Tag Archives: Work 2.0

Video Conferencing Uptake Is Really About Changing Role of Organizations

I was interviewed last week for an article on how companies are using collaboration technologies to reduce operating costs during the current economic downturn. The article, entitled Virtual Conference Victory for Cisco Systems, was published in the Technology section of the Financial Times today.

When I spoke with the author, Joseph Menn, I tried to make it clear that using Web-based collaboration technologies like video conferencing to avoid travel costs was simply a baseline management activity. The most effective organizations use these technologies in bad and good times to not only minimize operating costs, but also to maximize productivity. After reading the FT article today, it was clear to me that Joe had indeed understood my point.

There is a larger story here though. The quote from me that was actually published,

“There’s a real, fundamental change going on in the way we work, both as companies and as individuals.”

is a c. 5 second sound-bite of a much longer conversation, in which Joe and I discussed how enterprise collaboration and social software are changing the way organizations are structured and how work gets done. Most of that didn’t make it into the article, but that’s OK. We can discuss it here.

Increasingly, organizations exist to provide specific assets and services to employees, including:

  • a clearly defined and shared business mission and strategy
  • a favorably recognized brand
  • marketing and sales
  • project management
  • bookkeeping and accounting
  • legal services
  • organizational knowledge networks and repositories

Individual employees can provide pretty much everything else they need to work efficiently and effectively themselves.

The role that corporate IT departments play has evolved markedly over the last decade. Ten years ago, IT departments laid infrastructure, built and deployed applications, and managed both as their primary function. The focus was not on the end user. Today, the IT function is viewed as providing assets and support services that enable workers to do their jobs in a productive manner. A huge and important change in perspective has occurred.

I believe we are nearing the time when entire organizations will make that same shift of perspective. Hierarchical command and control structures already have (mostly) given way to matrixed organizations. The next step in organizational evolution will be the formation of networks of individuals who work together to solve a specific business challenge, and then disband. The organization will support their endeavors by providing the assets and services listed above. Organizations will endure only as long as they can continue to form networks of knowledge workers and supply the assets and services those workers need.

How do I know this? I already work for such an organization!

In Memorium John Updike: Work 2.0 Role Model

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John Updike (1932-2009) in 2002.

As you most likely know, John Updike succumbed to lung cancer on January 27th, at age 76. His name registers instantly in the mind as one of the preeminent authors of our era; two of John’s novels were awarded the Pulitzer Prize and he wrote scores of widely-read essays, short stories, and poems for The New Yorker over a span of more than 50 years.

Why am I pausing to remember John Updike on this blog? Three reasons:

  1. We share two towns in common
  2. I was fortunate to have had several brief conversations with him
  3. He is a great role model for the Work 2.0 movement.

John resided in Ipswich, MA, where I live now, from 1957-1979. He spent the remainder of his life in nearby Beverly Farms, MA, where I resided for two years prior to moving to Ipswich. John was an integral member of both communities. While living in Ipswich, he regularly attended town meetings and participated in numerous town committees. He frequently wrote for the local newspaper, The Ipswich Chronicle. He was a deacon of the Congregational Church and a member of the Lion’s Club. He played poker biweekly with a small group of townies and was often seen tanning and playing volleyball on Crane Beach. He was known by locals as “an everyday guy”, not a famous author.

I had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with John while we both lived in Beverly Farms. I was working part-time at the local package store, having lost my “real” job as a software industry analyst/consultant to the burst Internet bubble. John would patronize the store from time-to-time and was almost always smiling and pleasant. We briefly talked of small things: the economy, local happenings, the Red Sox, and wine. He was one of the friendliest and most genuine people I have met. However, John made his biggest impression on me after his death, while I’ve been reading his obituaries in various local newspapers and thinking about not only what he accomplished, but how he lived his life.

John was a freelancer. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker for two years after college, then left regular employment with the publication to be his own boss. Of course, much of his writing was published in The New Yorker throughout his life, but John refused to work for anyone but himself. He knew that he was very good at what he did and had the confidence to sell his work at a price that allowed his family to live comfortably. That’s the cornerstone of Work 2.0!

John had a work schedule that we would all do well to emulate. He wrote, uninterrupted in his office, from 9 am to 1 pm, Monday through Saturday. Essentially, he worked four hours a day and spent the rest of his time interacting with other people. Those relationships and the fruits of their interactions were the primary subject matter of his writing. He was able to pen an astonishing number of literary works (60 some novels alone) precisely because he worked only 24 hours a week — not in spite of that limited schedule. John’s working time was a highly-focused outpouring of everything he absorbed and did during the rest of his waking hours.

Shouldn’t we all strive for that kind of balance? Limit our working hours, but be 100% productive during that time? Take time to observe and know people? Make time to absorb as much learning as possible in our primary domain of interest? Sounds like a great lifestyle to me and John Updike’s legacy is proof of its merits. I just wanted to point that out, because it is a detail that might otherwise get easily lost as we remember the man and his accomplishments. Thank you, John, for showing us all a better way to live and work!

Photo Credit: © 2002 Rick Friedman/Corbis

Work 2.0 Shifts Gears

gearshift-knobJournalist and editor extraordinaire Tina Brown wrote today, on The Daily Beast, that “No one I know has a job anymore. They’ve got Gigs.” In her rather negative post, she correctly notices the plethora of laid-off workers that are now trying to pay their bills by doing freelance project work. Tina seems to tie this condition to the battered state of the economy. While she’s right in doing so (and I like her term “The Gig Economy”), Tina (and many others) misses the bigger point.

The growing number of freelance workers represents a long-term structural shift in the economy, not just an inevitable immediate outcome of a global recession.

This new work model, which I call Work 2.0, is rapidly becoming the new reality. Yes, the economic downturn has accelerated the trend toward knowledge workers being employed on-demand to complete discrete projects, but the trend was already in place and is not likely to reverse itself. One of the lasting legacies of this Great Recession will be the transition to freelance, rather than regular, employment by many knowledge workers.

Venkatesh Rao illuminates a clear distinction between the old and new models of work on his blog. He uses the term “Organization Man” to describe the worker that is employed with the same company for many years, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. He calls the freelancers “Cloudworkers” — human resources that can be called upon when needed to complete a specific task, much like one would consume a Web service hosted remotely. Like me, Venkat believes that cloudworking is rapidly displacing the organization-centric way of working, and that this is not just a temporary result of tough economic times.

What force is driving this transition to Work 2.0? The great disrupter called the Internet. As numerous authors (including Thomas Friedman and Daniel Pink) have noted, it is now easy and economical to divide work into digital bits and push it — and the information and knowledge needed to complete the task — to others outside of the company and/or geographic region for completion. Increasingly, corporate employees exist to synthesize the various work pieces into a complete product as they are completed and returned to the company.

There’s one other point that Tina Brown did not make explicitly, but must be noted.

The success of the Work 2.0 model ultimately depends not only on the infrastructure that enables it (the Internet), but also on healthy, collaborative relationships between the players in the game.

Making an acceptable living as a freelancer requires developing and maintaining an expansive professional network. Without a strong and active network, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a freelancer to piece together enough work opportunities and income to pay the bills. Tina noted (twice) the frantic number of things her freelancer friends were working on, but she didn’t talk about how they were able to garner so many opportunities. Tina is a well-connected individual and, undoubtedly, so are many of her friends. That high degree of connection will be required of more and more of us as we transition to Work 2.0.

As a way of summarizing, I’ll reprint another statement from Tina’s post.

“To people I know in the bottom income brackets, living paycheck to paycheck, the Gig Economy has been old news for years. What’s new is the way it’s hit the demographic that used to assume that a college degree from an elite school was the passport to job security.”

That “hit” is not temporary; it’s a long-term shift in the foundation of work. Better get networking…

The Zen of Enterprise 2.0

With this post, I am doing something I’ve never before seriously considered — featuring content from another person’s blog. Not that I’m against such an endorsement in principle. The truth is, I don’t recall ever reading someone else’s take on a subject that I didn’t want to reshape. Until now.

I was led to this powerful post by Frederic Baud via a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter. Frederic absolutely nails why large organizations are not likely to succeed if and when they attempt to adopt social software — they haven’t (and probably won’t) make the shift in mindset that is the hallmark of Enterprise 2.0.

Enterprise 2.0 — like it’s mother, Web 2.0 — is more of a philosophy than a thing (i.e. software). It is a way of being for an organization. Until established companies adopting social software understand that, they are likely to fail in those efforts. Newly formed organizations are more likely to embrace and successfully demonstrate the Enterprise 2.0 model, disrupting legacy companies that are unable to make the paradigm shift so eloquently described by Frederic.

If you’re in charge of an Enterprise 2.0 project, do yourself a favor. Read Frederic’s post today and more than once, if possible. Then take it to heart.

Is Your Head in the Cloud?

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We most often use the term “cloud computing” in the context of applications — Software as a Service (SaaS) if you will.  Venkatesh Rao of the Xerox Innovation Group has coined a new term, “cloudworker”, which humanizes our concept of the cloud.  On his blog, RibbonFarm.com, Venkatesh defines a cloudworker as:

“the prototypical information worker of tomorrow.  He overachieves or coasts remotely, collaborates or backstabs virtually, and delivers his gold or garbage to a shifting long-tail micro-market defined only by his own talents or lack thereof.  The cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.  Over a lifetime, through recessions and bubbles, he navigates fluidly back and forth between traditional paycheck employment, slash-work and full, untethered-to-health-insurance free agency.”

Venkatesh’s vision of a cloudworker meshes nicely with my views on Work 2.0, the changed and continuously shifting contract between employees and employers.  I’m undecided on the vialibility of the term that he has minted — I think cloudworker is too strongly tied to the cloud computing fad of the moment — but I’m highly sympathetic to the notion of knowledge workers shifting between regular employment, freelance work, and anything in between.  I have made those shifts several times in the last ten years and anticipate doing so again during my career.

The piece of Venkatesh’s definition of a cloudworker that resonates most strongly with me is his statement that “the cloudworker manages personal microbrand equity and network social capital rather than a career.”  In other words, building a strong network of colleagues in your area of expertise, developing your reputation within that network, and leveraging those relationships and their perception of your reputation is more important to work success than trying to climb the career ladder in an organization.

As I said in the initial post on this blog, “I have reached a point where the benefits of being an employee of an organized, legal entity (a corporation) and my ability to collaborate with others to address business opportunities and issues — independent of my employment — have reached equilibrium.  My employer offers some very attractive compensations for my client-facing work, namely a salary and strong benefits package.  However, I no longer rely exclusively on IBM for channels through which I can collaborate with others.  I can work and innovate with, learn from, influence, and lead others without that organizational affiliation, largely thanks to the Internet and social software.”

So, to me, Work 2.0 is about more than just the cloud.  Yes, the Internet is a critical enabler of the emerging way of working, but it is not the primary one.  People are always more important than technology.  The key to Work 2.0 is collaboration — specifically, the building of a solid network of peers and interacting with them to identify and respond to business opportunities.