Fascinating topic, don’t you think? And here we are, still in 2013, and already thinking about what the workplace of the future would be like by 2020. Well, one thing for sure is that it won’t be anything like we have today or what we may have had over the course of the last 50 years. Even more, I am suspecting that over the course of time, if not happening already today, we are going to make a very healthy split between work and jobs. Because, you know, they are not the same, no matter what people keep telling you. They have never been the same. And, certainly, with the emergence of digital tools that split is even more natural and in full accordance with a new reality: work is you, you are the work.
So what is the future of You? What is the future of work then? It seems that lately there have been lots and lots of interesting and rather relevant insights shared across, i.e. blog posts, articles, mainstream news, insightful whitepapers and whatever else, shared across by folks who have embarked themselves into redefining how we should be looking at work from here onwards over the course of time and also from the perspective of how we are rethinking the role of jobs, even to the point of perhaps venturing whether it’s worth while quitting yours and move on to the next big adventure (Highly recommended and superb read by Irvin Wladawsky-Berger, by the way). Uncertainty will be there. Uncertainty is always there. But that’s perhaps a good thing, because it’s essentially what helps us progress further into the unknown while we keep rethinking what we will all want to be doing as work.
Long gone are the times where we were aiming for long term careers and their big aspirations, for loyalty to a specific business or company, for a long-term opportunity to have an impact over the course of decades. Long gone are the times where knowledge workers were aiming at fitting in within a working environment for which they were perhaps not ready for it, while carrying on their work, with very little motivation, waiting for the payslip at the end of the month. Hummm, well, maybe this one is not gone just yet. But perhaps it is a clear indication already as to why certain jobs need to be questioned and redefined in the context of whether they are still purposeful or meaningful altogether. After all, and this is what I keep telling people all around, we only have got one single life, so it is probably a fair game we all try to make the most out of it, don’t you think?
Lou Adler has also got a rather thought-provoking article on a similar topic under the suggesting heading of “There Are Only Four Jobs in the Whole World – Are You in the Right One?” where he proposes how those four jobs are the following ones: Producers, Improvers, Builders and Thinkers. Go ahead and read it through, as it will certainly be rather helpful in understanding what your current job may well be about and it will confirm whether you might be on the right one, or not. Interestingly enough, while I read it myself, I just couldn’t help thinking how in today’s more complex than ever working environment each and everyone of us may eventually be doing the four jobs at the same time depending on the context of the task at hand, which is essentially what keeps driving us all into achieving our goals: that purpose and meaning I mentioned above, along with the right context in such a hyperconnected, networked (business) world.
And to that effect, while I keep reflecting myself on the future of work, I thought I would point you to a recent article that my good friend Jemima Gibbons worked on over at “What will “work” look like in 2020?” where she gathered a good bunch of folks sharing their insights on how they see themselves the workplace of the future. Some pretty interesting insights with key concepts like Intrapreneurship and its impact behind the corporate firewall (By William Higham); or the redefinition of work from a physical space / office into a state of mind where work life integration play a rather key, paramount role (By Karen Mattison) towards sustainable growth; or how the convergence of cloud, mobile and social (Along with the “Internet of Things”) will inspire more contractual / freelance work helping organisations become more liquid, hybrid while knowledge workers become freer and more autonomous around their work, owning it and co-sharing that responsibility (By David Terrar); or how knowledge workers will no longer be talking about adoption of new technologies, but more a key concept that I have become rather fond of myself over time and which I find also rather descriptive in terms of where I feel the key is of how we redefine work, that is, how do we adapt to this new digital work environment to make the best out of it, as in how well do we adapt to change (By Helen Keegan).
Like I said, lots of great, relevant insights and plenty of key pointers that surely highlight where we may be heading to over the course of time. Jemima asked me as well whether I would be able to contribute with my ¢2 and, of course, I couldn’t reject such generous offer so I added a short paragraph that explains what’s been in my mind for a while in terms of what I sense the future of work would be like in the not so distant future … So I thought I would go ahead and finish off this article by taking the liberty of quoting it across:
“In the future, work will be more distributed and remote – technology means that people will be able to work from wherever they want to. Work processes will be driven by interactions from workers through networks and communities rather than traditional company hierarchies. Large enterprises will no longer need to exist, because of the nature of the hyper-connected and networked workforce. Trust between workers will be more essential than ever – and critical for success. People will find new meaning and purpose through building strong personal business relationships: the key objective for everyone will be sustainable growth.“
So what will “work” look like in 2020 for you? Care to venture and share a comment or two on what it may well be like? Perhaps in a few years we can come back to this blog post and see how accurate our perceptions were after all. Or not. Something tells me the journey is going to be just as fascinating, inspiring and refreshing as the final destination, if not more altogether! Why? Well, because for the first time in decades it will be us, knowledge (Web) workers, the ones who can choose what we would want it it to be.
And that’s a good thing. After all, work is us, we are the work.
I am not too sure whether meetings lower our IQ or whether they make us all more stupid, as my good friend Stowe Boyd reflected on a recent blog post, but I can certainly confirm they do take a toll on your own productivity. Specially, when those meetings are not set up by you, but by everyone else, and therefore making you lose the control, once again, in terms of one of the most precious things all of us, knowledge workers, have that we don’t seem to treasure well enough: Time. Attention management, indeed, is the new currency and it looks like meetings want to keep having that special place in our day to day workload in terms of grabbing most of it: our attention, that is. But perhaps enough is enough. Just like 5 years ago I started challenging the status quo of corporate email with the “A World Without eMail” movement, I think this week it’s a good time to start its follow-up: Life Without Meetings.
I still haven’t settled up on picking up the hashtag I will be using from here onwards to identify the movement (More than happy to read suggestions in the comments, please!), but I am certainly more than willing to getting started with this new initiative, in terms of wanting to improve my own productivity by what appears to be, right now, my biggest time sink while at work: meetings, specially remote meetings. And here is the funny thing. You may be thinking that one of the disadvantages of having moved into this new job as Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM is that I basically spend far too much time meeting up with my new team. Well, that’s not really accurate.
I do meet up with my team, don’t take me wrong, and I enjoy those meetings since they only happen a couple of times here and there per week. In fact, if I were to count the hours I spend on those team meetings it would be probably about 5 to 7 hours per week, which doesn’t sound too bad if I consider the 40 hours of work. Indeed, the issue is not the meetings I have with my immediate team colleagues, but the meetings provoked by everyone else. Specially, from other teams, in other organisations and business units, in other projects with their own agenda, never minding your own. And in this case that is when I do have an issue, because, amongst several other things, they are inconsiderate enough to not be aware of your own work, your own agenda, time, availability and willingness to participate in their projects.
I never use those meeting invite thingies because having a diary full of things that other people are in control of fills me with horror!
— Euan Semple (@euan) April 18, 2013
If you notice, there are plenty of similarities with some of the various different issues that I have highlighted over the last few years in terms of how we keep abusing email through our bad habits and behaviours in a successful effort to try to kill each other’s productivity. Well, apparently, the same thing happens with meetings. Or, perhaps not.
When I was in my previous project I used to average about 10 to 15 hours of meetings per week. Nowadays I am doing between 25 to 30 hours of meetings. About 5 to 7 hours of those are dedicated to team meetings and the rest are remote ones solicited by other teams that want to abuse and take advantage of my reduced attention management span to sneak in. And over the last couple of weeks I am starting to think that the main reason why knowledge workers seem to have an obsession with hosting meetings (Specially, back to back, or what I have learned to call very descriptively as meetings galore) is not that necessarily down to work, but perhaps to a couple of other reasons:
- If you are in the office, meetings are usually put together because you want to see people face to face and play the corresponding political, empowerment and bullying games that you have been taught about really well over the course of time.
- If you are working remotely, like from your home office, or at a customer site, or while travelling, the main reason why people host those remote meetings is because (I know I am going to be very blunt and rather bold on this one, so bear with me) people feel lonely at work, isolated, disengaged with what happens “at the office”, distrusted, disempowered because they are just not there and therefore they provoke those meetings so they can have a good chance at disrupting that and show that they, too, count!
Of course, they do. We all do. But there are different ways of showing and demonstrating that. And perhaps meetings are not the best option anymore. We, human beings, have been stuck in meetings for thousands of years I would think and if you come to consider the huge amount of time we have wasted over the course of time for those meetings, think now about the possibilities and the potential of what we would have done with all of that extra time.
There have been several attempts to try and fix the way we host and conduct meetings in an effort to make them effective. I am sure you, too, may have got your own hints and tips on how to make them work, and I would love to read some more about it in the comments, so feel free to share your best tips. Lately, I am playing myself with a couple of options: creating buffers, participate in meetings no longer than 30 minutes and be ruthless in terms of how many meetings I can participate in during the course of a working day. In my case I set that threshold in 4 hours of meetings per day. Maximum (with the odd exception here and there, of course).
But, apparently, that doesn’t seem to work very well, because I still spend between 25 to 30 hours of meetings per week. Last week, for instance, 26.75 hours were just spent on conference calls participating and hosting meetings. Not good enough, I am afraid. And not good enough not because the meetings may have been rather helpful and useful overall, which they were, but more from the perspective that vast majority of them did *not* need to take place, since we could carry out the work offline and rather effectively.
And this is where I am going to jump in and kick off that movement of “Life Without Meetings“. Because all along I have felt that the vast majority of meetings wouldn’t need to take place if knowledge workers would make a much more effective use of social networking tools for business. You know, All Hands Meetings, Cadence Calls, Weekly Team Meetings, Status Project Reports, Monthly Calls and what not can eventually be conducted and rather effectively through various different social technologies.
Never mind as well how by shifting gears and moving the interactions of those meetings into social networking tools we would have the opportunity to get rid of the two main reasons I mentioned above as to why we are so obsessed with hosting meetings at the moment. You see? We don’t need so show up at meetings to play those political, empowerment and bullying games. We have got work to do. By relying (heavily) on social software tools, if anything, we would never have that strong feeling of being isolated, or ignored, or neglected, as remote employees. Quite the opposite. If there is anything that social networking shines and thrives at is helping us all stay connected, regardless of where we may well be in the world.
And that’s the main reason why I am now ready to kick off this particular initiative where over the course of time I have decided to strive for that goal of seeing the number of meetings I participate in go down to those levels of 10 to 15 hours per week. If I can hit 10 or less, even better. But we have got to get started somewhere, don’t you think? And that’s why from here onwards, and every now and then, depending on the frequency, I will be blogging about different techniques knowledge workers can put in practice to reduce the amount of time they spend in meetings, so that they can carry on with their work. And perhaps I’ll kick things off with a bold statement in terms of sharing with everyone what meetings, to me, should be all about, whether face to face or remote ones: decision making. Anything else, it’s just a waste of time, resources and precious talent that could be working on something much more interesting, relevant, purposeful and meaningful altogether.
So, there! I said it. If you come to think about it, we have spent already a huge amount of time on theorising how we could improve the way we host, both online remote meetings and face to face ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion, or an infographic, as to how to make them better. And that’s just a wonderful thing. I guess what we would need to do next, eventually, is acknowledge that it’s a good time now for action to start re-thinking how we would want to keep hosting and conducting meetings in an effective manner, instead of thinking they are one of most poignant productivity drains within the corporate world. We already know that. Let’s move on. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work and change the way we get work done through meetings by realising that work does *not* happen when we meet. So how much time do we want to keep wasting away drifting our attention to them instead of figuring out perhaps different ways, methods, techniques of how social / open business tools can help us re-gain our productivity back.
In the recent past, we have already done it for email, so there is no reason, perhaps not even an excuse anymore, why we couldn’t do the same thing for meetings and shape them up the way we would want them to by asking perhaps the first initial key question: What’s the purpose of the meeting? How are you planning on achieving that purpose, and, most importantly, can social technologies help achieve the same goals? Because if they do, there is no need to conduct that meeting any longer. We would then have to redefine again the true meaning of meetings, because the current one is already obsolete, and utterly broken, to match today’s complex collaborative and open knowledge sharing working environment. So, we better get our hands dirty and get down to business. It’s time for us all, knowledge workers, to take back responsibility, buckle up and own them again, as Seth Godin brilliantly quoted not long ago:
“Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).
How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”
Finally, an Open Business without meetings.
I am game! … And you?
Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit around the topic of Social / Open Business Transformation. Something completely different to what we may have experienced so far in the last three to four years on living social for the sake of social, which is perhaps what we pretty much keep seeing today all over the place. Instead, I keep pondering about how we can transform and redefine the way we do business through our day to day workflow(s) and if there is an idea that keeps coming back stronger by the day is that one of perhaps facilitating the transition from document-centric collaboration into a people-centric one. Essentially, making the successful transition from content is king to people AND their conversations are king.
This whole reflection was triggered, once more, when earlier on today I bumped into this rather intriguing and refreshing article by Conor Neill under the heading “Amazon Staff Meetings: “No PowerPoint”” where it comments how Amazon apparently no longer advocates for PowerPoint-led meetings and instead they require people to read memos, while present at the meetings, as an opportunity to elaborate deeper thoughts and perhaps a bit more involvement from the meeting attendees themselves while going through a specific set of agenda items. Somehow I still feel that I’m missing something on that approach to transform how we work through the meetings we held till I eventually remembered this brilliant article by Aleh Cherp where he states what I think is the main problem with that document-centric computing we all seem to be very good at. To quote:
“Les Posen, a psychologist and the author of Presentation Magic recently hosted on MPU Episode 111 explained this point very well. He said that the presentations are becoming a de-personalized knowledge transfer tool, supposed to be used without seeing or listening to the presenter. Such presentations can be sent around so that even other people can speak to the same ‘powerpoints’. People become unnecessary. ‘Powerpoints’ become omnipresent and omnipotent. This is where the frontline of the battle is, not whether to choose Mac or PC but whether to respect your topic and your audience so highly as not to leave them to the mercy of power points.” [Emphasis mine]
How spot on! What a superb observation! Nothing more to add, really.
This is exactly the point where plenty of our document-centric social collaboration keeps failing to deliver, time and time again, in terms of helping us out provoke that social / open business transformation we are all embarked on and where people are right at the centre of the equation, and very much needed, still. Apparently, it’s not happening, because we all keep being engaged on the influx of exchanging attachments, presentations, documents, spreadsheets, etc. that been sent around through either traditional tools like *cough* email *cough* or Instant Messaging or, even worse, through social file sharing services.
As such, it looks like we are ignoring people, but, most worrying, we are ignoring their conversations and their rapid, free access to information in order to make better decisions, without having to handle additional frictions. Have you measured the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours we spend every year just processing attachments or shared documents, when, for instance, we could have used that precious time for something much more relevant and insightful? Don’t worry, I know it’s just too mind-boggling to even think about that, but you know what I mean. Yes, indeed, “The root of suffering is attachment” – The Buddha, as my good friend, Prof. Paul Jones wonderfully stated a few days back.
Now, imagine this, imagine that use case scenario where we obviously have the need to generate a specific piece of content and to share it with others. Imagine that instead of just trapping that knowledge inside a document-based format, which is always going to be tougher to process and digest accordingly, we actually decide to set it up out there, free from any restrictions or unnecessary frictions, through the use of social software tools like blogs, wikis, forums, activities, social bookmarks, and what not. Imagine if instead of being stuck trying to open up a document, you have its contents readily available on that one single pager (Or maybe two) and you would just need to do a single click, and you are there.
Imagine that. Just for a minute, and while you keep elaborating further up on that thought, let me tell you what would happen: people-centric computing (Or collaboration around and amongst people, for that matter). Indeed, people, all of a sudden, become the centre of attention. Specially, the conversations they are entertaining with other collaborators around that specific piece of content stored on a Web site (a blog post, a link, a wiki page, an activity) where all of a sudden knowledge transfer accelerates tremendously, where frictions are non-existent and where everyone participating from that set of interactions are on the same page. When was the last time that you had that happening around a document itself without wondering who may have the latest copy, or how many duplicates are out there, or who should be updating what content in that document based on the feedback scattered all over the place?
This is actually one of the many reasons why about two years ago I decided to declare war on document-centric computing, specially, for public speaking events when the output was going to be trapped in a file. Why should we? Why can’t we just elaborate on our thoughts through all of these powerful social collaboration tools that have got almost no friction in terms of helping accelerate our decision making process by not just having the right information at the right time, but also with the right audiences, i.e. your peers (colleagues, customers, or business partners) engaging on some meaningful conversations to get our work done.
“You do not have a conversation to get work done; the conversation is the work“
And in our social / open business transformation, that’s perhaps the main problem that we have in terms of why we may not have moved from Social into Open, from Social into Work, from Social documents into People.
Fortunately, this one is an easy one to address. At least, I think so. People keep saying that practitioners who would want to shine and thrive around Social / Open Business need to put together a good bunch of relevant and insightful use cases that would help them progress further with that transformation. Well, next time that you are required, or requested to trap your own knowledge into a file, think about it twice. Think about how perhaps you could achieve that very same goal through the use of a blog post, or a microblog entry, or a wiki page, or just an activity. Whatever. Just think that next time that someone asks you to document something, you may as well come back stating that, instead, you want to have a conversation about a post you shared online in your favourite social networking space for business.
Chances are that, right there, without you not knowing, you may have just gotten started with your own Social / Open Business Transformation. One that would affect not just your day to day work interactions, but also those from those knowledge workers around you. And that’s when things would get really interesting, because we would then finally be able to confirm that that transformation happens through our very own behaviours and mindset, which is what open business is all about. The technology, finally, will become what it should have been all along: an enabler to facilitate conversations amongst knowledge workers to get that activity, that ask, done in a timely and effective manner.
That doesn’t seem to be that difficult, don’t you think? Thus what are you waiting for to put together that blog post or that other wiki page?