E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez


Distributed Work in Exceptional Times

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas DunesWe live in truly exceptional times, literally. There is not a single doubt about it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives for good to the point where we know now we will never be the same again. No matter how much we may try to hide it all in that so-called new-normal. Even our very own work routines, behaviours and mindset have changed so dramatically in the last couple of months that work itself will never be the same either, as we have all been forced to embrace and adapt to a new reality, a new way of working: distributed work.

It has been a good few weeks since I last shared over here a new blog post. And for a very good reason: pause and reflection. At the moment, and at various levels, we are all going through a state of shock phase where we are having to adjust, quite fast, to new conditions where uncertainty seems to reign all over the place, in both our personal and work lives, more than what we would have wished for, I am pretty sure. Ensuring our families and close friends are safe, that we still have the ability to provide food and shelter for our loved ones, that our children can carry on with their studies and routines while at home, that we are more or less keeping up with our relationships through physical distancing, etc. etc. are pretty much our immediate concerns. Never mind the current massive societal upheaval(s) we are all experiencing first-hand.

Then, on top of all of that, there is work. How do we carry on in this brave new world where the conditions are now completely different than before? Where we no longer have to commute to an office, we no longer hang out with our colleagues at the water cooler for that morning coffee and chatter, where we stop having all of those back to back face to face meetings, where colocated work seems to finally have become a thing of the past. How do we adapt and thrive in such a new environment as working from our very own homes in our terms?

Indeed, we live in truly extraordinary times where our entire way of living has been disrupted, perhaps forever. But, at the same time, and as we all know, with every crisis there is an opportunity. And that unique opportunity for us all at the moment is that for the first, and unprecedented, time in over 150 years, we have got the chance to redefine work as we continue to work distributedly for the next few weeks, months, or perhaps even years.

Now, what do I mean exactly with redefine work? Well, we now have an opportunity to redesign how we work through the impact of digital tools that can help us become more effective and productive, while still enjoying a much more adequate, and never so much needed and treasured, work / life integration.

I have been working distributedly myself over the course of the last 18 years through three different continents: America, Europe and Africa. If there is anything I have learned throughout those wonderful years, is how I have grown to appreciate the huge impact social, digial tools have had in my productivity AND life, while getting work done more effectively, to the point where my entire professional career has been totally shaped by it. For the better.

All of a sudden, we have all been asked to live our lives and carry on with work, as best as we possibly can, while we are all confined in our homes (and will be, most probably, for the next few weeks!). And somehow we seem to have decided, collectively, that best way to make that transition is to try to reproduce all of our work routines in the office, but digitally. So we have frantically moved everything online hoping for the best.

Well, as we are currently seeing more and more countries opening up again, and resuming their physical work routines heading back to the office, that is exactly the opportunity we are missing on at the moment. Working distributedly, which is not the same as working remotely, is all about how we redefine the way we work as we transition into networks and online communities as new operating models. We have all become nodes of a wider, hyperconnected, more complex than ever, giant cluster of networks: The Internet. Yet we keep insisting that’s how we used to work while at the office. No, we weren’t.

Working distributedly means we have new operating models in place where online communities and networks dictate how work gets done. It means we no longer have to exclusively depend on the traditional command and control, top-down hierarchy of (senior) management making decisions for us. Instead, we thrive in informal networks where we have democratised the way information and knowledge are shared across. Where our only means of surviving online is by how much we coordinate, cooperate and collaborate with one another, regardless of the tools we may use in whatever the context we may have been given.

Now, that is how we change the nature of work. That’s how we discover, embrace and adapt to new ways of working by making extensive use of a number of (social) digital tools that allow us to earn the merit of being an integral part of those networks and communities: through building trustworthy personal business relationships while working and learning together. Trying to copycat exactly what happens in an office environment is not how we rethink the role we play when we come to think about work.

When I first started working from home in 2002 I had a mobile phone (not even smart!), a laptop with Windows 95 and a regular landline that became my best friend as I was day in day out hopping from one conference call to another. Virtual e-meetings, we used to call them back then. Fast forward to 2020, and we now have got plenty of choices out there in terms of the digital technologies we can use. From traditional email and instant messaging tools, to Enterprise Social Networking platforms (like HCL Connections, Jive, Confluence, Yammer, MangoApps, Chatter, etc.), to cloud-based productivity tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.

The choice is ours to make, yet we don’t seem to have evolved enough around work to appreciate that exuberant and luxurious digital landscape we nowadays have. We must level up the game before it’s too late and we revert back to what we all know, deep side, is fundamentally flawed, because it feels easier and more comforting than to imagine and embrace the new and uncertain: distributed work.

The important thing to remember in these times is that vast majority of organisations have already been using plenty of these digital tools already in the recent years. What we were missing till today are scalability and pace. That is, the entire workforce now working online, distributedly, through open knowledge sharing collaborative tools that, if anything, allow us to become more open and transparent in terms of how work happens with us AND around us.

And that’s a good thing, because we just don’t have to reinvent the wheel and start from scratch figuring things out thinking we need to do it all on our own. No, I’m afraid not. We just need to open up, ask around those early adopters, champions, ambassadors and digital advocates to help guide us through what’s available and how to get started, if we haven’t done so already!, before we can fly on our own. At long last,  we are about to become the distributed workforce a bunch of us envisioned back in the day when Web 2.0, then Enterprise 2.0, then Social Business, started to change the nature of work in small pockets, over 16 years ago, through social tools.

It is time now for us to, finally, catch up with the times. Time to, at long last, embrace distributed work as the new-normal of how work happens. Time to thrive in these extraordinary times with digital tools as the key enablers that help us stick together, connect and collaborate more effectively. Learn more intently along the way. Time, in shrt, to, finally, shift gears, change both our culture and mindset in order to think AND do different. The time has come, at long last, and, as such, we should not waste the opportunity we’ve been given. It may not present itself again, and, if / when it does, it may already be too late.

Let’s make the most out of it then in these unprecedented and uncertain times we have the privilege to live in. Like I said earlier on, let’s not waste this opportunity, nor let it go like we have done in the past perhaps far too many times, thinking that the new-normal is pretty much like the old-normal: going back to the office.

No, it is not. Going to the office is, actually, the abnormal. It always has been (In an upcoming blog post I will explain further what I mean with it). We have just been told otherwise and we believed it. Now, it is our chance, for that matter, to change the nature of work and ourselves as thriving, productive knowledge (Web) workers. With one purpose in mind: to, finally, enter the 21st century, where distributed work is no longer the new-normal, but US all. You and me. Everyone. Together. United.


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Impact of Data Analytics in Today’s Digital Workplace

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas DunesOver the course of the last few weeks it’s become a bit of a challenge finding the time to focus and write my next blog post over here. Just like that, March is now gone and April is nearly half way through already. ‘We truly live in extraordinary times’ was a sentence I wrote ages ago and it still feels like we are right at the very beginning of a brave ‘new-normal‘, whatever that may well be. At this point in time there is only one certainty: there will be a Before and an After COVID-19. Where do you get the energy and the optimism?

That has been the question I get asked time and time again in the midst of one of the biggest challenges and threats we have faced as a species in this planet, at least, in the last 100 years. And, frankly, I typically answer that question with just a couple of words: the helpers.

Indeed, over the course of the last month it’s been rather hectic helping and supporting, as much as we possibly could, plenty of other knowledge (Web) workers, who, all of a sudden, and overnight, have been asked to work from home as the confinement to contain the pandemic has unleashed throughout the world in full force.

Quite a daunting task, if you ask me, that one of adjusting and adapting new behaviours and work habits, through social, digital tools, when, at the moment, there are plenty of other thoughts in most people’s heads. Mainly, having to juggle with everything but work!

We need to slow down. We ought to do that to ourselves. We are on this one, together, for the long run, not just an interim patch to get us by while the lock-downs continue during the next few weeks, or perhaps, months! It’s a marathon we are all running now. One a whole bunch of us got started with over 15 to 20 years ago when we decided to go #DigitalFirst, so we are helping everyone catch up as best as we can. It’s been one marathon we all knew when we’d start, but we truly didn’t know (still don’t!) when it would be finished. This is it. This is the journeyOur collective journey. 

We are all waking up to the crude reality that for the first time ever, we are all thinking of work as a digital-first, versus just another nice-to-have IT project to buzz around with. We are all, finally, waking up, indeed, to the global reality that work is no longer a physical space, but a mental state. Work happens wherever, or whenever, you are! It’s a mental state, no longer a place we commute to on a daily basis. Times have changed. For the better. Forever. For all of us. No exceptions.

That’s why over the course of the last month and a half I have been relatively quiet over here and in different media tools, as I have spent lots of time with a whole bunch of friends and partners in crime in different Web meetings (whether 1:1s or with multiple participants) helping other folks understand and adjust to what has been our working lives for the last few years for a few of us: distributed work. #DigitalFirst.

This time around though, the conditions and constraints are much different than in the recent past. This time around, while shifting gears and adjusting mindsets towards the digital world, we are all busy learning, and pretty fast!, how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. But I will get to talk about that more in detail with an upcoming blog post I’m currently working on as well …

I guess you are all wondering by now though what is the main topic of this blog post then, right? Well, after 38 days (and counting!) of confinement, I need a distraction, an opportunity to resume my own blogging mojo, after failing to publish an article over here in the last few weeks. There is something that’s been in my mind for a good few months now. Perhaps the time has come for it to, at long last, see the light …

I know I just need to find a way to re-focus back on my own writing over here in order to keep my own sanity intact with all of what’s going on at the moment. So, how about if I share with you all how I got involved into the space of data analytics for online collaborative environments in the first place? I know a few of you folks have asked me about it in the recent past multiple times, so I guess it’s probably a good time now. After all, we aren’t going anywhere else at the moment, right?

As most of you know already, specially, if you have been following this blog for a good while now, I have been involved in the space of Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Change Management, Learning and Online Communities for over 23 years, having gotten started with Social Networking for Business in early 2000. Over time, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of organisations helping them get a better understanding of the impact digital technologies would have within the workplace. All along, it’s always been a real treat helping them work smarter, not necessarily harder, through open knowledge sharing with networks and communities as the new operating model. Communityship.

The thing is that throughout all of these years lot of the consulting and advisory work I have done was already pretty much based on my own first-hand experiences, my own trial and error, my own ability to learn from what other peers in different organisations have been working on over the years. Essentially, through my own lessons learned of trying and experimenting what would work and what wouldn’t.

Then a bit over three years ago, and after being in the IT industry for 20 years, I decided it was about time for me to move into the next work adventure, but away from everything I had been doing till then in the IT space. I just felt I needed something else in my life. I just felt it was time for me to go back to basics, to my roots: back to teaching (English).

Alas, life had other plans for me, apparently. Through some mysterious ways, I still can’t quite comprehend of how it all happened, I, eventually, joined panagenda. A global software firm that builds solutions around data analytics for collaborative environments, whether for traditional tools like email, to cloud-based productivity apps like Microsoft Teams, to Enterprise Social Networking platforms like HCL Connections. And I have never walked back ever since.

The transition from big large corporate world (My 17 years at IBM) to going solo (for another three years) to then joining panagenda is something that I’d leave for another blog post coming up shortly, because, somewhere in that transition I think I may have just been experiencing the magic without not knowing it. But more on that later.

Anyway, back to data analytics. As I got more and move heavily involved with our various analytics solutions for different collaborative environments, I realised what I had been missing over the course of the last two decades: data. Like I said, in the past all of my consulting and advisory work was coming through based on what I knew would work from over the years. Essentially, that hands-on experience of learning by doing, understanding that some things would work and some others wouldn’t, when doing lots of work around digital adaptation.

Now, with a number of data analytics tools at my disposal, the excitement grew up inside me, slowly, but steadily, to levels I could have never anticipated before throughout my working life. More than anything else, because, for the first time ever, I realised I could corroborate, through different data entry points and visualisations, what I had been doing all of those 23 years and know I was on the right path. But now, showing it with data, with facts, not just with my own thoughts, opinions and know-how.

No more hunches; no more gut feelings; no more ‘Let’s try this now and see if it works this time around‘;, no more ‘Look at what these other folks are doing successfully, let’s give a shot and see how things would work out‘. No, no more any of that. Now I have data that can help me prove all of that hard working experience accumulated throughout the years. Now, I have facts.

Essentially, as years have gone by, I understood how my own value proposition to customers I’m currently working with is no longer just based on my extensive working exprience from the last two plus decades, but also the combination of how I make sense of powerful stories through the different data entry points I may get exposed to. All in all, to help build a particular case that has always been my mantra: transform, at long last, the way we work challenging the current status quo by asking the tougher questions. The questions that no-one seems to be very keen on asking, never mind answering.

Eventually, it’s all about changing the nature of how people connect, relate to one another, share, collaborate and learn through the extensive use of social, digital tools, with both social networks and online communities as the new operating models. In the end, helping a particular working culture shift accordingly leaving behind over 150 years of a poignant legacy and enter the XXI century. Hello, COVID-19, how are you doing? 

I am pretty certain though, by now, you all may be wondering about what I am seeing through data analytics for collaborative tools, or what trends have I seen taking place over the course of the last couple of years, right? Well, I can see how sharing those thoughts across with you all over here may well turn itself into a series of blog posts over the course of time. That’s definitely an idea I have been toying with already for a good while, but perhaps, and in anticipation of those upcoming posts, I could share some glimpses ahead of time, don’t you think? Let’s have a look then …

There is currently a deviation from the good old Social Business & Enterprise Social Networking realms from 2006 (That typically thrive around default to open), into cloud-based productivity tools (that live on default to close). So I have been seeing how for the last 4 or 5 years we are moving away slowly from open knowledge sharing environments into prettier silos, either through file sharing, private chats or small, fast paced, intimate team project related (closed) spaces. Still silos and, all in all, with a minimum set of interactions happening: email, file sharing and instant messaging. Oh, and virtual meetings galore, too!

Yet, there is hope, folks, don’t worry. Ever since COVID-19 kicked in as a pandemic impacting the global business world as we know it, I have seen a comeback (Although it never went away in the first place!) of ESNs. Mainly, because of a couple of rather important and relevant reasons: pace and scale. I’m pretty excited and thrilled beyond belief at the moment in this regard, which is why, in another upcoming blog post, I will expand further on that resurgence of ESNs and the impact they are having, already today, within the overall digital workplace.

It’s why, while going through different data entry points, I keep reminding people that such kinds of interactions where we were deviating into default to close are not enough within an organisation. There needs to be a social layer on top, that defaults to open, to help support enterprise wide communities of practice that can scale and slow down the interactions and conversations to work on the critical knowledge to the organisation beyond just project work. Have you done your homework yet?

The current obsession with Microsoft Teams, for instance, is the same obsession we had with Slack about 4 or 5 years ago (Remember how it was going to kill *cough* email *cough* once and for all?), but that’s now gone for Slack. People are starting to feel that fatigue based on the overwhelming frenzy to keep up with everyone’s busyness. So, through the data, I am seeing the need for that reemergence of ESNs to help us slow down, focus on more meaningful, purposeful conversations and not just for a team or two, but for the entire organisation. But, like I said, I’ll be expanding plenty more on this in an upcoming blog post.

Eventually, what I have realised over the course of the last three years is that, through those different data entry points, I can find emerging patterns of interactions; discovering experts from within closed systems; building hybrid models of adapting to old and new tools, behaviours, habits, business pratices; identifying potential data leaks, or unnecessary costs incurred; or, my favourite one, the final frontier: how are you collaborating with your customers and business partners, perhaps even your competitors, beyond just email and the odd phone call or Web meeting?

I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much what excites me the most at the moment from the current collaboration and knowledge sharing landscape through social, digital tools. Essentially, understand how data analytics can help me identify, evaluate and assess how healthy, mature and sustainable different digital workplace initiatives are across the board. Just in the recent past, for instance, I gave a couple of presentations on this very same topic.

My good friend, and long time KM blogger, Stan Garfield invited me, back in February, to participate in the SIKM Month Gathering to talk exactly about this very same subject: i.e. The Impact of Data Analytics in Digital Transformation Programmes. If you would be interested, you could grab a copy of the presentation over here and then perhaps listen to the recording below (embedded) while flipping through the slides:

(Note: Stan has just alerted me that, apparently, this recording has been having a lot of traffic coming from different sources over the course of the last few weeks, and rather steady. Both of us can’t figure out where that traffic is coming from, so we would like to ask you folks to let us know whether you may have found the recording elsewhere, or whether you may have linked to it in the recent past that could explain it. We would both very much appreciate it. Thanks!)

Or, you could also take a look into this other presentation I did in early March at IntraTeam 2020 where I expanded some more on different data visualisations that can help you challenge that status quo of how work happens that I referenced above by asking the tough questions no-one seems to want to ask anymore around the health and maturity, or the overall long-term sustainability, of the Digital Workplace:

If you have been reading this far, I would like to thank you all for your patience and for your perseverance. I know you may well say I am a fool, or maybe a dreamer. I mean, who does believe in data, or facts, nowadays anyway, right? The world has moved on from effective fact-based decision making and more into gut-feeling or, usually, negative emotions (i.e. rage, fear, uncertainty, you name it), as the main triggers of how we make today’s critical decisions.

You are probably right. But then again, if I were to justify my own working experience (and life for that matter!) from over the course of the last 23 years (and still going strong!) around Collaboration and the Digital Workplace, I’m quite happy to say I now count on data analytics to help me prove my own worth and added value to the customers I’ve worked with throughout the years. Having a better understanding of their needs and wants based on the data they themselves produce on a daily basis while they collaborate is probably as good as it gets. Observable work through data analytics, anyone?

Funny enough I know now how I was right in plenty of what I have been working on all along, but also on what I was wrong. And throughout all of that learning journey, it’s now those very same facts and data analysis that guide me through building incredibly powerful stories everyone can relate to, and embrace, while embarking themselves on their own Digital Transformation journey. On their terms. No longer just mine.

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IntraTeam – Mastering the Art of Persuasion through Stories

CopenhagenIt has been a short while since I last had a chance to create a new blog post over here. If I were to summarise what’s been going on throughout the last couple of weeks, I would probably do it with a single sentence: We truly live in extraordinary times. And, frankly, with that, you would agree with me, there is nothing more extraordinary than a great story.

Writing Transitions was quite a challenge. Fast forward to March 2020 and, judging by what’s currently going on, it looks like we haven’t seen anything yet! That blog post would pale in comparison to what we are currently going through. My goodness! Where do I begin? How do I regain my focus and energy after everything that’s going on at the moment?

Ok, let’s try it. Let’s talk about IntraTeam. Last year I was invited to speak at one of my favourite European conference events around the Digital Workplace. For personal reasons, I eventually had to cancel my participation. I was gutted I couldn’t make it, but grateful and honoured Kurt reinvited me right then to this year’s event in Copenhagen. It is only now though I’m starting to realise that this year’s IntraTeam event may well be the last one I would get to attend for a good while. I am glad I had the opportunity to get the most out of it while I could!

The main theme from this year’s edition was around #DEX (Digital Employee Experience), building from previous mantras around Employee Engagement, Employee Experience, etc., etc. A couple of years ago, in this article, James Robertson defined #DEX as follows:

Digital employee experience (#DEX) is the sum total of the digital interactions within the work environment.

It was a real treat seeing him on stage, as the main keynote speaker, talking about what #DEX means for most businesses nowadays, while he was also sharing some glimpses about the insightful and data packed Digital Employee Experience (DEX) survey they have just published.

People keep asking me why I heart IntraTeam so much as one of my favourite conference events in Europe. If I were to use a single keyword to describe it I suppose it would be Community (With a capital ‘C‘). This year’s edition was no different!

It is a conference that gathers Digital Workplace practitioners and enthusiasts who have got a passion for Intranets and who are all extremely willing to share generously with you what they have been working on and make it all quite an incredible immersive learning experience that will not leave you indifferent.

IntraTeam is an event meant for massive networking opportunities amongst peers. Knowledge (Web) workers who are truly passionate about the hard work they put together day in day out to improve the overall user experience of their co-workers when they start making extensive use of their digital workplace(s).

The programme is outstanding. The line-up of speakers, a real treat to the mind and the soul, as they go the extra mile to share with you the journey they have already begun, not just during their sessions, but throughout the conference as you talk to them through the many networking opportunities, including my faovurite ones: the networking dinners.

The venue is incredibly accommodating, not only in terms of the space allocated to refreshments within the expo area, where everyone gets a good chance to mix and mingle and be part of the community, but also with the large rooms for the breakout sessions. The focus from Kurt and his wonderful team (Anette Wittenberg, Anja Thinggaard Madsen, Bolette Clausen, Pia Berg Christensen, amongst several others) is to make you feel welcomed, valued, respected, appreciated and overall engaged. Only great things can come out of that, that is for sure! And once more, they have delivered and truly exceeded everyone’s expectations!

Now, let’s talk a little bit more about the content and what would have been some of my favourite highlights from the different speaking sessions I attended throughout the entire two day conference . As usual, I picked up again the habit of doing some casual live  tweeting for the various sessions I attended, so folks could take a look and see what they were like. You may also want to check out this wonderful highlights write-up by my good friend Steve Bynghall, where he shares his favourite key takeaways from the event. Definitely, worth a read!

A few days ago I teased, through a LinkedIn post, what would be my main three highlights from IntraTeam itself and I mentioned in there how I would be expanding further in this particular blog post, so let’s get down to it:

Listening to people’s needs and wants

In the space of the Digital Workplace and Digital Employee Experience, it has taken us a long while to come around this one. In fact, I have been advocating for a good few years already, about the urgent need to pay more attention to delighting your employees with a far superiour digital user experience, not just your customers.

At IntraTeam this year, it has been incredibly exciting and inspirational listening to folks like Julia Dudenko (From DHL Deutsche Post), Katrine Schelbli (McDonald’s in Denmark), Heather Force (From Thomson Reuters) or Joris Kok (ING Netherlands), amongst several others, talking about how they have been engaging their colleagues listening to what their needs and wants have been. How they can best accommodate to them AND, eventually, deliver on them. Gosh, incredibly refreshing to see the kind of impact listening to your knowledge (Web) workers can have!

Stories, stories and more stories!

At the beginning of this blog post I wrote how there is probably nothing more extraordinary out there than a great story. A story that can inspire people and from which we can all learn something. A story that give us the opportunity to share and connect with others who may have had similar challenges or opportunities.

A story that helps you understand how in the space of the Digital Workplace and DEX it is the journey that counts the most and not necessarily the final destination. A story that, all in all, allows us all to grow together and become better as a result.

This year, at IntraTeam, we had plenty of wonderful stories being shared on stage by the same folks I have mentioned above already, but also by other equally super smart folks who came forward and shared their own story. Incredibly self-empowering stories like the one shared by Nina Sonne Nikaelsen (From COWI) confirming how doing project management work with your colleagues can be social and collaborative, as well as transformative.

Or perhaps the superb story from John Baptiste-Kelly (From Wellcome) who pretty much managed to demolish, right there, on stage, the good old myth from the 1-9-90 rule by providing an excelling digital employee experience that thrives on engagement through the high quality content produced by a significant percentage of knowledge (Web) workers.

Or, maybe that other powerful and robust story from Line Møller Roland and Christian Skjaeran (From VELUX) where they confirmed how DEX (Digital Employee Experience) is pretty much a journey for the long term and how we need to keep listening to and learning from our colleagues to keep iterating time and time again in order to provide overall better user experiences.

What was the story I enjoyed the most, you may be wondering, right? Well, by far, it was the one from Heather Force (From Thomson Reuters), who pretty much nailed it with regards to the overall Digital Employee Experience when using the following metaphor: that one of you, each and everyone of you as individuals, going through the airport to take that next flight … Next time you do that, and I know we are currently going through challenging times in that regard!, think of what it is like for you versus what it is for others. Only when you would start thinking in those terms you would understand what a fascinating journey DEX has been all along and still going strong!

All of the speaker’s stories were just brilliant! After two decades in this space, even I got to learn a lot from each and everyone of them, but, here’s the magic, it didn’t stop there! Through the different networking breaks we all got a unique opportunity to listen and learn from everyone else’s stories on what they were working on themselves.

It was just wonderful experiencing how each and everyone of the attendees of the event were very keen in generously sharing with others what they were working on, what they had learned at the time during the conference and some of their major key takeaways they would be putting into practice when going back to their work places. All of that excitement and anticipation surely gave me hope!

The Future Of Work is networked and feminine

My good friend Harold Jarche has been writing for a good few years now about how the Future Of Work is networked and feminine. Well, I am going to take things one step further. I strongly believe the Present of Work is ALREADY networked AND feminine. Today. Because if there is anything I learned from this year’s IntraTeam edition is being blown away by the absolutely fantastic piece of work that a good number of incredibly smart and talented ladies have been doing all along around the Digital Employee Experience.

And not just the many speakers we had the privilege to listen to and learn from while on the stage, but also, again, from the overall attendees of the event. I don’t remember any other recent conference event I have attended in the last two or three years, where I had spoken with such a large number of ladies truly passionate about the splendid piece of work they have been doing so far within their own organisations to not just get work done more effectively, but something that, to me, comes close to my heart: transform, through persuasion and influence of user behaviour, how people work!

Yes, indeed, the Future Of Work is no longer a chimera, nor a myth. It’s become the #PresentOfWork we all have the real treat to experience, day in day out, through those social networks and online communities as the new operating models, that keep shaping pretty much the overall Digital Employee Experience. And the ladies (finally!) are leading the journey! Double yay!

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t wait for the next IntraTeam event. Will I see you there?

(In an upcoming blog post I will be sharing shortly, I will talk a bit more in detail about the presentation I did myself at IntraTeam on the key role data analytics plays in augnmenting the Digital Employee Experience. Thus stay tuned for more!)

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Hybrid Worlds

Gran Canaria - El MonjeOver the course of the last six years, since I went independent, I have had the opportunity (and still do!) of unlearning a few things in the space of knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. One of the most significant and impactful ones has been acknowledging the fact what once used to be the main good old mantra from different Enterprise Social Networking platforms, it’s now pretty much obsolete having lost its touch with today’s more complex than ever business reality. It’s, finally, a good time to say good-bye to one-size-fits-all.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have been involved with social tools for nearly 20 years, when I first got started with blogs and wikis while working at IBM. Back then, I had the unique opportunity of playing and experimenting with a new emergent set of collaborative and knowledge sharing tools that I knew were not only going to transform how I would get work done, but also how I would live my life from there onwards.

I still think today, if it weren’t for these social tools, my entire professional career would have been completely different altogether. To the point where I wouldn’t be able to tell you all what I would have done instead. I just know it would have been something that didn’t have anything to do whatsoever with technology. That’s for sure. That’s what I call having a massive impact on one’s life, don’t you think?

It should come to no surprise to anyone out there who knows me, or who has been following this blog for a good while now, how as I was getting more and more involved with blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, micro-blogging, RSS newsfeeds, podcasts, forums, profile aggregators, online community spaces, etc. I was pretty exited when IBM Connections became a product in 2007.

Deep inside I thought I would finally have a chance to bring all of that excitement of the huge potential of these social tools to the customers I was working with (Specially, in the KM and Collaboration space) and help them understand how those tools could transform entirely the way they worked AND lived, like they did for me. Oooh, the good old exciting times of early Enterprise Social Networking platforms! It still sends shivers down my spine, I tell you! And you?

During the early 2000s that mantra of one-size-fits-all was pretty much rather dominant across the business world. It was all you needed. Just one ESN within your firewall and the magic would happen just like that! If only, right? At the time, for me, that ESN was IBM Connections. You didn’t need anything else! And I loved it, till around early 2014, when I left IBM and I had a lovely wake-up call with reality.

That was a pretty mind-blowing opportunity for me to open up and discover that one-size-fits-all, if anything, was just a myth. Over the following few months, when I was starting up my own business as an independent adviser around Social Business and Digital Transformation, I realised I was ending up talking to lots of customers who were living a different reality than mine. They were using a plethora of collaborative and knowledge sharing tools to get their work done.

It was no longer about just having a single ESN to do what needed to be done. Quite the contrary, becoming vendor agnostic helps you understand that the Collaboration landscape is completely different today than what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, customers, indeed, would be working with one single ESN. Today, it’s a little bit more complex than that. The wake-up call is that a single ESN would no longer do the job. And that’s a good thing!

Work has gotten a whole lot more complex than ever before. The times where we were working with a single customer, on a single project, with one team, one manager, one set of common goals to execute on is a thing of the past. Nowadays, we have a tendency to work with multiple customers, different projects, blurred reporting lines, somewhat undefined goals and, above all, a completely different set of collaborative tools. We, knowledge (Web) workers, have finally diversified!

Or not. Over the course of the last 6 years I have pretty much become vendor agnostic. I have learned, mostly through the hard way (the most effective one, for sure!), to listen and understand customers’ needs and wants. It’s no longer about me, i.e. the vendor, but more about the customer and what they would want to achieve over time. It’s a truly fascinating journey, through lots of trial and error, that I have unlearned to be vendor-centric and become, instead, more customer-centric, which is where the magic usually happens.

That means that, when listening and paying attention to customers, you understand that different groups of people work in different ways and have completely different expectations from one another. Therefore, they use various social and collaborative tools to get their work done more effectively and accommodate accordingly. And it is just fine. It’s what my good friend Thomas van der Wal frames as Social Lenses.

It’s pretty much the very same reason as to why 19 years later, since Fringe was first born, that I’m still in love with HCL Connections. Not because of what it can do to help organisations transform how they think and can work different, which it still does!, but mostly because through those very same customer conversations I have learned to understand that it doesn’t fit all needs from everyone, but can complement them quite nicely, eventually, making the killer-app combination. And, after perhaps far too many years to count, it’s, at long last, learning to adapt to the new changing conditions through one of my favourite keywords du jour: integration!

That has been one of my key learnings in the last 18 months to two years, as I have been getting more and more heavily involved into the Office 365 ecosystem working with customers who are thriving in hybrid worlds. Customers that no longer buy into that obsolete vendor-centric model, but that truly believe collaboration is a lot more complex, nuanced, and diverse than whatever they have been involved with in the past.

Office 365 is a rather powerful set of cloud-based productivity tools. We all know that. MS Teams alone sparks mind-blowing opportunities to enhance and augment how smaller groups of people work in more dynamic, intimate, fast-paced, project driven environments. But does it cater for all needs? Should it? Is it worth it putting all your eggs in one basket?

I suspect your answer is probably going to be a resounding ‘No!’ So why do people keep questioning your decision as a customer to diversify, accordingly, to meet more of your needs and wants? Why does Office 365 still operate under one-size-fits-all and get away with it? Haven’t we learned anything from the recent past few years? At a time where we all are (customers, business partners, vendors AND competitors) more hyperconnected than ever, we seem to pretty much confirm we haven’t learned much. Sadly.

I’m pretty sure you may be wondering why I’m saying all of this and why I’m putting together this blog post in the first place, right? Well, there is a simple reason, really: I listen actively to customers.

Over the last few months I have talked to numerous customers who keep getting questioned, sternly, to the point of being put on the spot and embarrassed, every time they talk to either Microsoft employees, business partners or its underlying ecosystem, about why they aren’t using Office 365 to talk, connect, or collaborate with them. If you have been using Zoom, WebEx, Slack, Jive, HCL Connections, Chatter, MangoApps, Confluence, or any other collaborative tool for that matter with them their first question coming back is typically this one: ‘Why aren’t we using MS Teams for this?

What a missed opportunity, frankly. If you still believe one-size-fits-all works, if you still think Office 365 doesn’t have any proven alternatives in today’s digital workplace out there, if you still think these cloud-based productivity tools haven’t got a paragon out there, I’m pretty sorry to write this, but you are locking yourself out and missing out big time!

Not necessarily because of these digital tools per se. Frankly, Office 365 is phenomenal about a really good number of different work related activities and work streams. We all know that. What I think is the missed opportunity is in your inability to showcase empathy towards your (potential) customers, or business partners.

Ask them. Listen. Ask again. Listen again (this time around with intent!). Try to learn from / with them about why they have made the choices they have in the recent past for them to use one or another collaborative tool than what you are used to yourself. Leave your bubble, please. Don’t judge them. Open up. You’d be surprised about how the vast majority of times you would have a much better opportunity of generating business together if you show empathy to your customers and business partners and listen to them carefully, versus questioning why they don’t use X,

Exhibiting and embracing empathy as your modus operandi would help you walk miles without even saying a single word. But go ahead, ignore me. What do I know, right? Yes, you are right. I pretty much know nothing. But, please, if I may, allow me to point you to this short video clip where Satya Nadella himself explains quite nicely the effect being more empathetic has not only with your colleagues, but also with your customers, business partners, and why not, your competitors, not just to collaborate, but also to innovate together.

Watch the video, please, and next time you interact with someone outside of your own vendor bubble, whoever you may well be as a vendor, don’t question your potential customers and business partners about why they are using X, X or Z tool. Just ask them, instead,  ‘how can I help you today?’

Doing that you will have already walked half the way where you wanted to in the first place. Believe me, hybrid worlds is where the magic happens. It’s where you start to open up to the world around you. It’s where you start focusing on your customers’ (and practitiners’) needs and wants versus just your own as a vendor.

Then, just watch how the magic unfolds and be ready …

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Gran Canaria - Ayacata
Back on January 20th, I celebrated (quietly) my 23rd anniversary in the IT industry. Quite an achievement, indeed, if you would ask me, for someone who graduated as an English teacher back in the day and who didn’t have much of an interest in technology in the first place. Sometimes, I still don’t!

It feels like a long time has passed by since I started working in this space in early 1997, but the thing is that it hasn’t. Mostly, because of three types of activities that have shaped pretty much that lengthy working experience over the years, and still going strong today: learning, unlearning and relearning. 

And that has only accelerated itself in the last 6 years, even more so, since I went independent. Indeed, little did I know that upon leaving IBM in 2014 I’d be embarking on one of the most fascinating, thought-provoking and re-energising work adventures I could have ever imagined.

There hasn’t been a single day where that process of learning, unlearning and relearning would kick in to help me re-adjust, adapt and iterate again while moving on to the next thing, whatever that would be. The transition from (extended) big corporate life, to being on your own as a freelancer in that ill-informed gig economy landscape, to then start working again for another organisation in a completely different new territory for yours truly than the last two decades has been quite something, I can assure you of that! Talking about massive change(s), eh?

The thing is though, if I were to single out only one of those learning activities, as the winner of them all, it would be unlearning and by a rather long stretch! The first three years of that life as an independent were rather interesting while witnessing first-hand the transition from one extreme to the other: from big corporate life to going solo.

The last two years have been a completely different league altogether more than anything else because it’s taught me that the magic, perhaps, in terms of scale, is right in the middle, where I didn’t expect it to be in the first place!

The unlearning and relearning curves have been rather dramatic and overall in a very positive sense, because I have been given the unique opportunity to constantly be learning a new set of skills and expertise about a topic I thought was long hidden (or gone) inside my brain and that sooner rather than later emerged quite strongly, once again: making sense of data analytics for collaboration and knowledge sharing tools.

In upcoming blog posts I shall certainly be looking forward to detailing plenty more what this process of learning, unlearning and relearning has been for me so far, while adjusting to these new working conditions and adapting to a completely different way of thinking about the current nature of work, specially, when thinking about social tools. I will be detailing, over time, what that learning process has been like and where I stand at the moment. Here’s a teaser though: right at the very beginning of it all!

However, for now, I would want to focus on this blog post about one key major activity I have had to unlearn, and pretty quickly!, over the last couple of years. It’s actually been a rather painful, horrifying and disappointing experience altogether as I never thought I’d be seeing it first hand in my working lifetime. And here it is … Remember Markets are Conversations? Good! Time to unlearn it and forget about it completely, because everyone else has already done it!

Over 21 years ago, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto, a superb series of theses and essays on the topic of the huge impact the Internet would have on marketing (and sales, for that matter). That book then became one of the fundamental pillars behind the so-called Web 2.0 movement around 2004.

It gave it a purpose. It gave it an opportunity to understand that successful business could be done effectively in a completely different way through the extensive use of social tools by engaging on something that would fundamentally transform not only the way we work, but also the way we live and who we are for that matter. One conversation at a time.

Fast forward to 2020, and that’s all gone! Forgotten and left behind, as if it never happened in the first place. You know, it looks as if having bloody good, engaging, purposeful, giving (or learning driven) conversations is just lots of truly hard work with very little return, apparently. So, why bother, right?

Here’s the thing though as part of the unlearning process I’m currently going through. As a starting point, the social tools are everything, but social nowadays. I, for instance, stopped calling these tools social media a few years back and instead decided to stick around with just media tools.

Because that’s what we’ve decided to convert them to over time. A series of manipulative online tools that allow us to toot our own horn about how good and well crafted our own selling and marketing messages are. We have decided to stop listening altogether. Instead, we’ve now become the product we’d want to sell to others, and, as a result, decided to stop conversing with those who we once called our own social networks or community spaces where conversations were the new currency.

That’s most probably one of the main reasons as to why I’ve decided to resume my blogging mojo earlier on this year and why I feel that urge to regain those conversations by going back to basics: blogging.

However, there’s something else that worries me a whole lot more at the moment than us just having become broadcasting machines. It’s something that over the course of the last couple of years has added a rather poignant follow-up reflection to that unlearning process around social toolsPeople have stopped caring

Apparently, we only seem to be interested in getting Likes, Retweets and Reshares; praising commentary that’ll just boost our own egos to no end, forgetting altogether what it was like having a really good conversation with one’s social networks on a topic we all are really passionate about. Have you ever tried to start a conversation either through media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to then not even get a single response back, because, you know, people are just too busy? 

Gosh, I can count those in the hundreds, if not the thousands! What happened to the good old mantras of the Cluetrain Manifesto and, specially, Web 2.0? Have we forgotten why we all got pretty excited just 15 years ago when all of a sudden we realise we had a unique opportunity to engage the entire world in a completely different new way? What have we become? Silly, convincing, coercing, arrogant marketing machines no-one is listening to anymore because it’s not us, humans, anymore?

I guess you know now one of the reasons as to why I haven’t been much online in these media tools over the last few months. I refuse to feed the beast I no longer recognise. I refuse to be manipulated for the sake of a like or a retweet / reshare. Somehow, along the way, I seem to have lost the energy to start conversations right at the same time when people have stopped caring. It’s a painful unlearning process, believe me, like I said, one that I never thought I’d be witnessing in my entire work life.

Remember how all of these social tools were going to change the world? Change the nature of today’s work? Change who we are to then venture into what we might become through our social networks and  communities? Eventually, change us forever? Hummm … we seem to have lost all of that!

Does that mean I’m giving up altogether when social media has turned into just media tools? When people have stopped caring about having conversations through social tools just because it’s too much hard work and we are all far too busy with ourselves? Am I giving up on what made Web 2.0 magical in the first place? The conversations? No way! You see? Once you see the light and enjoy it for a good few years there is no way back into the darkness. And if you do, at your own peril.

That’s why, as part of that unlearning process, I’m back to blogging long form. To remind myself of why I first got involved with social tools back in 2000 when I had my first experiences with blogs and wikis. Remind me why in 2002 I decided to have my own internal corporate blog and why in 2005 I made the jump into the Internet Blogosphere and still going rather strong today. That’s just 20 years of conversations through social tools I’m not willing to give up on just yet. And you? Will you give up? Have you given up?

I don’t know about you, but, to me, it feels as if we are only now just getting started

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Gran Canaria - Pico de las Nieves

If I were to describe with a single word the last three years since I wrote a blog post over here, that word would definitely be Transitions. You know what they say, change is hard; change is a constant, and, therefore, the only thing you can do is delay the inevitable. Change will, eventually, happen. Regardless.

That’s why after three years of silence it’s now time to resume my blogging mojo and continue to write over here, right back at my own home, as an opportunity to resume the conversations as if it were just yesterday. Yes, I know, that ‘yesterday‘ is three years ago and a lot has happened ever since, but up until now I wasn’t ready just yet to get down to work and resume my long-from writing.

About 20 years ago, when I was first getting involved with blogs and wikis, a really good friend of mine, and trusted mentor throughout the years, wisely said to me a few words that stuck in my mind ever since, as I was getting more and more heavily involved with those social software tools. He said, ‘Never write anything online when you are angry, hungry, or thirsty. It will keep haunting you forever’. Well, I guess you know now why I have been silent over here for so long.

As you may have seen, or read, on different media tools over the course of the last few monthsI have been rather angry and upset about a good number of things happening in my own personal life. Things mostly out of my control to effect some change for the better, so, over time, I had to learn how to navigate through such toxic, poignant and rather damaging environment and re-focus again on what I wanted to do next. That’s why there have been long periods of time where I have just disappeared trying to clear things in my mind while different (unfortunate) events were taking place. Not an easy task, that one of re-focusing, that is, but a much needed one to get it done with. Till today.

Transitions, indeed. That’s the word I’ve been using far too many times already to describe what I have gone through over the course of the last three years both at work and in my own personal life. You know, if you ever bump into people who tell you that they are reluctant to change, that they resist to change their own ways, behaviours or mindset for whatever reason, do me a favour, don’t believe them.

They are lying to you, and to themselves. Why? Well, we are constantly changing. The conditions under which we operate are constantly changing. The nature and complexity of both our work and personal lives are so fundamentally different today, in 2020, than just last year or a couple of years ago, that we are no longer the same person. And rightly so! It’s part not only of what we do, but also of who we are. That’s what makes change such a fascinating and thrilling endeavour altogether.

Either way, like I was saying above, it’s great to be back! Back to my own home, to my extended brain on the Open Social Web. To that special place that it’s one’s own and no-one else’s. That place where your imagination goes wild with your thoughts and experiences, your trials and tribulations, your crazy ideas, your lessons learned from over the years, your excitement about what’s next and so forth. Blogs are still a thing, right?

I guess it’s now a good time to try to describe a little bit more in detail what I mean with transitions, in an attempt to resume my blogging mojo over here, describing what I have been up to lately. Like I said, a lot has happened since I last wrote an article over here, back in January 2017, and it’s about time to get down to work and share with you folks some of what’s been going on. At least, for those of you who may still be out there reading these few words…

Don’t worry, I am not planning on sharing much detail about lot of the things that have made me rather angry / upset over the last few months, specially, for 2019, a year that’s going to be rather tough for me to forget, so I don’t need a blog post to remind me about it every so often. Time to move on and re-focus on what we’d want to do and be next, right?

Let’s get down to it then, shall we?

When thinking about transitions about what has been going on lately with yours truly, I can think of three major areas, to begin with, I’d want to cover, at least, on this blog post. I would then try to develop further along additional articles, over the course of time, to perhaps give a bit more context and share some more about the additional learning experiences I have gone through so far. So, let’s have a look into each of them briefly and see where we will end up!

Transition at Work

The last blog post I wrote over here back in 2017 was a bit of an announcement about what I would be doing next. Back then. A bit over three years later, I am still working for panagenda, although my job role and responsibilities have shifted completely. Till early on last year, and for the last 22 years, as most of you folks may still remember, I have been working as a consultant / adviser around Social Business, Collaboration, Digital Transformation, KM, Learning, Online Communities and Data Analytics, either at a large corporate environment (My former IBM life), or as an independent, or while at panagenda. Early on last year though that all changed. Now, I am a business developer. You are … what?

A bit of a (drastic?) change, don’t you think? Most definitely. I’m still trying to get the hang out of it figuring out whether business development can be flagged as either consulting, marketing or just pure selling. Or a bit of everything in the mix! The thing is that I’m having a blast altogether. I’m learning something new every single day that goes by, which is always a good thing after being in the Collaboration space for over 23 years.

That’s where I will leave things, for now. Part of my urge to start writing again here in this blog is to share with you folks what I have learned throughout that time as a business developer and also reflect on the current state of the Digital Workplace after I moved on from big corporate life, nearly 6 years ago, and started playing in other leagues. A bit of a teaser ahead of upcoming blog posts: we are in (big) trouble! 

Transition with My Personal Life

Like I mentioned earlier on, I won’t be bothering you detailing much about what has been going on with my personal life over the course of the last three years, as in some cases it’s been pretty dire, specially, last year. However, I would say a couple of things to try to relay what’s been happening for you all to get a rough idea.

At a time when we all know the business world is totally messed up, work has been my personal saviour. While everyone has been declaring how broken the workplace is or how horrifying and depressing work has become, work has been the single item that has helped me keep my sanity intact. What does it say about everything else, right? Well, let me summarise it with one of my favourite sayings: onwards & upwards!

The other thing that’s rather remarkable in terms of this transitional period for yours truly, is that last year I seemed to have peaked at unhappiness. I kid you not. Apparently, there is a fascinating piece of research that confirms that at 47 years old unhappiness peaks.  Well, that was me last year, not necessarily because of the study itself (I wish!), but because I realised how plenty of family members and really good friends have either become (seriously) ill or, unfortunately, passed away. Never mind those others who decided to fight amongst themselves for really silly things, as if there was no tomorrow! Yikes!!

One could say that last year truly s*cked! I guess it was one of the early, first ah-ha moments, confirming death is closer than what one could have thought in previous years, decades, while growing up. And that, eventually, it will hit you the hardest when you least expect it. Your loved ones. 

That’s why during the course of 2019 there have been plenty of moments where I needed to figure out a way to move on, to persevere and be resilient enough while adapting to the new conditions of having lost dearest family members and friends, and carry on with one’s life. It’s the least one could do to treasure and appreciate their living memory and the many special moments lived together. Alas, now you know why I just couldn’t blog. No energy, no focus, helpless, waiting for things to, finally, stop. Thank goodness for 2020 where things are looking up, if they ever do, at all, and life just keeps on pushing its own way. Like I said, onwards & upwards! 

Transition with the World

And, finally, the last transition. At least, the one where I am going to leave things on this blog post for now. This particular transition with the world has also been one that had me rather upset and angry throughout the last couple of years, unleashing to its full disgust during 2019. I tell you, last year is one of those years that’s going to be rather tough to forget! Why should we, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into too much detail describing why I feel we are transitioning into a world that has now changed forever. I am pretty certain you know exactly what I am referring to, if you have been keeping up to date with different local and global events over such short period of time. Suffice to say though that, to me, we are on the brink of deciding whether we would want to be a Civilisation Type 1 or, on the contrary, Type 2.

It’s a choice we need to make. And the sooner we do, the better. For all of us and for our home. Hopefully, for Civilisation Type 1. I’m pretty sure you may all be thinking that this is a bit of a blog post with a negative connotation overall, but, quite the contrary. It’s an open reflection towards what has perhaps been my major key learning from last couple of years: work hard and focus on what you *can* really change. The things, the people, the conditions, the contexts, near and closest to you, and keep spreading the love around!

Like I said at the very beginning of this blog post, change is hard; change is a constant. There is no point in delaying it. Change, eventually, will happen. It’s just a matter for each and everyone of us to decide how, when and why we would want to effect change with those around us: our closest networks and communities. The ones with which we can get work done effectively!

Bring it on!

At this point in time, I guess you may be wondering whether this will be my first and last blog post for this year before I disappear again, right? Well, rest assured, folks, I’m now back!, and I do not have any intention of going silent again.

That was also one of the main lessons I learned the hard way, specially, in the last year. Most of the times you will be much more effective and impactful amplifying and augmenting your networks and online communities, through conversations, than thinking you could do it all by yourself without the need of everyone else getting involved. Alas, our networks and communities just don’t operate that way.

It is our human(e) edge.

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