Online Collaboration And The Heart Of The Tin Man

Steve Prentice

The Heart of the Tin Man

This is an exciting age to do business. Humans are connecting and communicating using new technologies that free them from many of the factors that caused delay and error in the analog world, such as death by meeting, flight delays, traffic jams and overbooked boardrooms. Wireless devices, BYOD and cloud-based collaboration are the new tools of commerce. The challenge, though comes about with their human operators, who sometimes do not make a successful adjustment.

Old habits die hard. People who started their careers, or even their childhoods, using a rotary dial phone, tend to retain some element of the tradition of formality and centralization of power that is at odds with today’s new seamless and wireless economy. Such a mechanical device, which in earlier decades was run essentially by a singular “phone company” influenced the attitudes and expectations of a great many people. Individuals struggle to this day, seeking to reconcile the new instantaneous, multi-channel economy with the attitudes of structure and formality formed in earlier years. Yes, they all may be carrying smartphones now, but they are still booking boardrooms for meetings, booking flights for cross-country travel, and finding themselves buried under a mountain of email. (Although email appears to be a modern technology, it has more in common with paper than it does with the internet.) Cloud-based collaboration and project management applications remove the need for email attachments and email itself. But it will likely be many years before email becomes as scarce as the electric typewriter, and for the same reason: it is a comfortable connection to past behavior. Habit has a hard time letting go.

The Next Level of Enterprise Communication

It is necessary for Thought Leaders and managers in organizations to recognize that the inherent biases in being an analog human are hard to remove, and the attitudes must be unfrozen and replaced with new ones, in concert with the installation of wireless, digital collaboration technology.

Face Time

Take the concept of face time for example. How prepared is your company or your manager, to trust that if you choose to work from home, that you are actually working, and not watching Dr. Phil? Has the trust factor sufficiently penetrated your culture to allow remote work to have a value equal to being at the office? There are numerous studies that show that work performed at home, in blocks that match an individual’s attention span, is far more productive than simply sitting in a cubicle. But facts do not by default override feelings. That is the human way. What people feel will always carry more weight than what they think, until proven otherwise.

We have an opportunity now to avoid repeating a mistake of 25 years ago. When electronic mail was introduced as a new high-speed communications technique, it did not come with any form of instruction or policy manual. This resulted in millions of people suffering the time-wasting distraction of overloaded in-boxes, the political ramifications of poorly worded text, the redundancies of cc lists, and the overall inefficiency of the medium for creativity and problem solving. E-mail has probably cost companies more than it has made, not because of the technology itself, but because humans were never shown how to properly use it.

Organizations need policies and standards: how to prepare a timeline for a project based on units other than the hours between 9 and 5; how to structure employees’ workweeks to truly balance family and health time with slices of applied work that match metabolisms rather than calendars; and how to delve into the unstructured data of social media to detect and understand the latent passions, talents and potential of an employee that the more formal, traditional assessment tools tend to miss.

There is no question that an organization still needs structure to run effectively, just like a human being needs a skeleton. But around our bones there are organs and systems, specialized and very fluid, that have not only evolved to exploit a specific ability, but also continue to respond and react to influences around us, building immunity and furthering the collective effort.

Modern business technologies are fascinating and beautiful in their wireless and dynamic versatility. But every human being, regardless of age or generation, suffers an attitudinal time lag, anchored to the experiences of their formative years. These, too, must be recognized and built in to any exercise in organizational renewal.

For more on this topic, please visit businessvalueexchange.com, sponsored by HP Enterprise Services.

By Steve Prentice

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