital and analytical environment that smartly enables more innovation, more collaboration, and more learning opportunities that increase competitiveness and your bottom line. It will remind employees that the business does not exist in a vacuum and will set organizational priorities.
Investment in social business platforms and mobile solutions are great – we’re finally on the right path. But ignoring the workplace infrastructure to accommodate them will be a missed opportunity. We have to move away from the Mad Men era office, to digital workplaces that take advantage of the entire social, mobile and content being produced by an organization’s greatest asset.