In many ways it seems that we are all living the technology dream. The advent of the internet, then the web and the ever-faster evolution of services and devices have transformed the way people live their lives at home, on the move and at work. Technologists among us would add that now the ever-accelerating trends of mobile, cloud, big data and social are transforming the IT landscape for businesses and working life, too.
But, over the past few years, a nagging sense of doubt has grown up about the progress towards this utopian vision of technology as the ultimate liberator for the workplace. Some wonder whether the very thing that was supposed to set us free might not have instead ensnared us, without truly adding the value it so richly promised.
Employees are disengaged as never before. In surveys, only a third say they are actively engaged in their work. We have lost sight of the fact that we are all, for the most part, professional, independent creative beings, employed by our organisations to help them achieve great outcomes.
There are several aspects of knowledge work that seem broken. Open plan offices suck at creativity, workers struggle under the weight of communications and all suffer from an inability to use the new tools effectively. The problem is that, in a world defined by its processes and not its outcomes, working “smarter” is not an option and the only feasible other alternative is simply to work “harder”.
The proposition is that the workplace is no longer fit for purpose. In a world that requires greater creativity, we need to take a more flexible approach to both the workplace and the work we do - one that provides us both the physical and cognitive space to harness the incredible power, insight and experience we offer, but focused not on the individual processes but instead on the overall outcomes our organisations are seeking to achieve.
We need to find a way to break free, a way to re-imagine our businesses such that we can open ourselves up to a new way of thinking and working. In my new book, “Business Re-Imagined”, I examine with the trends of flexible working and social business and how employees and managers need to change the way they operate to take advantage of them. It examines examples of people working in new ways and how businesses are incorporating social communication platforms to enhance collaboration and introduce agility and adaptability.
The conclusion: there is a chance now to reimagine business, to look at processes and ways of working that aren't working and use the new services and devices to improve them. If we equip people with the right tools, if we give them the culture of sharing, it puts them in a position to work really differently. The key message is empowerment. If you constrain what people can do, how they work, how they use the tools, how they think about their outcomes, then actually you constrain your own success.
The flip side of empowerment is trust. Managers have to trust their employees as they liberate them to work flexibly and without micro-management and employees have to repay that trust with responsible and creative work. The job of managers is to set their employees free, to give them the data and tools to make their decisions, to hold them to account for a job well done, not to micromanage their every working moment.
Reimagining business is about waking up to a new environment based on collaborative working, on flexible working, on technology that, used correctly, liberates rather than constrains. The future of work must be based on being open, on focusing on results, not process, on empowerment, not hierarchy.